Technology In Focus | Environmentalist, ICT expert call for urgent action to tackle e-waste
In 2016, Jamaica generated approximately 17,000 tons, or 5.9kg, per inhabitant, of e-waste domestically, according to a Global E-waste Monitor 2017 report done by the United Nations University in association with the International Telecommunication Union and International Solid Waste Association. Based on all indicators, it is projected to increase in the coming years.
To address what has become a growing new stream of waste, environmentalists and information and communications technology (ICT) experts are calling for the urgent enactment of regulations to accompany waste management legislation to tackle e-waste. They say a robust-public education campaign and a national programme to manage disposal are also critical to the country better managing this type of waste.
E-waste – or electronic waste – refers to discarded electrical and electronic devices, including television sets, microwaves, computers and cell phones.
According to a 2017 research paper, titled E-Waste Management Policy and Regulatory Framework for Jamaica, which was prepared by Juan Manuel Roldan, a senior technical and economic adviser at the US-based Telecommunications Management Group, Inc, Jamaica’s e-waste is being driven by greater access, both in terms of affordability and availability, to personal computers and mobile phones.
Increased numbers of television sets and PC monitors are also by-products of a quickly evolving technology industry and culture in Jamaica. As the analogue-to-digital TV switch-over kicks in, the country will undoubtedly generate higher levels of TV-related e-waste, he posited. This is because citizens will take the opportunity to upgrade to newer digital TVs and monitors.
Citing the possibility of serious health and environmental hazards, Suzanne Stanley, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), says there is a need to urgently look at how we treat e-waste.
“Electronic waste often contains harmful toxic chemicals – such as mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium and chemical flame retardants – which can leak into the environment and cause serious health problems to people exposed to them, and if they are burnt, those toxic chemicals will pollute our air and can get into our lungs,” said Stanley.
The environmental activist pointed out that there was no national programme to tackle electronic waste.
“There was a pilot study a few years ago by the NSWMA (National Solid Waste Management Authority). However, it was never implemented on a larger scale. Jamaican electronic waste typically gets mixed in with all the other garbage, which is sent to our poorly managed dumps,” she added.
In fact, Jamaica does not currently have laws or regulations specifically governing the management of e-waste. Instead, Jamaica has two acts and two sets of regulations that address hazardous waste – indirectly addressing e-waste. They are the National Solid Waste Management Act, 2001; the Natural Resources Conservation Act; the Natural Resources Conservation (Permits and Licences) Regulations, 1996, amended in 2015; and The Natural Resources (Hazardous Waste and Control of Transboundary Movement) Regulations, 2002, amended in 2009.
Additionally, Jamaica is party to one international treaty, the Basel Convention, which covers the movement of hazardous waste between nations.
Dr Sean Thorpe, president of the Jamaica Computer Society (JCS), said that there is a need for the wider society to understand how laws regarding electronic waste disposal would be enforced.
“I believe that if we are to truly curb pollution due to e-waste, the enforcement becomes the bigger question that needs to be answered and understood. Our intent to become a fully immersed digital society will depend on it. Entities like the NSWMA and National Environment and Planning Agency, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the small business sector, the legal community and the general public need to be an active part of the round-table and town-hall discussions on a timely subject and I’m not sure we have done enough yet to raise the level of educational awareness required,” said Thorpe.
The NSWMA says that arising from that 2015 pilot project, three sets of regulations were drafted, including the National Solid Waste Management (Disposal of Hazardous Waste) (Electronic and Electrical) Regulations (2018), which has not yet been passed.
“Public consultations have been completed. Private-sector consultations will commence soon,” NSWMA public relations specialist Kimberley Blair told The Gleaner in an emailed response.
Blair explained that the regulations will enable better protection of health and the environment, conservation of resources and energy, and provide an impetus for the development of small businesses, as well as economic growth.
“Recycling e-waste is a growing industry, which will create new jobs, as you have to sort, ship and refurbish the non-usable electronics into a completely new product. New jobs equal more workers, thus boosting the economy,” Blair pointed out.
Stanley, however, noted that aside from the legal framework, there needs to be public education on proper disposal of e-waste and the establishment of depots in every parish to collect e-waste and ensure that it is disposed of safely if it isn’t being recycled.
Blair said that the coming regulations will seek to establish these collection points. However, she indicated that in the interim, the NSWMA has made provisions for persons to have their e-waste taken to the NSWMA’s regional offices and persons, including commercial clients, can contact the entity at its toll-free line – 1-888-CLEANJA (253-2652) – for additional information.
In February, NSWMA Executive Director Audley Gordon told The Gleaner that 18,910 square metres of land had been identified in Hill Run, St Catherine, to temporarily store e-waste. He said the site would have to be retrofitted for this purpose. He further pointed out that the possibility of exporting e-waste to overseas markets was also being explored.