High Tech Trashing

Prior to the last decade, the uptake of ICTs in the Caribbean Region had largely been through large corporate bodies for purposes such as data storage and data processing, and to support core business functions such as accounting. However, with the technology revolution that has swept the Caribbean Region over the last ten to fifteen years, a larger percentage of consumers has begun to use ICTs in their daily lives.

The increased uptake of ICTs by Caribbean peoples is evidenced by the fact that the ratio of mobile phones to citizens now exceeds 100% in many Caribbean countries. Further, a number of Caribbean governments have implemented policies to make desktops and laptops available to public servants and secondary school students. These developments, among others, have contributed to the increased uptake of ICT by businesses and among individual users. However, with this accelerated adoption and the advancement of technology worldwide and in the Caribbean, has come the proliferation of what is widely known as electronic waste (e-Waste) or Waste Electronic Equipment (WEE).

e-Waste or WEE is a term used to describe the refuse created by electronic products and their components which have come to the end of their useful lives. Obvious e-waste candidates are end-of-life computers, cell phones, printers, MP3 players, etc, but end-of-life refrigerators, televisions, watches and batteries all embody electronic components and are also categorized as electronic waste.

Waste electronic equipment contains materials such as gold, platinum, palladium, glass and plastics which can be recycled and repurposed. However, the problem of e-waste is the fact that it is labeled as hazardous waste under both the Basel and Stockholm Conventions since it contains persistent heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium[1] and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as tetrabromodiphenyl ether (TetraBDE) and pentabromodiphenyl ether (PentaBDE). The toxicity of these pollutants creates a serious risk to human and environmental health when burnt, land filled or recycled in uncontrolled environments[2]. When WEE is improperly disposed of in landfills and by burning, its toxic chemicals and heavy metals –  such as aluminum, cadmium, and lead  – leak into the environment and can negatively affect production workers, nearby residential areas and water courses.

WEE is becoming a problem in the Caribbean region because as Small Island Developing States (SIDs), Caribbean island waste streams are not adequate to handle this type and quantity of waste. The accelerated rate of innovation, shortened product life-cycles and sharp consumer uptake of technology in the Caribbean has outstripped national capacities to deal with the associated turnover of e-waste. Added to this, the Caribbean population is largely uninformed concerning the deleterious impact of e-waste on human health and the environment and is generally unaware of the avenues for appropriate disposal where and when they do exist.

At the level of global environmental policy, the Basel Convention has set standards for the appropriate management of hazardous waste and for the prevention of illegal trans-boundary dumping of the material. The Convention has been working towards Environmentally Sound Management (ESM) guidelines for the separation of hazardous material and to getting those who are best equipped to deal with this type of hazardous waste – e.g. equipment manufacturers – to do so. However, many countries have not yet translated Basel guidelines into national legislation.

Because there is a cost to the proper management of WEE and not sufficient immediate perceived value in responsible disposal, national regulation is required to mandate the business community and wider citizenry to responsibly treat with their electronic wastes.

In Trinidad and Tobago, some provision has been put in place to check waste to prevent WEE from entering landfill sites, but this is not 100% effective and there is no national waste stream set up to receive and manage waste electronic equipment. Given the quantity of e-waste generated within Trinidad and Tobago and the Region on an annual basis, there is a need to examine and develop innovative ways to handle, re-use, recycle and/or dispose of this hazardous material.

The Community HUB Corporation (the ‘HUB’) – a nonprofit body established to empower young people and communities by leveraging technology – has embarked upon an e-waste initiative branded “eCycle”. The intended effect of eCycle is to contribute to the reduction of the quantity of toxic chemicals that are released via environmentally unsustainable disposal practices and thereby lend to the preservation of our Caribbean environment, while engaging and building the capacity of our Region’s youth.

e-Cycle uses a multi-phased approach which builds awareness around the issue, trains youth in e-waste handling, dismantling and refurbishing, and encourages other like-minded Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the Region to embark on their own e-waste management initiatives.

Given that many of the SIDS of the Caribbean offer tourism as a major commodity, we must collectively protect ourselves against the tragedy that has befallen Asia, as exposed in the Basel Action Network’s film: “Exporting Harm – The High Tech Trashing of Asia”. In order to achieve a successful e-waste management system there is need for extensive collaboration among all stakeholders including government, businesses, non-governmental organisations and individuals.

For more information, please visit www.mycommunityhub.org, send an email to info@mycommunityhub.org or give us a call at (868)-222-8177.

[1] Realff, M.J., Raymond, M. & Ammons, J.C. (2004). E-waste: An opportunity. Materialstoday, 7(1): 40-45

[2] Ibid

˜ This article is also available in LINKAGE, AmCham T&T Linkage, Volume Q3/2012