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Your e-waste, your responsibility!

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Laudato Si’ Week 2021 calls to mind how we all can create change regarding our environment and all God’s creations. Locally, the Commissions in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain are mobilizing to share awareness and create dialogue on taking care of ‘our common home’ 


Let’s talk about e-waste
Humans generate a lot of e-waste, 50 million tonnes globally according to the World Economic Forum, an international organisation for Public-Private Cooperation. It expects this figure will double if things remain unchanged.

“The situation is not helped by the fact that only 20% of global e-waste is formally recycled. The remaining 80% is often incinerated or dumped in landfill. Many thousands of tonnes also find their way around the world to be pulled apart by hand or burned by the world’s poorest workers. This crude form of urban mining has consequences for people’s wellbeing and creates untold pollution. See more.

Where’s your electronic junk?

Personally, I have three computers, a Blackberry, two Samsung mobile phones; and there’s a Nokia somewhere. A friend in England said users there “trade in” their phones to phone companies or sell them for cash to online companies. She said, “me on the other hand, keep them all”. Another, said her first phone was a Motorola flip; in total she has owned seven phones. “Out of that I exchanged one to Apple so they could recycle the parts. The others were either thrown away in the trash or I still have them in a drawer.”

Innovation, lower costs and insatiable demand have rapidly increase acquisition of electronic devices with mobile phones leading the pack. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) Third Quarter Report Market Penetration 2018 states there are a total of 1,956,000 mobile subscriptions for Trinidad and Tobago, mobile voice market penetration is 143 per 100 inhabitants.  TATT told the Catholic News penetration rates do not refer to users since “an individual may have more than one subscription. For example, a person may have more than 2 cell phones and this would be counted as 2 subscriptions.”

When you decide to upgrade your Android or iPhone and throw the old one in the trash, you’ve opted to inappropriately dispose of your e-waste.  Cell phones and chargers should NOT be thrown into the trash. The Solid Waste Management Company Ltd which is responsible for the country’s landfills has a notice on its website alerting hauliers e-waste, lead batteries and fluorescent bulbs are not accepted at landfills.

Indiscriminate disposal of our electronic devices is leaving a toxic legacy on our environment. According to wiki-based site Ifixit.com: when electronics end up in landfills, toxics like lead, mercury, and cadmium leach into the soil and water.

The World Economic Forum defines e-waste as, “anything with a plug, electric cord or battery (including electrical and electronic equipment) from toasters to toothbrushes, smartphones, fridges, laptops and LED televisions that has reached the end of its life, as well as the components that make up these end- of-life products. E-waste is also called waste electrical or electronic equipment, or WEEE for short. Currently, only a few countries have a uniform way of measuring this waste. E-waste comes from many sources including households, businesses and governments.”

What should you do with your old electronic stuff?

The EMA says you should, “allow persons who have been issued a Certificates of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to handle e-waste to accept their waste. Avoid the disposal of e-waste as general garbage since e-waste is hazardous to public health if improperly handled”.

The collection and disposal of e-waste in Trinidad and Tobago is currently handled by private companies. Two companies have been given Certificates of Environmental Clearance by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Piranha International Limited and Greenchip Recycling Ltd Piranha, based at Southern Main Road, California stated “On average, annually we ship approximately five to eight 40-foot containers. These are mainly motherboards, associated components, RAM, flat screens, keyboards, phone mainboards, mice and batteries”.

Responding to questions sent via email, the company explained the process for treating with e-waste collected starts with testing and de-manufacturing/disassembly of the units or devices, batteries, motherboard/mainboard, screens etc. They are sorted by type, palletized and packed in containers for shipment internationally. The service provided is “all-inclusive” to individuals and companies and there is a fee for the service.

Piranha has a Basel Permit through the EMA for shipping the hazardous waste from Trinidad. Trinidad and Tobago ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal in 1994.  Piranha said “This means that we are ethically and legally bound to work with certified recyclers who are similarly compliant with anti-dumping and recycling requirements”. Piranha International Limited is the only R2 certified Recycler in the region, a credential which requires certified companies to have a policy on managing used and end-of-life electronics equipment, components and materials based on strategies such as reuse, materials and energy recovery and/or disposal.

