Filipinos produce tons of electronic waste that end up in dumps, posing health and environmental risks
By Kristine Angeli Sabillo
Filipinos generate at least 260,000 tons of electronic and hazardous waste each year.
Many of these discarded gadgets and appliances end up in landfills.
In communities like Smokey Mountain, many earn a living by scavenging trash and selling scrap metal. They are exposed to fumes of burning wires or exploding television sets.
Parts that cannot be sold or recycled are buried in the ground, contaminating the soil and nearby water sources with toxic chemicals and metals.
Electronics thrown out from households have spurned small industries in the local economy.
At Smokey Mountain, a former dumpsite in Manila, many own junk shops, buying scrap metal from scavengers.
Shop owners like Dante dismantle appliances and electronics to extract valuable metals.
He said copper, which sells for around P180 per kilo, is among the most coveted.
To get copper, they peel off or burn off the protective coating exposing them to toxic fumes. They also hammer open television sets, which have cathode ray tubes that can explode and hurt people.
“Sometimes you’ll get injured…sometimes when you break things open parts will hit you,” he says inside his small home, which is filled with sacks of various metals — copper, aluminum, zinc.
Dante said they just make sure they keep the fires small and under control.
Dante and his neighbors live on top of the old dumpsite, which was covered with land. Many of them plant vegetables during the rainy season, for their own consumption and sometimes to grow crops for the market.
Asked if it’s safe to grow vegetables from land filled with garbage, Ecowaste Philippines’ project coordinator Thony Dizon said they will have to conduct studies but it is clear that it is a cause for concern.
“We don’t know what kind of metals or chemicals are being absorbed by these plants,” he said.
Environmental groups are calling on the government to pass a law that will make companies responsible for proper disposal of their electronic products.
“One important policy that we will need here in the country is what is called the Extended Producers’ Responsibility (ERP),” said Dizon.
An ERP policy would require companies to properly dispose of their appliances and gadgets when they reach end-of-life. Instead of throwing out an old refrigerator or desktop computer, a customer can have the company that sold it deal with proper disposal and recycling.
Some companies have started take-back programs as part of their corporate social responsibility.
Globe Telecom has “Project 1 Phone”.
It’s Citizenship Manager, Rofil Magto said Globe took action because it contributes to the waste problem by selling two million electronic devices each year.
The campaign enables customers to drop off their old and broken electronics at Globe stores where they are shipped to a recycling company. Profits made by that company are donated to help build schools in typhoon-hit provinces.
Dizon says that while such efforts are laudable, not enough companies are doing it.
“There should be a stricter…much more concrete policy on the part of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and of course…as a commitment by the companies,” he said.
He explained that under Republic Act 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act, electrical waste are classified as special waste and that there should be a “special collection” by the local government.
However, this is not being done. (INQUIRER.net tried to contact the Environmental Management Bureau but they have yet to respond as of press time.)
Dizon said an ERP law would reduce the volume of e-waste disposed by the public.
“We will also be able to reduce the need for mining since the metals collected from e-waste can be recycled,” he said.
People who collect or sell scrap metal can earn from or be employed by companies setting up their own take-back and e-waste collection programs.