Ex­perts pro­pose to­tal ban on e-waste oper­a­tions



THERE ARE no clear an­swers from of­fi­cials about whether Thai­land is chang­ing its pol­icy on the trans­bound­ary move­ment of haz­ardous waste un­der the Basel Con­ven­tion, as the in­ter­na­tional agree­ment is seen by some of­fi­cials and ex­perts as in­ef­fec­tive in stop­ping the flow of elec­tronic and plas­tic waste into the coun­try.

Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry per­ma­nent sec­re­tary Wi­jarn Si­machaya yes­ter­day said that many peo­ple have raised con­cerns about the con­ven­tion’s ef­fec­tive­ness in re­strict­ing the im­port of haz­ardous wastes into the coun­try. The na­tional re­form steer­ing com­mit­tee has called a meet­ing for next Wednesday to find a com­mon res­o­lu­tion among the re­lated agen­cies.

“The prob­lem of elec­tronic and plas­tic waste im­ports is a com­plex one and even though the Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry is the main co­or­di­na­tor of the Basel Con­ven­tion in Thai­land, there are many other of­fi­cial agen­cies also in­volved in this is­sue,” Wi­jarn said. “There­fore, it will need many min­istries and re­lated agen­cies to work to­gether on the so­lu­tion.”

The meet­ing will be chaired by Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Gen­eral Prawit Wong­suwan.

The Basel Con­ven­tion, known in full as “The Basel Con­ven­tion on the Con­trol of Trans­bound­ary Move­ments of Haz­ardous Wastes and their Dis­posal”, is an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment to re­duce the transna­tional move­ments of haz­ardous waste, par­tic­u­larly from wealth­ier na­tions to poorer coun­tries with weaker en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion laws. But the agree­ment does not for­bid the move­ment of wastes be­tween richer and poorer coun­tries.

A to­tal of 53 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Thai­land, have so far rat­i­fied the Basel Con­ven­tion.

On Wednesday, deputy na­tional po­lice chief Pol Gen­eral Wirachai Song­metta sug­gested that a com­mit­tee be set up to con­trol and re­con­sider the im­port of sec­ond-hand elec­tronic parts into Thai­land for re­cy­cling, which is per­mit­ted un­der the Basel Con­ven­tion. He ar­gued that it was clear Thai­land did not gain any ben­e­fit from al­low­ing over­seas com­pa­nies to set up elec­tronic waste re­cy­cling plants here.

“In po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion of 12 elec­tronic waste seg­re­ga­tion fac­to­ries, we found that al­most all the fac­to­ries had vi­o­lated laws in their en­tire op­er­a­tional process, from the il­le­gal im­port of elec­tronic waste un­til the dis­posal of dis­carded un­re­cy­clable elec­tronic waste, with­out proper pol­lu­tion con­trol sys­tems, caus­ing pol­lu­tion and con­tam­i­na­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment,” Wirachai said.

“More­over, these com­pa­nies are also owned by for­eign­ers, they avoid taxes, and em­ploy mi­grant work­ers, so Thai­land does not get ben­e­fit in any way – no tax rev­enue, no em­ploy­ment for the lo­cal peo­ple, and the fac­to­ries leave only pol­lu­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems for the coun­try.”

The di­rec­tor of Eco­log­i­cal Alert and Re­cov­ery Thai­land, Pen­chom Sae­tang, ar­gued that the Basel Con­ven­tion could no longer be an ef­fec­tive le­gal tool to pre­vent haz­ardous waste move­ments. There are many ex­emp­tions in its reg­u­la­tions that al­low transna­tional trans­port of haz­ardous waste, he said.

“At first, the Basel Con­ven­tion was set up with the in­tent to to­tally ban all move­ment of haz­ardous wastes within the mem­ber coun­tries, but there was pow­er­ful pres­sure from the waste traders who lob­bied to have ex­emp­tions within the reg­u­la­tions. So the flow of haz­ardous wastes is con­tin­u­ing,” Pen­chom said.

The Con­ven­tion cre­ates two cat­e­gories of haz­ardous wastes for trans­porta­tion: List A and List B. The 61 haz­ardous wastes in List A are strictly pro­hib­ited for trans­porta­tion from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD) coun­tries to non- OECD coun­tries. How­ever, haz­ardous wastes within List B, which in­clude elec­tronic waste, are ex­empted from the move­ment ban and may be shipped to other coun­tries for re­use or re­cy­cling.

In the case of Thai­land’s re­cent head­line­grab­bing e- waste prob­lem, it was found that a Chi­nese com­pany was in­volved in il­le­gally im­port­ing the e-waste and also in il­le­gal em­ploy­ment.

Chi­nese Em­bassy spokesper­son Yang Yang said Beijing re­quired Chi­nese in­vestors and en­ter­prises to abide by the laws and reg­u­la­tions of Thai­land.

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