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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

E-Waste Policy in Bangladesh: A Timely Initiative

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has recently called for a public consultation on a draft policy regarding e-waste management and recycling system. The policy document, which was published online on 20 June, is open for public consultation till 20 July.

Electronic waste or e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. According to the “Global E-waste Monitor Report 2020”; 53.6 million tons of e-waste were produced in world in 2019, which becomes 7.3 kg of e-waste per person. To express in other ways; this is equivalent to 125,000 jumbo jets and 4,500 Eiffel towers! Most worrying concern is- only around 20% of these e-waste are properly document and recycled.  4% of these are recycled in inferior condition. For rest 76% e-waste, no tracking is available!

Without proper collection, recycling, and transportation; e-waste poses widescale dangers. If mixed with soil, it degrades soil quality and hampers the growth of plants-corps. Similarly, it pollutes water and causes severe imbalance in the planetary ecosystem. By releasing carbon-di-oxide; it enhances global warming. All these together severely affects human health, like: birth defects, nervous system damage, reproductive system damage, damage of vital organs (brain, heart, liver, kidney etc.).

Regulations have been developed around the world for efficient and sustainable management of e-waste. The Basal convention, designed in 1992 under United Nations Environment program, aims to monitor and control the transboundary flow of hazardous wastes and their disposals. Since then, several international organizations such as “Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative” (MPPI), “Solving the E-waste Problem” (StEP), “Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment “(PACE), “National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative “(NEPSI) have been launched to address e-waste crisis. 

The “European WEEE Directive “(2002) was developed to manage the end-of -life electronics in the European Union. Japan has launched the “Home Appliance Recycling Law (HARL)” and “Small Appliance Recycling Law “to increase the recycling rate of e-waste. Countries like USA and Canada current do not have federal regulations to deal with the e-waste issue, rather they rely on relevant policies imposed by the provincial government. Australia have passed the “National Waste Policy “(2009) and “National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme” (2011) to improve the recycling rate. China placed the extended producer responsibility practice in 2011 for e-waste recycling. India developed the “Guidelines for environmentally sound management of e-waste” in 2008 to address this issue.

Therefore, current efforts of BTRC to formulate a policy regarding e-waste is indeed a welcoming initiative. The draft policy contains some overview regarding origin, types, dangers of e-waste along with basic guidelines for e-waste management. We can expect it to be enriched further through experts and public consultation.

One aspect that can be considered to include in this policy is the provision of donating old/unused equipment for educational purpose, before they turn into e-waste. For example: telecommunication industry is a massive user of electronic equipment and corresponding source of e-waste. As technological advancement occurs rapidly in this sector (like: 2G-3G-4G-5G wireless technologies); it is quite common there to find many existing functional equipment becoming obsolete overnight. However, such equipment which are still safely operatable (like: router, switch, server, BTS) can be used for educational purpose in science-engineering universities across the country.

So, a process regarding this, which can address safe transfer of these equipment and corresponding know-how (without any sort of commercial interest of the concerned parties) from industry to academia, can be included in this policy draft of BTRC. It is mentionable that certain telecom operator in Bangladesh has already carried out such endeavor, which ultimately turned out to be quite beneficial for the recipient (a pioneering university of the country). If such practice expands further, then it can ensure better utilization of these expensive imported equipment, while providing a nice scope for the science-engineering students to learn cutting-edge technologies.

Formulating regulations/policy for e-waste management in Bangladesh is the first but a highly significant step to address this crucial challenge. In fact a comprehensive and effective policy regarding this has now become a demand of time.

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