Toxic tech

What did you do with your old phone? Is it sit­ting in a land­fill leak­ing heavy met­als that will poi­son fu­ture gen­er­a­tions?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries by STEVEN PA­TRICK bytz@ thes­tar. com. my

THE United Na­tions calls the town of Guiyu, China, the elec­tronic waste cap­i­tal of the world. And the chil­dren of Guiyu have above- av­er­age lev­els of lead in their blood that could se­verely im­pact their brains and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tems. These two scary facts have been con­nected in stud­ies by the Shan­tou Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Col­lege – and it’s a con­nec­tion that Malaysia needs to take heed of. ( CNN re­port on “China: The Elec­tronic Waste­bas­ket Of The World” at

Hand­phones, lap­tops, desk­tops, mi­crowaves, TVs, mon­i­tors, gam­ing sys­tems – all the elec­tronic gad­gets we can’t live with­out nowa­days – can be lethal if not dis­posed of prop­erly. Dis­carded elec­tron­ics, or e- waste, can con­tain toxic sub­stances such as the lead that is caus­ing con­cern in Guiyu along with cad­mium, mer­cury and a host of other heavy met­als that can harm hu­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal health.

While Malaysia might not deal with the quan­ti­ties that China does, we do throw away one mil­lion tonnes of e- waste ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to the Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry.

The scope of the prob­lem is huge. Se­lan­gor state Tourism, Con­sumer Af­fairs and En­vi­ron­ment com­mit­tee chair­man El­iz­a­beth Wong says, “Cur­rently most e- waste goes to land­fills and in­cin­er­a­tors de­spite the fact that it can leak haz­ardous chem­i­cals into land­fills and ground­wa­ter and streams or re­lease dioxin when burnt that can dam­age the ner­vous sys­tem.”

E- waste that does not go into land­fills can end up in the in­for­mal re­cy­cling sec­tor, which uses prim­i­tive meth­ods to ex­tract base ma­te­ri­als from the waste; these in­clude burn­ing cir­cuit boards and us­ing acid to get to the cop­per and gold in a de­vice, pro­cesses that re­lease tox­ins into the at­mos­phere and land.

Dr Theng Lee Chong, deputy chair­man of the As­so­ci­a­tion of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­sul­tants and Com­pa­nies of Malaysia, has per­son­ally wit­nessed these “re­cy­clers” in the back streets of Ge­orge Town, Pe­nang.

“Open burn­ing cre­ates black smoke and toxic fumes. And dis­man­tling e- waste in the open may re­sult in haz­ardous sub­stances spilling into the en­vi­ron­ment. These sub­stances are pushed fur­ther by rain­fall and ground­wa­ter runoff into rivers and the sea, po­ten­tially poisoning seafood that we will end up eat­ing,” he says.

Theng hopes that up­com­ing house­hold e- waste man­age­ment and con­trol leg­is­la­tion will put an end to im­proper e- waste treat­ment by fly- by- night scrap deal­ers, and also in­tro­duce strict stan­dards and li­cens­ing. The leg­is­la­tion will be in­tro­duced in 2018, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Ber­nama re­port quot­ing Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Wan Ju­naidi Tuanku Jaa­far.

While in­dus­trial e- waste dis­posal is al­ready reg­u­lated, Wan Ju­naidi pointed out in the re­port that there is no man­age­ment or reg­u­la­tion of house­hold e- waste, adding, “At present the peo­ple are likely to throw house­hold e- waste into the drains, bushes and reg­u­lar rub­bish bins”.

Short- sighted

One rea­son con­sumers aren’t tak­ing the green op­tion could be be­cause they want to be paid for their e- waste.

