Accounting for and managing e-waste in the Philippines

Technologies make gadgets obsolete in a rapid rate. In California, about 10,000 computers and televisions become unusable each day. In the Philippines, a computer unit becomes ‘unusable’ up to five years from the date of its purchase. The hundreds of thousands of computer units imported by the Philippines in 2002 must have been obsolete by now.

A new mobile phone gets depleted (if not unfashionable) in more than a year of its use. Sales in mobile phones is estimated to reach 1.1 billion units in 2007. In the homefront, sales in mobile phones was estimated to have reached 25 million units in 2005.

I’m not sure with television, although one may infer that more than 50,000 sets are sold in the Philippines each month. The introduction of high-tech TV (flat, plasma, digital) must have spurred the disposal of the old TVs for the high-tech ones.

We’re not even talking here of other electronic appliances like videocams, washing machines, and refrigerators.

So what am I trying to drive at here? You guess it right: Electronic waste or e-waste in short. An electronic gadget becomes a waste once its owner disposes of it in an unusable state, which exposes people and environment to danger because of its toxic elements, namely, cadmium, lead, lithium, and the like. The gadget’s non-biodegradable nature largely aggravates the problem.

There is global recognition of the problem, which inspired the Basel Convention of 1989 and its amendment in 1995.

The European Union has complied with it in terms of having a clear policy on electronic waste recycling and regulation of waste shipment. A signatory to the Convention, the Philippines legislated at least two laws: Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act (RA 6969) and Philippine Clean Air Act (RA 8749). Both laws protect the Philippine environment against toxic wastes, including those coming from other countries.

But despite the existence of these laws, government has inked a deal with Japan via the Japanese-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), which covers among others legalization of trade in hazardous and toxic waste, touted to be a violation of not only the Philipine laws but also of the Basel agreement, to which both countries are signatories. Electronic waste may not be explicitly covered by the agreement thus far but it just sets the precedent for future trade in e-waste.

But hasn’t there been any e-waste trade involving the Philipines? The Basel Action Network (BAN) claimed in 2002 that the California-based IMS Recycling company has exported e-waste to countries including the Philippines. My Internet search to validate this claim was not successful, though.

Apparently, Philippine government has no clear policy and program on dealing with e-waste. The University of the Philippines already noted this in 2004. Greenpeace Philippines also warned about this in 2005. (Advanced countries, including the US, already have. According to AP News, American large computer manufacturers have gradually developed tech greening programs of their own. Although BAN complains that there are no equivalent programs for other devices like TVs and cellphones.)

The National Statistics Office keeps data on e-waste (year 2000), but these unfortunately cover just four items: refrigerators, washing machines, radio and cassette and televisions. But I wonder if the agency has already developed mechanisms to broaden the scope to include computers and mobile phones.

In the meantime, individuals may do share in helping control e-waste in the country. A blogger gives this advice:

The solution to this problem lies in the hands of the manufacturers. But as individuals, we can try to help by: (1) upgrading or repairing electronic products, instead of replacing them with new ones; (2) donating our old equipment to a family member or friend; and (3) by checking around for disposal options rather than just throwing the old, useless gadget in the trash.

Oh, I also got an advice of my own 🙂 .