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E-waste: a threat in the future

The flood of electronic waste such as discarded information and communication equipment as well as other electronic products is a growing concern, Central Environment Authority Chairman Charitha Herath said.

He called on the public, organizations and other stakeholders to support the government's efforts at responsible e-waste disposal and environmentally sound e-waste management.

He said so at the national e-waste forum at the BMICH on Monday held to review the progress of the National E-Waste Management programme and its future plans.

The National E-waste Management programme was launched under the auspices of Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa in November 2010. It was prepared by the CEA with the co-operation of several leading private companies involved in selling and assembling electronic equipment in Sri Lanka and firms that are engaged in e-waste disposal.

During Monday's forum, Herath said the public and organizations can obtain information on the closest e-waste collection units to their residence or establishment by dialing the government information hotline 1919.

Senior Lecturer and Head of the e-waste project, Griffith School of Engineering, Griffith University, Brisbane Queensland, Australia Dr. Sunil Herat delivering the key note address on the occasion said proper management of e-waste is becoming a major problem in many countries.

"It is estimated that the world generates 20-50 million tones of e-waste annually, most of it from Asian countries. Improper handling of e-waste can cause harm to the environment and health due to its toxic components," he added. The paper presented by him provided an overview of the challenges and issues faced by Asian countries in managing their e-waste in a substantial way. A special mention was made about the possible environment risks which could arise out of the improper disposal of CFL bulbs in Sri Lanka.

E-waste is customer electronic equipment that are no longer wanted. These include all electronic appliances such as televisions, washing machines, radios, computers, cellular phones, refrigerators, bulbs etc.

The volume of discarded electronics generated is growing dramatically. In Sri Lanka it is estimated that there are more than 15 million mobile phones in use and the annual discard numbers could be above one million. In the US according to a survey in California alone, 6,000 computers become obsolete each day. Out of the high volume of discarded and obsolete computers, only 10% are actually recycled. The vast majority of electronics are simply thrown away.

Computers seem so efficient and environmentally-friendly, but there are hidden dangers associated with them once they become e-waste. The harmful material contained in electronics, coupled with the fast rate at which we're replacing outdated units, poses a real danger to health if electronics are not properly processed prior to disposal or recycle.

Electronics such as computers and cell phones contain a lot of different toxins. For example, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in computers contain heavy metal, such as lead, barium and cadmium, which can be very harmful to health if they enter the water system.

These material can cause damage to the human nervous and respiratory systems. Flame retardant plastics, used in electronics casings, can release particles that damage human endocrine functions.

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