As technology is rapidly advancing, we see more and more older electronic items disposed of after becoming obsolete. Old TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, are now seen to be picked up by “Karangoonis” or by public waste collectors (PWCs). However, more often than not, by taking a step forward in the technology world, we are actually taking a step backwards when it comes to effective e-waste-management and recycling.
It is important to note that just like paper and plastic, old electronics, known as e-waste need to be recycled. Electronic Waste or e-waste is a loose label attached to all forms of electronic appliances that have or will reach either their “useful life” or are discarded for a newer model. Examples of electronic appliances would be Cell Phones, television sets, radios, computors, refrigerators, batteries – the list is endless.
And these too, harm the environment. However, it is unfortunate how this misconception is not being addressed and resolved. Sadly, even in Singapore, e-waste has become a multipronged issue. In just a year, Singapore has shockingly produced over 60 million kg of e-waste.
The importance of recycling e-waste:
E-waste is produced when electrical and electronic equipment are disposed. Old computers, laptops, monitors, vacuum cleaners and evenblenders, are all considered to be e-waste.
E-waste is mostly made up of plastic, heavy metals and hazardous materials. And when exposed to, it can have devastating effects on the environment and public health. Furthermore, when recycling e-waste through shredding and dismantling, there is a process while extracts the the key and constituent materials, that can be used to produce another product. This protects the environment by reducing the need to mine scarce raw materials, and it lowers the risk that mining has on the environment. Moreover, given the complex nature and materials of the electronic items, it makes it almost impossible for the contents to degrade naturally, and thus, may contribute towards even greater environmental issues. Regardless of a Society’s value system as to the 3Rs – e-waste contains harmful material – lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury – synthetic products that do not decompose – these materials, slowly but surely affect our health. These materials need to be disposed of correctly – not just thrown in a Bin
Are companies/individuals legally required to recycle e-waste?
Rightly stated by Ms. Lynn Loh, Hewlett-Packard’s Asia-Pacific head of sustainability – “without legislation, many parties do not have the drive to do it”. The alarming rate of 1,141 kgs of e-waste produced per 10 minutes and the prospective environmental impacts has influenced the consideration of a legislation in Singapore. This legislation the government’s approach towards recycling e-waste. The Government encourages an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach where e-waste is concerned.. It encourages manufacturers to design environmentally friendly items by holding producers responsible for the costs of managing their products at the end of life. In other words, it internalizes the costs of recycling within the product price, and ensures that the producers are motivated to reduce the toxicity and waste arising from the products itself.
Furthermore, The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) is hoping to enforce an e-waste management system by 2021. The system itself will be working through EPR. For example, large electric and electronic retailers such as Harvey Norman and Gain City will set up in-stores e-waste collection points and provide a take-back service for their products. Companies such as Starhub and Best-Denki have already set up renew bins, to collect and recycle their products.
Moreover, to increase the effectiveness of this approach, collection targets and incentives will be set and subsequently, a penalty framework will be developed. MEWR is still looking into ways to place fines on producers, in the occasion where they don’t meet the target.
National Environmental Agency (NEA) will also license e-waste recycling facilities to ensure that the flow of e-waste is better monitored and that no illegal dumping happens. With this, NEA will also encourage that companies do ensure high safety and environmental standards.
Who started this Extended Producer Responsibility?
Sweden is taken as a success story in the world of e-waste recycling. Sweden had originally initiated the EPR approach in 1990, where it legally required e-waste brand owners and manufacturers to ensure that their products are collected and recycled. Sweden is now able to collect 140,000 tonnes of e-waste a year, and approximately 52% of the e-waste collected gets a second life.
What needs to be done?
One of the possible areas to target in terms of e-waste recycling would be the consumers and other stakeholders. First, consumers do need to play a part in helping to reduce e-waste. An NEA survey found that 60% of consumers are unaware on how to recycle e-waste or have never heard the issue of e-waste before. As technology progresses, it is vital for consumers to understand the ways in which they can help. With the help of the NEA, a list has been compiled regarding the 3 ways in which consumers can contribute:
- Repairing electronic equipment when appropriate
- Reusing/Donating products if in working conditions
- Recycling unwanted items by making use of voluntary recycling schemes
Moreover, it is important for relevant authorities to target other stakeholders. First, relevant authorities and e-recyclers can tap into the existing networks used by PWCs, when collecting waste. With this, e-recyclers are able to work closely with PWCs to target e-waste and bring them to recycling joints effectively. Second, more surveys and statistical research should be conducted to present accurate data regarding the amount of e-waste discarded. This is so that Singapore has a clearer idea of the progress and the needs for improvement regarding recycling e-waste.
More important than simply legislation or rules and regulations on e-waste management is the message that we need to ensure a sustainable environment. And this must be practiced today.
The rules and regulations can only work if there are sufficient means to police and enforce the legislated values. A fundamental approach must always be in education and dissemination of the harm that e-waste causes. A collective effort by a national movement that this land is ours and encourage ownership of this land in being responsible to our future generations to leave behind a sustainable environment for our children.
The Ministry of Education and National Environment Agency have achieved reaching out to schools and Institutes of Higher Learning but the industry has been slow to respond. The public at large also need to be careful and more interested in the 3Rs. The innate value system must be ingrained. Therefore, the SMEs and each registered business must be taken to task and each business can appoint a “3Rs” Representative to actively engage its employees and receive support from government organisations to achieve standards required for a sustainable Singapore.
There is only so much that can be done with legislation.
The bane of all waste is that goods are now manufactured with a ‘life span’. And once the life span has been reached, the goods will become waste. It is therefore fundamental as well that these values begin at home and in the office. The simple act of not throwing used batteries into the dustbin can go a long way in making a difference towards a definitive and sustainable Singapore.
Have a question or need legal advice?
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.