E-waste danger looms

HEALTH THREAT: Discarded handphones and computers contain heavy metals that can seep into the ground

KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIANS’ desire for electronic gadgets, especially handphones, is contributing to rising electronic waste, or e-waste.

The Department of Environment said yesterday that discarded handphones should be recycled to avoid environment-related health complications. There are 37 million registered units.

Hazardous substances division director Datin Paduka Che Asmah Ibrahim said discarded phones, computers and washing machinescontainedlead,mercury and cadmium. “If dumped in landfills, these substances will leach out from

the devices and seep into the ground.” She said this would lead to an increased amount of heavy metals in the soil, which would eventually be exposed to humans.

“If exposed for long periods, these metals can cause learning disabilities in children and damage the lungs, kidneys and liver,” she told the New Straits Times. The local scenario was not as alarming as in developed countries, Che Asmah said, adding that the government was monitoring a household e-waste recycling project in Penang before carrying out the system nationwide.

E-waste is regulated under the Environmental Quality (Scheduled Wastes) Regulations 2005. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said last week that the amount of e-waste generated from the industrial sector in 2009 was 134,000 tonnes, or 7.86 per cent of the total waste generated.

In 2010, the amount of e-waste had increased by 17.9 per cent to 163,000 tonnes, or 8.68 per cent of the total waste generated.

The combined e-waste generated by households, businesses  and institutions sector was 592,391 tonnes in 2006, 639,493 tonnes in 2007 and 624,143 tonnes in 2008;   the annual average  generated was 635,030 tonnes.

“Therefore, there is a need for a proper collection, segregation and recycling e-waste system  to manage the waste.”

Uggah said his ministry was monitoring the  Penang project, which was under the guidance of the Japan  International Cooperation Agency.

“The DOE will use the project, which ends in May, as a model before we use the results for a nationwide collection system and  policy development.”

In the project, e-waste is collected from appliance shops, handphone shops and hypermarkets and  sent to recycling plants.

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