In a July re­port in The Star, Malaysian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Mul­ti­me­dia Com­mis­sion ( MCMC) head of tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment Badaruz­za­man Mat Nor com­mented on the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s phone re­cy­cling cam­paign, say­ing that “based on our find­ings thus far ... there were ... par­ties who wanted in­cen­tives in re­turn”. Af­ter all all, e e- gad­gets con­tain pre pre­cious met­als: Ac­cord­ing to the es­ti­mates of in­hab­i­tat. com, there is 34kg of gold, 15kg of pal­la­dium, 350kg of sil­ver and 16,000kg of cop­per in ev­ery one mil­lionmi phones ( de­pend­ing on the type of phones).

How wever, ex­tract­ing all that ma­te­ria al in a way that does not harm peo­plep or the en­vi­ron­ment re­quire es a huge amount of cap­i­tal. E- wastee re­cy­cling com­pany Shan Poorna am has in­vested RM72.6mil in its fa acil­i­ties, which in­clude fur­nace es and air pol­lu­tion con­trol lling sys­tems.

The com­pa­nyc is also in­vest­ing in another r RM50mil worth of equip­ment too en­sure that their re­cy­cling process s will not re­lease green­house gases in nto the at­mos­phere to add to the glob bal warm­ing prob­lem.

Shan n Poor­nam man­ag­ing di­recto r Sel­vaku­mar Shan­mugam says th e com­pany has an elab­o­rate “tomb tot the womb” process that deals withw e- waste with­out caus­ing any dam mage to work­ers or sur­rou nd­ings. By this, he means that th he com­pany uses sophist ticated equip­ment to ex­tract ma­te­ria als from “dead” elec­tronic de­vices s and, af­ter sev­eral process ses, re­turn the ma­te­ri­als to raw forms that can then be re- used by elec­tronic de­vices man­u­fac­tur­ers – hence tomb to womb. ( See di­a­gram above.)

Ja­son Yee, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of another e- waste re­cy­cling com­pany, Me­ri­ahtek, says that most peo­ple are not see­ing the big­ger pic­ture.

“The pub­lic ex­pect some­thing in re­turn rather than do­ing it for a healthy so­ci­ety and en­vi­ron­ment. Proper waste man­age­ment is vi­tal in pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Our ac­tions to­day shape the fu­ture of Mother Earth,” he says.

Re­fur­bish­ing com­pany APR Elec­tronic Ser­vices se­nior man­ager Danny Ng says that the pub­lic has to un­der­stand that the profit mar­gins for a com­mer­cial re­fur­bisher has dropped dra­mat­i­cally.

“Our profit mar­gins have come down by al­most 90% in the past 10 years. This is be­cause the prices of lap­tops and PCs have fallen dra­mat­i­cally but we still have to in­vest in new ma­chines ev­ery few years,” he says in ex­plain­ing why con­sumers should not ex­pect more than small to­ken sums for e- waste.

Lack­adaisi­cal re­sponse

One cat­e­gory of the im­prop­erly dis­posed of e- waste Wan Ju­naidi men­tioned is hand­phones, a ma­jor con­cern when it comes to e- waste. The MCMC es­ti­mates that mil­lions of mo­bile phones are ly­ing around in homes or have been thrown into land­fills.

The com­mis­sion has been try­ing to get peo­ple to do the right thing with old phones for a while now; its “Old Phone, New Life” cam­paign was launched in Au­gust 2015 tar­get­ing at least a mil­lion phones in one year. How­ever, to date, only 5,200 units have been sent in to be prop­erly dis­posed of.

But MCMC’s Badaruz­za­man is not giv­ing up hope. He be­lieves that the cam­paign is still work­ing al­beit slowly. De­spite the name, the cam­paign is not lim­ited to just smart­phones – lap­tops, power banks and other por­ta­ble elec­tronic de­vices such as tablets are also ac­cepted.

