Tech trash piling up


SO FAR, no local authority in the Klang Valley has done anything effective in managing e-waste, despite the environmental problem it is causing, says e-waste expert Dr Tan Ching Seong.

As the populace chases after technological advancement, disposal of e-waste has reached an all-time high, but the issue has only been met with lukewarm concern from the public and the local councils.

Dr Tan said the country urgently needed a regulatory framework for e-waste management and implementation of a mandatory take-back system was vital to prevent a looming crisis.

A glimpse into Terra Phoenixs warehouse in Putrajaya where recyclables collected from iCycle blue bins are further sorted. (Inset) Scan the QR code for a link to iCycle’s carbon stores and blue bins locations. — Photos: AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

A glimpse into Terra Phoenixs warehouse in Putrajaya where recyclables collected from iCycle blue bins are further sorted. (Inset) Scan the QR code for a link to iCycle’s carbon stores and blue bins locations. — Photos: AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

The current mechanism to take back e-waste relies on consumers’ voluntary efforts, coupled with a lack of collection points and public awareness.

“Compulsory waste separation at household levels imposed in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and several other states has failed to address e-waste.

“If one cares to take a look at our landfills, it is obvious that so much e-waste ends up there,” he lamented.

Dr Tan, who is an associate professor with Multimedia University’s Engineering Faculty, warned of the weight of the problem.

“We have never seen such heavy use of mobile phones in history.

Terra Phoenix warehouse manager Farid Baharin sorting out e-waste collected.

Terra Phoenix warehouse manager Farid Baharin sorting out e-waste collected.

“Naturally, collection is going to be a huge problem but we do not have any effective solution in sight in our country,” he said.

Aside from mobile devices, the amount of light bulbs discarded has also reached a peak, globally, as consumers replace them with energy-saving LED lamps.

“Light bulbs are one of the most toxic waste from households because of the mercury contained in it,” Dr Tan explained.

Showing how far behind Malaysia was in e-waste awareness, Dr Tan said European countries and the US began addressing e-waste collection in the 1980s.

Japan has an effective household waste segregation system to take back e-waste, Hong Kong will begin charging consumers for e-waste collection next year while Singapore has many e-waste collection points in place.

Multimedia University students from the Faculty of Engineering sorting out e-waste collected at their campus.

Multimedia University students from the Faculty of Engineering sorting out e-waste collected at their campus.

Damage done

In Malaysia, e-waste is grouped into nine major categories – air-conditioners, fans, washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, desktops, batteries, light bulbs and small appliances, which include mobile phones and laptops.

However, Dr Tan said the United Nations lists out 57 categories of e-waste, showing that the Malaysian system is not well-defined.

He added that e-waste was highly hazardous if discarded indiscriminately and it is already harming us.

A 2015 Universiti Putra Malaysia report of soil contamination in several non-sanitary landfills in the Langat Water Catchment Area showed that heavy metal contamination was high at not only the landfills, but also in nearby agricultural and residential land.

Cadmium (Cd) and Zinc (Zn), found to be in significant amounts at the sites, are typical minerals used in electronic gadgets.

The iCycle system using this blue bin has collected 2.6 tonnes of light bulbs and 100kg of batteries.

The iCycle system using this blue bin has collected 2.6 tonnes of light bulbs and 100kg of batteries

Electrical and Electronics Association of Malaysia assistant executive secretary N. Thila said most residents discard light bulbs into rubbish bins, but added that it was not entirely their fault.

“Through our public roadshows, we learn that most consumers know they cannot throw e-waste anywhere they like but they do not know where to dispose of it.

“There are only a few e-waste collection points,” she said.

Also, most recycling points in town do not have separate compartments for e-waste to ensure safer storage, while some are even exposed to the sun and rain, which causes the e-waste to release toxin into the environment.

She also said the association’s efforts to increase collection points were dampened by the difficulty in obtaining licences from the local authorities, even with endorsement from the Department of Environment (DOE).

“Also, in Malaysia, you actually need to pay a large sum to discard e-waste properly due to logistics.

“Therefore, most consumers do not bother and we see all those e-recyclables dumped in landfills,” she said.

Rewards-driven solutions

Dr Tan said the DOE had, in 2014, announced that it had drafted regulatory framework for e-waste management, but it was yet to be tabled.

The country currently depended on voluntary collection provided by several parties to take back e-waste.

Link to iCycle’s carbon stores and blue bins locationshttp://www.icycle-global.com/Go20Rewards.html

Link to iCycle’s carbon stores and blue bins locationshttp://www.icycle-global.com/Go20Rewards.html

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) collects old mobile phones while Selangor and Perak have also launched campaigns to encourage safe disposal.

The Malaysia International Commission on Illumination (MyCIE) is also organising a campaign to instil better e-waste habits by rewarding responsible consumers, with support from the Selangor state government, Philips, Giant and KewPump.

As part of this effort, consumers who drop off their e-waste from now until May 31 at any of the 50 Giant outlets listed will receive shopping vouchers.

Meanwhile, Dr Tan also introduced a reward-based collection system that he reckoned could become self-sustainable in the long run.

Terra Phoenix warehouse manager Farid Baharin sorting out e-waste collected.

Terra Phoenix warehouse manager Farid Baharin sorting out e-waste collected.

He started developing the system four years ago when he was frustrated by the mess resulting from the use of an incinerator at his hometown in Pulau Pangkor.

“The incinerator often broke down, the hill of rubbish it created came crumbling down and blocked the island’s only ring road, it was such a mess,” he recalled.

It prompted him to run a campaign that successfully made villagers separate waste as they could redeem rewards through it.

The mechanism was then gradually developed into a full-fledged model in March last year, and commercialised into social business Terra Phoenix, a start-up under MMU.

It received grants and investments from those who saw its effectiveness.

Under the model, called iCycle, registered consumers placing recyclables in the designated blue bins will receive “brownie points” which they can collect to redeem gifts.

Those registered will receive stickers posted to them, to be pasted on their recyclables to accumulate points.

E-waste expert Dr Tan Ching Seong says the country urgently needs a regulatory framework on e-waste management to prevent a looming environmental crisis.

E-waste expert Dr Tan Ching Seong says the country urgently needs a regulatory framework on e-waste management to prevent a looming environmental crisis.

The blue bin was designed by Dr Tan to include compartments for batteries and light bulbs and there are 60 blue bins in the country so far.

iCycle has about 6,000 members now and the model has been adopted in six states – Selangor, Perak, Penang, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, KL and Sarawak.

Other cities, including Dubai, Zurich and Guangzhou have expressed an interest in adopting the 100% Malaysian model and a corresponding app is also being developed.

Since introduced unofficially in June 2015, the model has managed to collect 2.6 tonnes of light bulbs and 100kg of batteries.

“It is a win-win situation for everyone and society benefits from it, “ he said.

The model is supported by 40 collectors at the back end.

“We trust that our collectors will treat the e-waste responsibly, however, we still need the regulatory framework to ensure that all collectors do so to really protect our environment,” Dr Tan added.

 

E-waste collection points - 

MyCIE’s EW (e-Waste), CFL (Compact Florescent Lamp) & FL (Florescent Lamp) Recycling Programme:

MCMC’s Mobile e-Waste: Old Phone, New Life joint recycling programme:

iCycle’s carbon stores and blue bins: 

 


   

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