Piranha said, “This certification means that our operations meet international requirements for e-waste recycling. Thereby giving the assurance that your e-waste will be managed in an environmentally safe and secured manner”.

Before handing over items for disposal individuals and corporate entities should secure critical and personal data. The company said it also offered certified and secure destruction of sensitive data as a separate service.

The EMA told Catholic News urges the public to make contact if they are aware of handlers of e-waste who do not have approvals or uncertainty about whether a CEC is required “so that the EMA can provide clarification and assist with bringing that person into compliance”.

What of legislation?

The Draft Waste Rules 2018 deals with hazardous waste and when enacted would cover e-waste; generators of waste (inclusive of non-hazardous and special waste) above specific quantities will be required to register with the EMA “to encourage persons to assess their operations and implement measures to promote resource and waste recovery and recycling so as to minimise the quantities of wastes generated over time”. The Rules will permit persons receiving wastes for transport, treatment, recovery and disposal to operate in an “environmentally sound manner so as to minimise releases and emissions associated with the handling of wastes. It will establish a National Register which allows the public to identify persons who are registered; collect data on waste generation and handling to inform national policy and decision-making; increase accountability to ensure consignments of waste are tracked to final destination through a waste manifest system “to prevent littering and dumping”.

What is the status of e-waste locally?

For any programme of reuse, and recycling to be successful there has to be buy-in from the national community. A study conducted by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of the West Indies explored “Perception of middle- and low-income communities on separation of household waste in the Caribbean region: A case study from Trinidad” (Farley, Banerjee, Cooper) 2018. A survey was done of 172 households in the Tunapuna Piarco Regional Corporation “to determine the willingness of middle-income and low-income communities to engage in separation at source…so as to inform it of obstacles to waste separation and what is required to improve recycling rates”.  Speaking about the survey Dr Kailas Shekar Banerjee said, “What we have identified in dealing with these things should be income group-specific, we cannot engage two levels of people in the same way, we need different approaches”.

Although more than 80 percent of middle-income households, and almost 70 percent of lower-income were concerned about the environment, a “marked difference” was observed towards their role in waste management—64 percent of middle income, while lower-income was indifferent 40 percent or unwilling to participate 32 percent.  Dr Banerjee said lower-income do not feel they need to do it and it was the government’s job.  “You cannot operate a system if people do not involve themselves,” he said in an interview June 3 at UWI, St Augustine.  The middle-income respondents were willing but with the adults in the household working, “They find it very hard to manage waste in the home, sorting of the items which are non-recyclable and recyclable.”

Dr Banerjee added, “If you do not sort the waste in the home, it will increase the amount of waste and the cost of operations.” Knowledge about e-waste was poor compared with other waste. He said for communities to learn about e-waste and its impact the regional corporations and the Environmental Management Authority needs to conduct seminars and workshops. “They do not know things inside that are chemically dangerous to the environment and toxic that will mix with the groundwater, and mix with the food chain,” Dr Banerjee said.

Contrary to the arrangement for e-waste disposal he said e-waste management should have state involvement because “proper” information is needed on the amount of e-waste collected and what are the impacts? He said, “We are not thinking about the next 30 years, next 50 years. We don’t know how frequently these things are changing; we do not know what is the end of it…Some of the chemicals they use are so new, so much more complex, they may not degrade in a short span. Like some fibres, some chemicals/compounds are so complex it takes a longer time to degrade.” The effect will be very toxic on the environment, ecology “and finally to us,” he added.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Pass on your old phones, computers, tablets, to persons who can find use for them eg. the TT Blind Welfare Association has a drive to collect old smart phones. They are formatting them with necessary text to speech software so blind persons could be introduced through training “to the power of the smart phone,” contact Kenneth Suratt, Executive Officer TTBWA 718-6373

2. Donate your old computers to be refurbished for use by NGOs or schools. Piranha provides this service.  “The machines are tested for suitability and function the hard drives are sanitised and a registered copy of windows is installed”

3. Limit consumption. Is it necessary to upgrade to the latest handset annually?

By Lara Pickford Gordon – senior staff writer
Email: snwriter.camsel@catholictt.org