ROBBINSVILLE, New Jersey — With billions of smartphones and personal computers dotting data maps all over the planet, technology has effectively taken over. Yet, while rapidly advancing technology has revolutionized the world and provided the means for the human race to make unprecedented progress in society, there are costs. Tech companies produce these devices in mass to provide for the astronomical number of people who need them, but the world’s poor have to deal with the trash. E-waste in Pakistan is particularly detrimental to the nation’s poor.
E-waste, short for electronic waste, encompasses discarded electronic parts that have either no use in modern society anymore or have ceased to function. Most of these devices are given to certain retailers but are typically never sold. With the sheer volume of technological devices existing today, one cannot help but wonder what happens to all this trash. Hazardous waste landfills would be one simple solution, which is where e-waste goes to an extent. Upon further research, however, it becomes apparent that much of the U.S.’s e-waste is shipped overseas to countries like Pakistan.
The Borgen Project gave 18 people a short interview about e-waste. Out of the eighteen, 10 had never heard of it. While many U.S. citizens do not know what e-waste is, however, it is something well-known to Pakistani citizens.
E-waste’s Effect on Pakistan’s Poor
The world dumps much of its e-waste into Pakistan. The waste is then sorted out in facilities and warehouses, many of which employ children in the facilities’ dangerous conditions. Much of the waste is toxic, as well. It can contain substances like lead, mercury and cadmium. As facilities dispose of the waste and pick through the more valuable components, their workers become exposed to said toxic substances. Many warehouses pay their workers next to nothing. Furthermore, the waste is not only harmful to human lives. The toxic materials in e-waste significantly damaged agricultural areas — a long-held form of income for many impoverished Pakistani people.
Many would feel disheartened to see the effects of e-waste in Pakistan. However, there are several potential solutions.
Out of all the 18 interviewees, 15 stated that that the global community should do more about e-waste. “Companies that provide electronics should be required to have programs to recycle their products,” one respondent stated.
Another stated something similar. “[Companies should have] specific policies that target the recycling, refurbishment and reuse of e-waste,” they said. “Even if the devices themselves are unsalvageable, there are still resources in them like gold and copper that companies could use in the production of other devices or products altogether. Also, a more big picture change would be to reduce e-waste by promoting different consumption habits, such as using a device until it no longer works rather than buying the latest version every year”.
One of the most simple solutions to the e-waste problem in Pakistan is to recycle the e-waste instead of disposing of it. Recycling is a long-known way of both reducing trash as well as creating safer jobs for those who work in e-waste factories and warehouses. Not only would they retain a similar job, but they would not expose themselves to unsafe materials. In fact, a lot of foreign companies have made contact with Pakistan, pushing the government to devote more resources to recycling through policy reform.
However, certain things must happen before the government can implement these measures. For example, leaders must introduce proper safety equipment in every warehouse for e-waste in Pakistan. Those accountable should also not allow young children to work these jobs in order to prevent health issues from developing so early in life.
Government leadership is important, as it allows for concrete laws to alleviate the problem on a mass scale. While one can find e-waste in countries such as India and China, there is a significant difference in the way they handle it. They have drafted strong legislation to significantly limit the type and quantity of e-waste imports. Pakistan can very well do the same.
In response to a question about how e-waste should be combated, a respondent stated, “Products should return to the company that produces it. If companies make products, they should have proper ways to dispose of [products].”
One of the most prominent phone companies in Pakistan, Mobilink, is doing just this. They have a program called the Mobilink Handset Recycling Program where they not only recycle their own products but also help the hearing impaired. They give any products that are still usable to the Disabled Welfare Association (DWA) and anything that is not of use to Waste Busters who properly handle and discard any unusable parts. Companies like Mobilink show what can happen when the public holds companies accountable for the products they create.
E-waste in Pakistan continues to be a problem, albeit a very fixable one. The current state of the world forces many poor Pakistani citizens to grapple with the waste they themselves did not create. However, reducing e-waste is a very achievable goal — one that appears more attainable every day due to efforts by corporations and governments.
– Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Wikimedia Commons