Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Mixing e-waste with rubbish could be dangerous: experts
Publish Date: Wednesday,10 September, 2008, at 01:36 AM Doha Time

With no place for e-waste disposal, most service centres dump equipment with rubbish
By Arvind Nair
Where does all the electronic waste generated in Qatar – obsolete computers, condemned mobile phones etc – go? Are they dumped along with other rubbish into the landfill? If so, how dangerous is it?
Gulf Times tried to find out answers to some of these questions from various sources since an official version has not been available.
Qatar does not yet have a place where e-waste can be safely deposited. Nor does it have an official policy on e-waste disposal. When electronic goods dealers and service centres approach the environment ministry, they are told to accumulate the wastes. “But, how much can we go on accumulating,” one of them asked.
Many small-time service centres are suspected to be taking the easy way out – dumping parts along with other rubbish, after removing reusable components.
Environmentalists point out that this could be potentially very dangerous.
Mobile phones, for instance, are made up of many toxic substances. The elements contained in a mobile phone include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc. These poisonous substances can leach from decomposing waste in landfill and seep into groundwater, contaminate the soil and enter the food chain. However, these substances appear in a relatively small amount in a single mobile phone.
Similarly, the printed circuit boards in computers, tape recorders and similar gadgets too could be lethal if not disposed of properly, an environmentalist said.
Heavy metals like lead, chromium, copper and cadmium from these circuit boards, which are toxic, could leach into the soil, if disposed of haphazardly. Potentially, these could come back to humans through water and food, he said.
Prolonged exposure to such contaminated water and food products could cause untold problems, including brain damage, particularly in children. But the good news for Qatar residents is that chances of that happening here are almost nil since hardly any food is produced locally and our ground water usage is minimal.
However, if heavy metals have contaminated the water, it is difficult to remove, the environmentalist cautioned.
A large company which has a huge turn over of computers said it usually sold its old machines as junk to traders. “We don't know what the trader does with them,” a spokesman said. “This precisely is the problem,” said the environmentalist. “We have no control over the small shops and they do what they like. They might not be aware of the hazards too. They should be banned from dealing with such products.”
Enquiries revealed that most of the junked electronic equipment are exported from Doha to Dubai where they are separated and recycled. “So, I don't think we have a huge problem yet in our hands,” the environmentalist said.
The current landfill of Qatar, at Umm Al Afai, has been in use for several years. Since it is of vintage making, its lining is not designed to prevent leaching onto the ground. However, the new hazardous waste treatment plant at Mesaieed, which is partly commissioned, is modern and sophisticated. Though it can receive hazardous materials, it is not designed to handle e-wastes, it is understood.
Qatar cannot be really faulted for not having a policy on e-wastes yet. The United Nations started considering the safe disposal of old mobile phones and computer equipment only as late as June this year at a waste management meeting in Bali.
The ninth meeting of the parties to the 1989 Basel Convention considered new guidelines for getting rid of phones and other e-waste in a way that protected both the environment and human health.
The use of mobile phones has grown exponentially from the first few users in the 1970s, to 1.76bn in 2004, and more than 3bn in April 2008, according to the UN Environment Programme and the secretariat of the Basel Convention. “Sooner or later, these phones will be discarded, whole or in parts.”
Participants at the five-day meeting looked at guidelines proposed by the Basel Convention Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative, which was launched in 2002 and brings mobile phone manufacturers and service providers together with the Convention.
The Bali meeting also saw the launch of the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), which provided a forum for governments, industry leaders, non-governmental organisations and academia to tackle the disposal of old computer equipment, including through global recycling schemes.
In the light of the UN decisions, Qatar too would soon have a policy on e-waste disposal, the environmentalist said.

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