E-waste contaminates environment, endangers health


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The effects of throwing away our gadgets reach far beyond the garbage bin.

MANILA, Philippines – The effects of throwing away our gadgets reach far beyond the garbage bin.

The United Nations Environment Programme says e-waste generates up to 50 million tons of potentially toxic waste annually with only a 10% recycling rate.
Pia Ranada reports.

NIKKI BLANCO, LAPTOP USER: The last laptop I had, I had it for 5 years and it was really slow na and clogged. Since I just got into college I guess I needed a new laptop

We can’t seem to get enough of laptops, smartphones and tablets. But what happens to our old electronics?

This junk shop in Antipolo City is one place where old electronics end up. Old CPUs, CD drives, motherboards are broken into different parts to be sold as junk.

ARCHIE CUDERES, OWNER, ELECTRONICS JUNK SHOP: Meron galing sa Korean suppliers, yung mga iniimport papunta rito. Yung iba naman galing sa mga bidding, yung mga companies na nagdidispose ng old units nila katulad ng mga bangko, callcenters ganon or mga ibang company. Mga two years nagdidispose na sila ng units. (Some are from Korean suppliers, they are imported. Others are from biddings, companies that dispose of old units like banks, call centers or other companies. They dispose of units every two years.)

Computers contain valuable metals like gold, which makes recycling them profitable. But these also contain highly toxic chemicals – mercury, cadmium and lead. Some junkshops specialize in old lead acid batteries which contain up to 8 kilograms of lead. Lead is one of the most toxic metals to humans.

ABIGAIL FAVIS, INSTRUCTOR, ATENEO DE MANILA UNIVERSITY: It will impact your neurological system so how your brain will develop. There’s a very strong connection between lead and your IQ so if you are exposed to lead, especially for the children, the children under study will exhibit lower IQ than the rest of their cohort who has not been exposed to the lead.

Gadget users are protected from toxics by the device’s casing. But once it’s in the trash, it can end up anywhere.

In communities living near the Payatas landfill, electronic waste are handled by scavengers.

SALDI BAUTISTA, SCAVENGER: (“Kamay niyo lang ginagamit niyo?” You only use your hands?) Kamay lang. Kinakalkal namin. Inaano yung sako, binubuhos. Pinagpipilian. Ito minsan binibiling 150, 250. (Just my hands. We go through them. The sacks full of electronics are poured out. Then we choose. This is sometimes bought for P150, P250.) (“Isang ganyan?” One of those?) Oo. (Yes).

A kilogram of motherboards full of precious metals are bought by junk shops from P800 to P1,000. Contamination is so rampant. Toxic chemicals have been detected in mother’s breastmilk.

Jeffrey, Jepjep and James also scavenge for electronics to make an easy buck.

JEFFREY, PAYATAS SCAVENGER: (“Pag may mahanap kang computer part sa basura anong ginagawa mo?” When you find a computer part in the trash what do you do? ) Kinukuha po. (I get it.) (“May mga protective gloves ka ba?” Do you have protective gloves.) Wala po. (None.)

A recent study shows lead exposure in children costs the country more than $15 billion dollars in IQ loss. That’s more than 3% of our Gross Domestic Product. Aside from IQ loss, lead can also cause infertility, miscarriage, stillbirths, anemia, hypertension and death.

JEFFREY, SCAVENGER: (“Alam niyo ba na pwede kang magkasakit sa mga computer parts?” Do you know you can get sick from computer parts?) Oo. (Yes.)

JEPJEP, SCAVENGER: Ate wala, walang mga sakit sakit na yan. (No, there’s no such thing as getting sick.)

Concerned groups point to the growing contamination of our environment from discarded gadgets. They point to a growing need to be more responsible.

ABIGAIL FAVIS, INSTRUCTOR, ATENEO DE MANILA UNIVERSITY: The key there really is to avoid generating the waste so if you buy your products make sure you use them well, maintain them well so you can really extend its lifetime.

When it comes to gadgets think before you throw.
Pia Ranada, Rappler, Manila. – Rappler.com

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