Friday, 13 April 2012

Letter to the Editor: Provide Facilities for the Disposal of Electronic Waste


Earth Hour was observed on March 31st by people across the country who profess concern for the environment and climate change. However, the fleeting and superficial nature of the event makes it of dubious educational and practical value. Several organisations and corporate entities, however, must be commended for implementing environmentally responsible initiatives that go beyond the hour-long festivities. This includes HSBC's used battery collection programme (Metro, 30th March), scheduled to run until June 5.

The predicament of the public now, however, is where to dispose of used batteries for recycling after this programme ends. It is common knowledge that batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals could be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.

The disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) such as dry cell batteries and light bulbs has been a perennial problem for ordinary citizens trying to find a solution to e-waste management. The Green Living Special Interest Group of the Malaysian Nature Society collects used batteries from the public but faces problems trying to locate a facility willing to accept them for reclamation, recycling, or safe disposal. The only authorised scheduled waste contractor in the country is unwilling to agree to anything other than a one-off collection as a goodwill gesture. Unlicensed "recycling" outfits which claim to "recycle" computers and other electronic waste items more often than not strip and recover only valuable metals from the electronic products and dispose of the rest of the items in the trash, where they invariably end up in landfills. It is ironic that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government claims that Malaysians do not recycle enough, yet when initiatives are made by environmental organisations to collect electronic waste and hazardous household waste for recycling or safe disposal, no corporate or governmental entity is able to offer a solution.

We would strongly urge the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to implement measures to streamline and increase the recycling and safe disposal of electronic waste. These measures would include:

1. Phasing out the use of mercury-containing batteries through legislation;

2. Ensuring uniformity in the collection, storage and transportation of batteries and hazardous waste;

3. Requiring manufacturers to provide facilities for the collection of used batteries and electronic products for recycling, and instituting “producer take-back” measures;

4. Providing facilities to collect electronic waste and hazardous household waste, including batteries, electrical appliances, light bulbs, paint and chemicals, at accessible locations, such as in front of local council buildings and residents' associations’ buildings.

In the meantime, the public would be well-advised to reduce the number of batteries entering the waste stream by not purchasing unnecessary battery-operated products and by purchasing and using rechargable batteries instead of single-use batteries.

Keeping toxic metals and environmental pollutants out of our waste stream and thus our air, soil and water should be a national health and safety concern, and not merely a month-long Earth Hour corporate social responsibility project.

Coordinator, Green Living Special Interest Group,
Malaysian Nature Society