TOXIC TECH: Looming e-waste problems for Thailand and Philippines

Feature story - September 28, 2005
28 September 2005 - Greenpeace today warned that Thailand and the Philippines face a looming electronic waste problem which is compounded by the lack of international legal protection because the two countries have not ratified the Basel Ban, which prohibits industrialized nations from dumping hazardous materials into third world countries.

Electronic waste at the Smokey Mountain garbage dump in Manila. Greenpeace today warned of a looming e-waste problem in the Philippines which can pose health and environmental risks. Electronic waste is the fastest growing component in the global waste stream amounting to 20 to 50 million tons worldwide with Asia contributing about 12 million tons a year.

Electronic waste at the Smokey Mountain garbage dump in Manila. Greenpeace today warned of a looming e-waste problem in the Philippines which can pose health and environmental risks. Electronic waste is the fastest growing component in the global waste stream amounting to 20 to 50 million tons worldwide with Asia contributing about 12 million tons a year.

A stack of computer monitors at a donation centre awaiting auction purchase from scrap dealers & used computer dealers. Greenpeace today warned of a looming e-waste problem in Thailand which can pose health and environmental risks. Electronic waste is the fastest growing component in the global waste stream amounting to 20 to 50 million tons worldwide with Asia contributing about 12 million tons a year.

Mother and child with electronic scraps. Greenpeace today warned of a looming e-waste problem in Thailand which can pose health and environmental risks. Electronic waste is the fastest growing component in the global waste stream amounting to 20 to 50 million tons worldwide with Asia contributing about 12 million tons a year.

The booming consumption of electronic and electrical goods - particularly PCs and mobile phones --  in the Philippines and Thailand has created a corresponding explosion in electronic scrap containing toxic, persistent chemicals and heavy metals, according to the new Greenpeace report entitled "Toxic Tech: Pulling the Plug on Dirty Electronics in Southeast Asia".  The report, details how the growing volume of e-waste is affecting the region, and the environmental and health consequences from toxic electronic components to which its poor workers are being exposed to.

Every year, obsolete and discarded electronic products account for 20 to 50 million tons of the world's hazardous waste, 12 million tons of which come from Asia(1).

"There is no question that the world has benefited immensely from the rapid developments in the electronics industry. But most people remain unaware of the negative health and environmental impacts associated with the disposal of electronic products," said Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner in Manila. "Many countries, including the Philippines and Thailand, are unprepared to deal with the negative health and environmental impacts brought about by the disposal of large volumes of toxic trash which the electronics industry has generated."

THAILAND

 Thailand imported approximately 28 million mobile phones from 2000 to 2003. In 2003 alone, 42 million mobile phone batteries were imported into the country representing a 43 increase from 2002. In the first quarter of 2005, Thailand had more than 2.6 million computer units or about 15.5 computers for every 100 households, a sharp increase from the previous figure of 11.7 computers per 100 households for the same period in 2004. (2)

In addition, figures from Thai government agencies indicate that between February 2004 and May 2005, more than 265 thousand tons of used electronics entered Thailand from countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore.  In 2003, the total e-waste waste produced within the country was around 58,000 tons.  The amount of electronic waste in the Kingdom is projected to increase at a rate of 12% each year, and an estimated 3 million pieces of electronic waste will be produced in 2006.  (3)

PHILIPPINES

In the Philippines, electronics manufacturing is the country's top export industry and electronic goods the top import.  At this present level of production, use, and importation, the country is faced with a mounting e-waste problem. This problem is aggravated by the high obsolescence rates of electronic goods. The average lifespan of a computer is currently from 3 to 5 years while a mobile phone lasts for an average of 18 months.

Recent statistics point to a surge in computers, mobile phones, and ultimately E-waste, in the country. Shipments of personal computers to the Philippines were estimated to reach 426,521 units in 2004 alone, and is projected to reach close to half a million units by the end of the year(4).  Meanwhile, the number of cellular phone users was recorded at 18 million in 2003 and at its current projected rate of increase is expected to reach more than 25 million units by end 2005(5).  

HMR Namrac, one of the biggest importers of used computers in the country pegs their imports of used computers at 1,000 to 2000 units per month. According to them, only about 10% is usable while the rest is being scrapped for parts that can still be used for refurbishing. HMR Philippines also receives 8-10 tons of E-wastes daily and is mostly sourced locally(6).  

Because of the lack of proper measures for E-waste disposal in the Philippines, the discarded technology is incinerated, dumped in landfills, or end up with backyard recyclers, exposing workers, poor communities, and the environment to poisonous heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and halogenated substances such as  brominated flame retardants (BFR), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The operations of the country's few existing recycling facilities are also unregulated, and their environmental practices questionable, as in the case of Clean Earth Solutions International who admitted to Greenpeace researchers that they process computer wastes via a thermal plant which is actually an incinerator, violating the Clean Air Act as well as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

MOUNTING PROBLEM

The rate at which these mountains of obsolete electronic products are growing will reach crisis proportions unless electronics corporations that profit from making and selling these devices face up to their responsibilities.

Greenpeace is campagning for the top mobile phone and computer companies worldwide to clean up their act. Companies such as Samsung, Nokia, LG Electronics, Sony and Sony Ericsson have made commitments to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals such as PVC and brominated flame retardants in the manufacturing of their products. Motorola is the latest to join the list of companies in committing to substitute these harmful substances with safer alternatives.

Other companies like Dell, IBM/Lenovo, HP, Siemens, Acer, Toshiba, Panasonic, Fujitsu-Siemens and Apple have so far, failed to commit.

 "The solution to toxic e-waste is in the hands of manufacturers. Companies must stop using toxic components in their products and establish take-back systems. Thailand and the Philippines should also ratify the Basel Ban. Otherwise, the mountains of e-waste that now exist in China and India may be a reality in our own region sooner than we think," said Kittikhun Kittiaram, Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner in Bangkok.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Beau Baconguis, Toxics Campaigner, +63 917 803 6077

Kittikhun Kittiaram, Toxics Campaigner, +66 1 3721149

Arthur Jones Dionio, Regional Media Campaigner, +66 1 9254835

1)United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2005. E-waste, the hidden side of IT equipment's manufacturing and use. Early warning on Emerging Environmental Threats, No. 5. Cited in: Greenpeace International Report. May 2005. Toxic Tech: Pulling the Plug on Dirty Electronics. 2)National Statistical Office. "Amount of IT equipment in households in Q1/2005" (in Thai), http://service.nso.go.th/nso/data/data23/stat_23/toc_15/15.4-2-148.xls, and "Amount of IT equipment in households in Q1/2004" (in Thai),http://service.nso.go.th/nso/data/data23/stat_23/toc_15/15.4-14-147.xls 3)Pollution Control Department and JETRO (Bangkok). 2004. Investigation on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment in Thailand: Conducted by Kokusai Kokyo (Thailand) Co., Ltd. June 2004. 4)International Data Corporation (www.idc.com) 5)http://www.digitalphilippines.org/itphil_fullarticle.php?id=181 6)Parayno, Phares. 2004. Environmental requirements, market access and competitiveness in the electronics sector: The Case of the Philippines. Project on Building Capacity for Improved Policy Making and Negotiation on Key Trade and Environment Issues) United Nations Conference on Trade and Development).

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