- The Bangladesh government has failed to implement electronic waste management regulations a year after introducing a new rule that was a decade in the making.
- Countries with large stakes in Bangladesh’s electrical goods market are reportedly lobbying the World Trade Organization for a one-year delay in the implementation of e-waste regulations; meanwhile, the WTO has raised several issues with the new rule, including a reduction in the standard for lead.
- As the process stalls, e-waste continues to pile up, as the Bangladesh electrical market experiences a massive boom.
- According to a 2010 report of the Environment and Social Development Organization, more than 15% of child recycling workers in Bangladesh die during and after the effects of handling e-waste each year, and more than 83% are exposed to toxic substances.
The Bangladesh government has taken no effective steps to implement the e-waste management regulations it introduced more than a year back, as the rules relating to it are stuck in procedural issues connected to the World Trade Organization.
The longer the implementation is delayed, the larger the pile of e-waste the country will have to eventually deal with, as the country’s electronics and electrical market experiences a massive boom.
It took the government nearly 10 years to introduce the E-waste Management Rule, on June 10, 2021, after the first draft was created in 2011. The Department of Environment (DOE) set itself a goal of managing at least 50% of its e-waste in five years and 10% in the first year.
It also took steps to set up a reliable recycling system at the Bangabandhu Hi-Tech Park in Kaliakair, Gazipur, shortly after the rule was introduced. The World Bank was also planning to invest roughly BDT 20 billion ($196 million) in the project.
The WTO, which reviewed the rules during the draft phase, raised issues with a number of aspects after the rules were published, including the reduced standard for lead in the rule.
A number of countries that have a large electrical goods market in Bangladesh are reportedly lobbying WTO for a one-year delay in the implementation of the rule as well as relaxations on a number of fronts.
So far, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has managed to host a single meeting since the rule was introduced, in January this year, with government officials, business associations, national and international companies and research groups present.
“E-waste is not currently on the priority list of DOE. We are rather busy with plastic pollution and others,” said Abdullah Al Mamun, deputy director of the waste and chemical management division under the Department of Environment.
Meanwhile, mobile phones, computers and home appliances all experience record sales across the nation, adding to the growing pile of e-waste, which is a massive hazard to the environment and the people of Bangladesh.
According to a 2010 report of the Environment and Social Development Organization, more than 15% of child workers in Bangladesh die during and after the effects of e-waste recycling each year, and more than 83% are exposed to toxic substances, become sick and live with long-term illness.
The delay in implementing the rule further deprives the Bangladesh government of potential revenue earnings.
“Ninety-seven percent of e-waste which is going to landfills is actually hazardously collected by unauthorized people who send them to Singapore and other countries that have recycling capacity,” said Abul Kalam Azad, managing director of Azizu Recycling and E-Waste Company Ltd.
“As a result, neither do we gain from recycling e-waste nor does the government receive proper taxes,” he added.
Another recycling company, JR Recycling Solutions Ltd., entered a partnership with the government under a public-private arrangement. The managing director of the company, MA Hossain, said the process has slowed down due to the failure to implement the rule.
Why this inactivity for a year?
Although it appears that the DOE is eager to control the growing e-waste problem, a deeper look reveals that businesses and nations dealing in electrical and electronic goods are attempting to slow down the implementation of the rule.
“We sent the draft rule to WTO because the rule required the manufacturer and importer to collect and manage e-waste,” said Md Hafizur Rahman, director general of the Ministry of Commerce WTO cell.
“In 2018, we once received a report advising us to remove a few substances from the list. But after the publication of the gazette, we heard about new things. We responded to both.”
In the E-Waste Management Rule 2021, the DOE has limited the use of heavy metals and substances including lead, mercury, chromium VI, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) up to 0.1%. The use of cadmium has been limited up to 0.01%.
The rule roughly states that manufacturers and importers of certain electronic products will be liable for limiting the use of these 10 substances. Also, they must work to collect e-waste that comes out of their brands, and help to scrap the goods in a way that the environment is not degraded.
Section 15, subsection 1, of the 2010 Environment Law says manufacturers and importers will be fined if they fail to follow the rule.
The rules Bangladesh has set follow the same list and standard of hazardous substances that the European Union follows for e-waste management.
According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2017, Europe was the world’s second-largest e-waste producer in 2017 with 12.3 million tons of e-waste and a 3-5% annual growth rate. Europe also has the highest collection rate (35%) of e-waste collection.
The principle of extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a big part of how European countries handle e-waste. EPR emphasizes that the manufacturing companies of electrical or electronic devices are responsible for them, even after they have been sold.
This is a key part of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive of the European Union, which says that it is the responsibility of the producer to handle the collection and recycling of those items.
Bangladesh is a major importer of electronic goods. Countries such as China, Russia, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and many more have thriving businesses here.
“These countries think this rule may hamper their business. That’s why they are asking for some relaxation,” said Hafizur Rahman of the WTO cell. The additional secretary of Bangladesh’s government said he believed the WTO had dropped the matter, as it had not given any further feedback after the last letter Bangladesh sent earlier this year.
Mongabay emailed the WTO headquarters via the Bangladesh Embassy in Geneva, inquiring whether the matter had been resolved. The email also asked whether the WTO advised maintaining the same demands on producer countries like the European Union. Mongabay had not received a reply by publication time.
Section 14, Subsection 2, of the rule allows companies to take as long as five years to fully comply with the standards set in the rule.
“And the government can give more time if they feel it is necessary,” said Mirza Shawkat Ali, another DOE director.
The cost of delaying implementation
Rowson Mamtaz, a professor of civil engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET),was one of the pioneer researchers in this field and worked on setting the rule. The goals set in the rule were based on a baseline study conducted by BUET and the DOE in 2018.
“The Department of Environment [DOE] has wanted a rule for managing e-waste for a long time not just because of the environmental hazards, but also because it has the potential to earn money,” she said.
The baseline study found that Bangladesh produced0.31 million tons of e-waste (not considering shipbreaking as e-waste) at a 20% growth rate.
If Bangladesh had started managing e-waste in 2021, it would have faced around 0.54 million tons of e-waste. If the country had begun this year, it would be facing 0.64 million tons.
Four years from now, the DOE will have to handle 1.33 million tons, including accumulated e-waste from past years. The report added that only 3% of waste is recycled, so the actual number could be higher than projected.
In 2012, research by the International Labor Office (ILO) showed that chemicals of primary concern in e-waste have an adverse impact on human health. It may cause diseases like cancer, asthma, nervous breakdowns, hearing problems, visual problems, infant mortality and disabilities and more. It also causes air pollution, water pollution, land pollution and is a threat to wildlife.
Weak waste management leaves Dhaka communities at risk from landfill sites
Banner image: E-waste management in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image via MaxPixel (Public domain).
Hossain, S., Sulatan, S., Shahnaz, F., Akram, A. B., Nesa, M., & Happell, J. (2010). Study on E-waste: Bangladesh Situation. Retrieved from Environment and Social Development Organization-ESDO website: https://www.env.go.jp/recycle/circul/venous_industry/pdf/env/h27/02_4.pdf
Baldé, C.P., Forti V., Gray, V., Kuehr, R., Stegmann, P. (2017). The Global E-waste Monitor – 2017. United Nations University (UNU), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Bonn/Geneva/Vienna. Retrieved from: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Climate-Change/Documents/GEM%202017/Global-E-waste%20Monitor%202017%20.pdf
Lundgren, K. (2012). The Global Impact of E waste: Addressing the Challenge, page: 58-59. International Labour Organization. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_dialogue/-sector/documents/publication/wcms_196105.pdf
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