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Persisting threats to human life, and the environment

Persisting threats to human life, and the environment


LAHORE:

Pakistan is currently confronted with the same problem as the rest of the developing nations. Electronic waste processing can have serious consequences for the environment and health.

Electronic waste, also known as e–waste, is a term that refers to gadgets at the end of their useful lives and that are destined to be refurbished or salvaged, reused. Hall Road, which is Lahore’s largest electronic market, is also home to heaps of e-waste, including broken phones, batteries, appliances, chargers and computer parts, all of which are sold for dime-a-dozen by local vendors.

Many of this junk comes from developed countries where it is not allowed to be used due to legal restrictions and planned obsolescence. These obsolete products can be found in the global south, which offers a huge market. There they can be salvaged for usable parts and then sold for profit. Gadgets such as old laptops and desktop computers, condensers and CD players, and fax machines are in dipped into toxic chemicals to extract trace amounts gold, silver, and platinum from their circuitry, while the rest is incinerated.

Various factories and warehouses propped across Lahore’s Band Road area are responsible for these extractions, but often the hazardous chemicals used in the process, along with the waste that forms, is dumped in the Ravi river via sewage.

According to Ali Ijaz, Deputy Director of Punjab Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Pakistan was a signatory and ratified the Basel Convention on July 24, 1994. “The convention monitors the movement of toxic garbage such as e-waste. Despite Punjabi environmental legislation, there are no guidelines for electronic garbage. This should be included in municipal solid waste. We do not have rules regarding solid waste disposal. This is a problem for us,” shared the director.

According to a report by EPA, although electronic waste corresponds to only 1.4 per cent of Punjab’s normal solid waste, it can introduce up to 70 per cent heavy metals in our soil including up to 40 per cent lead.

Professor Salman Tariq, Assistant at Punjab University Department of Environment Sciences, stated that e-waste is a toxic substance that affects the human body’s adipose tissues. This can have a serious negative impact on fetal development, breastfeeding and the health of mothers. Mercury and other neurotoxins found in TV screens can also cause nerve damage. Cadmium and mercury, which are found in circuit boards and batteries can contaminate water and prove to be carcinogenic.

“A lot of these waste materials while potentially toxic, are also non-biodegradable. Such as the minerals, plastics and radioactive components used in devices and batteries, do not run out even after being buried in the ground for hundreds of years and a single cell phone battery can contaminate up to 600,000 liters of water,” Dr Tariq informed.

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Global e-Waste Monitor published a 2020 report that showed 53.6 percent of the world’s e-waste was generated annually. Only 17.4 percent of it is recycled. The report further revealed that China is the largest emitter of electronic waste, with a volume 10.1 percent. The United States is the second largest producer of electronic waste at 6.9%. India generates 3.2 millions tons.

India is the only country of South Asia that has enacted legislation to dispose off electronic waste, but it is still being implemented. Pakistan, on the other side, is currently at ground zero and has policies in place regarding disposal or recycling electronic waste.

A spokesperson for Lahore Waste Management Company stated that they don’t sort any garbage collected in Lahore. “All that waste is dumped at the dumping site where our compost plants are located. Some of the waste can be composted, but solid waste, including glass and tin containers and lids, must be disposed of. The waste left after the composting process is dumped in the ground, but there is no policy or procedure for separate disposal of electronic waste,” he told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5, 2008.Th, 2022.

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