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Hazardous e-waste needs regulation

Mobile phone technology could be used to correctly diagnose and treat crop diseases

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Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN

A lack of regulations is hampering Indonesia's efforts to manage electronic waste, leaving communities exposed to health hazards from the toxic chemicals, officials and experts say.

Along with other developing countries such as China, Indonesia is a destination for old electronics from developed countries in a trade deemed illegal by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, an international treaty addressing the uncontrolled dumping of such materials, which came into force in 1992 and was ratified by Indonesia a year later.

The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that the world produces 50 million tons of electrical and electronic equipment waste - e-waste - every year.

Heri Hamdani, an expert on waste management at the Ministry of Environment, said there was little data on the quantity of e-waste, and what was collected for recycling, but televisions and mobile phones made up the bulk of it, as these goods had become cheaper.

"There have been attempts to calculate the amount of e-waste, but it's hard to come up with a figure, because not all electronic goods in Indonesia are legal," Hamdani told IRIN.

According to environment ministry data there are an estimated 100 million mobile phones in Indonesia, and lower prices are increasing the use of computers, but environmental campaigners say a lot of electronic goods are being imported illegally.

Hamdani said his ministry was preparing regulations on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which he hoped could be implemented in the next one or two years, and would require electronics companies to be financially responsible for collecting and recycling e-waste.

Little awareness

So far, only Nokia, the Finland-based mobile phone maker, has encouraged mobile users to return their old handsets to its stores for recycling.

"Producers are reluctant to manage their e-waste because it costs a lot of money and there's no binding regulation - that's why we need legal pressure," said Sri Wahyono, a researcher at the government-run Centre for the Study and Application of Environmental Technology. "There's very little awareness of EPR."

Old electronic goods were thrown into garbage dumps along with other waste, and the discarded goods were later picked up by scavengers, who sold them to electronic repair stores for usable parts.

"The unusable parts are later thrown away arbitrarily, polluting the environment and water sources," Wahyono told IRIN. "This practice is harmful to people's health and the effects can be felt in the next five to 10 years."

Hazardous exposure

Exposure to chemicals from e-waste - including lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and polybrominated biphennyls - could damage the brain and nervous system, affect the kidneys and liver, and cause birth defects, said Candra Yoga Aditama, the Health Ministry's director-general of communicable diseases and environmental health.

Economic hardships forced thousands of impoverished people to make a living scavenging electronic garbage, exposing themselves to health hazards, said Martin Baker, a Greenpeace spokesman in Indonesia. "A lot of people who do this kind of work earn only about two dollars a day - they are poisoning themselves to death," Baker told IRIN.

The Indonesian Association of Scavengers said there were an estimated 500,000 scavengers in the capital, Jakarta - besides those in other cities - who sifted through garbage to salvage plastics, scrap metal, and cardboard.

Arum Tri Pusposari, spokeswoman for a private waste management company licensed to handle e-waste, PT Prasadha Pamunah Limbah Industri, said most e-waste was dumped at the firm's landfill southeast of Jakarta.

"E-waste management in a new thing in Indonesia and people have talked about it only recently," she commented. "The amount ... we process is insignificant, but we plan to have recycling facilities in the future."


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