Growing problem of e-waste can only be addressed by more awareness and recycling

E-waste is discarded electronic products such as old computers, televisions, mobile phones or even wires and CD players. Disposing of it improperly can cause air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution.

Kara Alphonso, a 14-year-old Canadian at Greenfield Community School in Dubai, has collected 170 kilograms of electronic waste for recycling in the past month. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Every new electrical item we buy usually comes with the added expense of discarding an older model. How we dispose of such waste presents a challenge and a responsibility so as not to damage the environment.

DUBAI // From smartphones to tablets and even televisions, the world is fascinated with electronic devices, but a global problem lies in the fact we love nothing more than to upgrade to a new model.

Every upgrade means a downgrade for our old devices – usually to the scrap heap – and, as global e-waste looks set to top 50 million tonnes this year, there is a growing need for people to dispose of their potentially dangerous old devices in an environmentally friendly way.

According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, 60 to 90 per cent of non-recycled e-waste is illegally dumped in Asian and African countries.

“Export of hazardous waste from European Union and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member states to non-OECD countries is banned,” according to the report.

“Instead, thousands of tonnes of e-waste are falsely declared as second-hand goods and exported from developed to developing countries.”

The UAE is no different to any other major electronics consumer, with one UN-sponsored project saying that each year the average resident generates 17.2 kilograms of e-waste, much of which contains toxins such as arsenic, cadmium and mercury.

So it is no surprise that UAE residents are being urged to recycle more e-waste, which if improperly disposed of can -infiltrate landfill sites and pollute the environment.

E-waste can cause water, soil and air pollution, the latter the result of devices being burnt to get at the precious metals inside, such as gold and copper.

If not disposed of properly, toxins from beryllium, cadmium, mercury and lead can also enter the soil and water supplies.

Dubai e-waste company Madenat Al Nokhba Recycling Services has gone from collecting 20 metric tonnes a month to about 164 – but its business development manager believes there is more scope for protective recycling.

“Materials such as cathode ray tubes (CRT) , commonly found in computer monitors and old televisions, are specially recycled because they contain toxins that are considered very dangerous,” said Beri Mangoh.

“CRTs have lead in the glass, which can seriously harm the environment and our health if leaked into the soil and water table.”

Ms Mangoh said local residents had to work together to keep such toxic materials out of the country’s landfill sites.

“It requires just a little extra effort to responsibly dispose of e-waste, which we can all do by buying just what we need, donating to charities or helping those in need of our used electronics,” she said.

“Segregating our used electronics that we no longer need, are outdated or beyond repair, we should call an approved recycler for collection, or deposit them at the recycler’s facility for proper recycling.”

Youssef Chehade, an expert in e-waste management, sustainability and recycling, said that the UAE produced about 100,000 tonnes of e-waste each year.

The co-founder of UAE e-waste management company Ecyclex said that it was the law for electronics companies and retailers to recycle their e-waste.

“It is legally required, otherwise they might face fines,” he said.

“Also, recycling properly boosts the public image of companies, protects their confidential data, contributes to their corporate social responsibility initiatives and, in most cases, is financially rewarding for the companies.”

One Dubai resident taking e-waste recycling seriously is Kara Alphonso.

The Grade 8 pupil at Greenfield Community School in Dubai Investments Park, for a school project collected 170 kilograms of e-waste in just one month – from old TVs, DVD players, batteries and light bulbs to printers, -cables, laptops and keyboards.

“I’ve been collecting for only a few weeks and I’ve already seen so much waste,” said the 14-year-old Canadian, who has lived in the UAE for eight years with her parents and brother.

“I can see how much waste is out there and we all need to do better and recycle.”

Kara started a campaign to collect e-waste at her school for the project but has now vowed to continue it for rest of the year.

“I knew that there was limited recycling in the UAE so I found a company online [Madenat Al Nokhba] that recycled e-waste. I collect these items that people didn’t want any more or wanted to put out in the bin and give it to the company,” she said.