A computer recycling facility at Al Ghusais. Recyclers say extreme care must be taken to dispose of electronic goods in an ecologically sound manner. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: Registered recyclers in the UAE are calling for compulsory recycling of yesterday's must-have electronic gadgets, known as e-waste, which if dumped in landfills can leach poison.

As few retailers have a ‘take-back' policy for broken, unwanted electronic goods, coupled with the fact most residents expect a financial reward for their environmental stewardship, the overall concept of recycling — e-waste or otherwise — needs improvement.

Enviroserve, a Dubai-based electrical goods recycler, has already processed 260 tonnes of e-waste this year compared to the 300 tonnes of e-waste for 2009 alone. "Around 40 per cent was mobile phones," said Zornitza Hadjitodorova, e-Waste Division Manager at Enviroserve. They have now launched a home pick-up service for old electrical items to be recycled.

Charity drives often collect old computers for poor nations on the assumption it will help inhabitants "catch up." A few of these hand-me-downs arrive in a usable condition after some refurbishing, but more often the recipients wind up footing the bill for their disposal, reports have shown.

"There is a huge moral aspect in trading old electronic waste. Some companies collect and ship in bulk without sorting through what works and what will collapse within months. We do not trade so we know where it's going," she said. "There needs to be a legislation on obligatory recycling, and more sorting at the plant by waste management companies," added Hadjitodorova.

A Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2009 report showed a huge growth in smart phones, 3G mobile handsets and big screen LCDs. But where can you throw away old equipment?

Rashid Karkain, head of environment planning in the environment department at Dubai Municipality, said e-waste is classified as hazardous waste.

Electronics contain toxic substances such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and beryllium that pose a hazard to both humans and the environment.

Dubai Municipality is planning to compile a report on how to minimise waste in Dubai. Although not complete yet, research has shown that the majority of e-waste is reusable.

Currently 17,000 waste containers are collected from the streets and dumped at landfill. "It is not easy or practical to inspect each and every container," he said. While e-waste from residential areas is not a threat or problem, it still happens that it gets dumped in landfill, he said.

When old TVs and computers are improperly discarded they can shatter and release dangerous amounts of lead into the ground or water table. Extreme care must be taken to dispose of electronic goods in an ecologically sound manner.

The municipality has a free service to remove bulky waste from homes, however a Gulf News survey of branded electronics stores in the UAE found only two of six actually offer to responsibly dispose off obsolete electronic goods.

Plug-Ins Electronic's Go Green programme will take back most electrical items in exchange for a Dh20 voucher. A customer service agent said TVs, DVD players and even microwaves are taken back.

At Sharaf DG, while the company itself does not recycle, clapped-out computers are refurbished and then donated in collaboration with Dubai Municipality.

No ‘take back' or recycling initiatives exist at Jacky's, Jumbo Electronics, LG Lifestyle or Harman Kardon.

Where to recycle e-waste

  • Plug-Ins take electronic waste to be recycled in exchange for Dh20 vouchers.
  • Sharaf DG will accept old computers, refurbish and donate them. Computers should be brought to Times Square branch.
  • Enviroserve offer free home pick ups of 50kg of electronic waste call 800 33232
  • Dubai Municipality refurbishes old computers and will pick up bulky waste call 800 0900

Dangers of e-waste

 

Up to 38 separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items

 

  • Lead is toxic to the kidneys, accumulating in the body and eventually affecting the nervous and reproductive systems. Children's mental development can be impaired by low-level exposure to lead.
  • When burned, PVC produces dioxins, some of the most hazardous carcinogens known.
  • Brominated flame retardants have been linked to fetal damage and thyroid problems.
  • Barium produces brain swelling after a short exposure. It may cause weakness in muscles as well as heart, liver, and spleen damage.
  • Hexavalent chromium damages kidneys, the liver, and DNA. Asthmatic bronchitis has been linked to this substance.
  • Mercury is known to harm developing fetuses and is passed through the mother's milk to newborns. In adults it can cause brain and kidney damage.
  • Beryllium causes acute or chronic beryllium disease, a deadly ailment affecting the lungs.
  • Cadmium is a carcinogen and long-term exposure leads to kidney and bone damage.

-(Source: National Geographic)

Do you recycle e-waste? Do you know the dangers of not recycling electronic gadgets? Why do you think people throw away their old devices?