WE ARE are still struggling to implement RA 9003, a 17-year year old law on solid waste management, and yet we are now faced with a new and deadlier threat- Electronic Waste or E-waste. Discarded electronic gadgets may seem harmless but inside they contain heavy metals and other toxic substances.

Because of rapid advances in technology, electronic devices quickly become obsolete. Just observe how often we change cellphones. Telecom companies replace their costumers’ phones every two years for free. The current trend is to produce better, smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient electronic products. .

According to the United Nations University (UNU), the volume of discarded electronics in East and South-East Asia jumped almost two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation is growing fast in both total volume and per capita measures.

Driven by rising incomes and high demand for new gadgets and appliances, the average increase in e-waste across all 12 countries and areas analyzed in the UNU research— Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand and Vietnam — was 63% in the five years ending in 2015 and totalled 12.3 million tonnes, a weight 2.4 times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

According to UNU, the average e-waste generation per capita in the region was approximately 10 kg in 2015, with the highest generation found in Hong Kong (21.7 kg), followed by Singapore (19.95 kg) and Taiwan, Province of China (19.13 kg). Meanwhile, Cambodia (1.10 kg), Vietnam (1.34 kg) and the Philippines (1.35 kg) are the lowest e-waste generators per capita in 2015.

We are one of the lowest generators of E-waste but if we don’t do something this early this will become a serious problem. At present we do not have a law that specifically addresses E-waste, it is only covered a general law on hazardous waste which is RA 6969. While there are E-waste collectors and a few DENR-accredited E-waste recyclers, we generally lack infrastructure for environmentally sound e-waste management.

The reason for worry is the thousands of informal recyclers. These backyard recyclers usually resort to open burning, which can cause acute and chronic ill-effects on public health and the environment. Open burning of e-waste is practiced mainly when burning cables to recover copper. They recover gold, silver, palladium and copper, largely from printed circuit boards (PCBs) and wires using hazardous wet chemical leaching processes commonly also known as acid baths.

Backyard recyclers do not also have proper storage facilities and personal protective equipment. I once saw a junkshop in our city with a huge pile of discarded cathode ray tubes (CRT) computer monitors. These CRT’s contain lead which can leach into the ground.

To address the E-waste problem, the focus should not only be in the end-of-life use or disposal but in the entire life cycle of the product from design to production. In other countries, they have laws that require manufacturers to take back their products after their useful life. This is known as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Our legislators should start looking into the E-waste problem. Aside from enacting an EPR law, there should be an anti-dumping law. We should not allow our country to be the dumping ground for discarded and obsolete electronic equipment.