The com­mis­sion part­nered with Maxis, Digi, TM, Cel­com and U Mo­bile to make avail­able ded­i­cated e- waste bins at 74 of the tel­cos’ out­lets na­tion­wide. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to mo­bilee­

If you live in Johor, Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan, Pa­hang, Perlis or Putrajaya, it is now com­pul­sory for you to seg­re­gate your rub­bish into plas­tic, glass, pa­per and oth­ers. While there is no spe­cific cat­e­gory for e- waste, it can go into the “oth­ers” cat­e­gory. How­ever, to date 0.48% of seg­re­gated waste is e- waste, ac­cord­ing to waste man­age­ment com­pany Solid Waste Man­age­ment and Pub­lic Cleans­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.

The Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment ( DOE) ini­ti­ated the e- waste Alam Al­liance pro­gramme, in­volv­ing 140 e- waste col­lec­tion cen­tres na­tion­wide lo­cated at hy­per­mar­kets, elec­tri­cal re­tail out­lets like

Sen­heng, NGO fa­cil­i­ties and com­mu­nity cen­tres.

But ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment, pub­lic aware­ness is low be­cause of a lack of ed­u­ca­tion on the sever­ity of the prob­lem.

The DOE is still or­gan­is­ing road shows, sem­i­nars and work­shops to drum up sup­port and en­cour­ages the pub­lic to find out more through www. doe. gov. my/ house­hold- ewaste.

Re­cy­cler Me­ri­ahtek has had an e- waste col­lec­tion drive in Malacca since 2014 called Weee Go Green that al­lows peo­ple to drive through and drop off their e- waste at the Aeon su­per­mar­ket park­ing lot in Malacca.

Again, re­sponse was av­er­age. In 2015, the Weee Go Green cam­paign col­lected 7,870kg of e- waste, slightly more than the year be­fore.

“We have our peo­ple sta­tioned there, dis­tribut­ing leaflets and ex­plain­ing it to the pub­lic,” says Yee.

Re­tail­ers Sen­heng and the All IT Hyper­mar­ket have started their own e- waste col­lec­tion pro­gramme with mod­est re­sults. The Elec­tri­cal and Elec­tron­ics As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysia has also been run­ning an e- waste re­cov­ery pro­gramme in Kuala Lumpur since July that in­volves plac­ing e- waste bins in shop­ping com­plexes like Pub­lika and Low Yat Plaza.

Shan Poor­nam’s Sel­vaku­mar be­lieves that shop­ping cen­tres may be too far for the con­sumer to travel to get rid of their e- waste. Hence, Shan Poor­nam plans to set up 86 col­lec­tion cen­tres all over Malaysia by 2017 that are more con­ve­niently placed.

“The col­lec­tion cen­tres will be set up in strate­gic places such as vil­lage se­cu­rity and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tee ar­eas – we want them nearer to the res­i­dents,” says Sel­vaku­mar.

Al­ter­na­tively, you could give your old de­vices to char­ity.

If you live in the Klang Val­ley, you can drop them off at Sols Tech, the tech­nol­ogy arm of hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion Sols 24/ 7 Malaysia. ( See the “Re­cy­cling For Char­ity” story, right.)

But whether you choose to put it in a re­cy­cle bin or do­nate it, the mes­sage is clear: Dis­pose of your e- waste prop­erly.

Graphic: IZUDIN IS­MAIL/ TheS­tar

Poi­soned earth: When not dis­posed of prop­erly, met­als in elec­tronic de­vices end up in the en­vi­ron­ment, pos­ing a se­vere threat to hu­man health.


Not the way: A ' back­yard', or in­for­mal, e- waste re­cy­cler in Pe­nang. This is not how we want such waste to be re­cy­cled as it could lead to both the re­cy­cler and the en­vi­ron­ment be­ing poi­soned.


Sel­vaku­mar shows some gold re­cov­ered at a Shan Poor­nam plant in Pe­nang. But to get that with­out pol­lut­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, you have to in­vest in the proper equip­ment.


E- waste col­lected at the All IT Hyper­mar­ket in Dig­i­tal Mall, Pe­tal­ing Jaya.


If all this alu­minium was not re­cov­ered from e- waste, it would end up pol­lut­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

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