Electronic and electrical waste, also known as e-waste, is often rich in precious metals and other reusable materials, such as plastic. Bangladesh is also becoming an important secondary recipient of e-waste global export due to its substantial trade relationships with China. Its exponential growth in internal and regional trade, illegal import by brokers and traders, use of ‘waste tourists’ and lack of e-waste specific regulations.
According to the MRC report 2017, $2.2 billion worth of consumer electronic products (HS code 84 and 85) were imported to Bangladesh in 2016, where China (69 percent) was the largest exporter. Ceiling fan and other types of fan, air conditioner, refrigerator, washing machine, battery, UPS, microwave woven, television and spare parts are included in the same code. Besides, in 2018, 40 million mobile phones were imported where 30 million imported legally and the rest through grey channels, according to an estimate of the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association. With an annual growth rate of 15-20 percent, the laptop market of Bangladesh was worth about $175 million in 2018 and 60 percent of the demand is largely meet by the import of laptops from China, Singapore, the USA, Thailand and Malaysia.
Bangladesh still lacks a proper mechanism for the safe disposal of electrical waste (e-waste), seven years after the government drafted regulations to prevent ever increasing quantities of hazardous materials from being sent to landfill.
Such items contain precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, iron, and some other heavy metals, but they can also contain mercury and lead – two of the most hazardous metals to human health. According to a recent study by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), Bangladesh produces around 400,000 metric tons of this e-waste each year.
The study – titled “Assessment of Generation of e-Waste, its Impacts on the Environment and Resource Recovery Potential in Bangladesh” – found the production of e-waste has been rising at the alarming rate of 20% per year and will reach 462,000 tons per year by 2035, if the current trend continues.
The study also showed that only 3% of the total generated waste is being sent for recycling.
The most common disposal method is by burning it in a pit under the open sky, but as this releases toxic substances into the ecosystem and prevents the extraction of any valuable metals from the waste material, stakeholders say a proper system is long overdue.
In 2011, the Department of Environment prepared a draft regulation titled “E-Waste Management Rules” under the Environment Conservation Act 1995.The draft regulation was sent to the Law Ministry, which returned the draft citing some “technical problems”.In 2017, the Department of Environment again prepared a draft under the same act and sent it to the ministry. It also uploaded the draft to the ministry website, seeking input from stakeholders.
According to the officials concerned, the Department of Environment has incorporated changes into the draft in line with the opinions of the stakeholders, and will again send the draft to the Law Ministry. According to the proposed new rules, the government is planning to introduce a cash-back policy for those who return used electronics to the manufacturers and distributors of the products.
The objective of the regulation is to reduce the increasing quantities of electronic waste being disposed of in nature by returning used products to the manufacturers for recycling and reuse.However, the draft does not mention the exact amount of money the users will receive after returning their used products.
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