The Growing Problem Of E-waste As A Hazard To Human Life

Electronic waste is a growing concern in Pakistan as more and more gadgets are used but there is no policy of effective removal or reuse

The Growing Problem Of E-waste As A Hazard To Human Life

Contemporary economists, policymakers and development practitioners argue trade openness and globalisation can put developing countries in the right way for their economic growth and development. 

But trade openness harms developing countries more than it benefits them. 

Different issues like an increase in current account deficit and trade deficit have been observed but now they are also facing problems with e-waste after the implementation of trade openness and globalisation focused policies. 

E-waste refers to electrical/ electronic waste which includes discarded waste from different electrical and electronic devices. 

Although the problem of e-waste is global but developing countries are more vulnerable and as Pakistan is a developing country, this problem has become a challenge for sustainable socio-economic development. According to the Ministry of Climate Change, on average annually Pakistan receives 954 kilotons of e-waste from other countries. 

E-waste produces numerous harmful effects on human health as well as on the environment and ecosystem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) during the recycling of electrical and electronic devices different types of poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals are produced. 

In Pakistan most of the recycling process is informal where electrical equipment is burnt as a means of ‘fixing’ the waste problem. During this process, different types of toxic gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and CCIFs gases are emitted which are the main contributors to climate change and global warming. This can cause different health issues like immature birth, dysfunctional of hormonal system, immune system and also negative effects on cognitive development of people. 

Along with these harmful effects, e-waste can also cause soil and water pollution. On July 25 2022, the Ministry of Climate Change formulated the “National Hazardous Waste Management Policy 2022”. Two points of this policy focus on how to manage e-waste in Pakistan - the first being the implementation of the Basel Convention and the second focuses on control trans-border movement of hazardous waste. 

However, the policy lacks an effective mechanism for managing e-waste. Many developed and developing countries have formulated proper policies for dealing with the emerging problem of e-waste, and Pakistan can learn from them. 

For effective control of the trans-border movement of hazardous substances, the government of Pakistan should make a list of electrical and electronic devices that contain high levels of harmful chemicals and metals and completely ban their imports. 

A high pricing mechanism for importers on such items can also work because such step can discourage importers from importing high chemicals and metals containing electrical and electronic items. 

Different national authorities like Pakistan Customs and ANF are responsible for the trans-border movements of goods, without equipping them with the latest technology trans-border movements of high chemical and metals contained electrical and electronic items will not be possible. These authorities need to build better human capacity and technology for effective control of trans-border movement of e-waste. 

The recycling process of e-waste in Pakistan is informal and issuing licenses to specific authorities for the collection and recycling of e-waste can minimise the harmful effects produced by the current informal process. The lack of funds and financing can act as a barrier to establishing separate authorities in developing countries like Pakistan, but many countries have overcome this problem with the help of a recycling funding policy.

Under this process, manufacturers, importers, and retailers finance recycling process. The government of Pakistan should consider partnerships with national and international organisations and companies so that the recycling process proceeds according to international standards. 

In the whole process, consumer is also an important stakeholder. Awareness campaigns about the harmful effects of e-waste on human health and the environment can change consumer behaviour patterns for selling and buying electrical and electronic devices. 

Pakistan is also facing serious climate changes in the form of flooding, heat stroke, and smog now the increasing accumulation of e-waste will further increase climate changes along with adverse effects on human health. 

It is about time policymakers in Pakistan should understand the problem of e-waste and formulate a comprehensive policy.  

Wajhullah Fahim is a research student at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad.