Improper processing of electronic waste leads to damage to human health, the environment, and the Earth's ozone layer

16.9.2020 - BANGKOK / PRAGUE
PHOTO: Vladimír Turner

Thailand is still one of the destination countries for e-waste from all around the world. To what extent this is the case is one of the questions that the joint project of the Thai non-governmental organization EARTH [1] and the Czech civic association Arnika [2] is trying to answer. In the last year, these organizations have taken the first soil samples from three sites where electronic scrap is dismantled or where the plastics from used electronic equipment are even burned. It has shown that the soil contains toxic dioxins, both chlorinated and brominated, which are produced by burning plastics treated with brominated flame retardants. EARTH has mapped the extent of the waste imports and published "Trading Away Health and the Environment: The Toxic Business of Waste Imports into Thailand".

The results of the latest analysis in a joint Czech-Thai project supported by the European Commission thus confirm that the still open borders for the import of e-waste lead to environmental contamination and may endanger the health of people living in the vicinity of e-waste processing plants. "We commemorate this on the occasion of the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, which is being celebrated on September 16th [3]. When dismantling electronic waste, including refrigerators and air conditioners, most facilities in Thailand and other countries do not remove the coolants, which in old devices may contain freons [4] that deplete the Earth's ozone layer. Improper handling of e-waste thus causes environmental damage not only in the surroundings of electronic scrap processing plants, but also in the ozonosphere, which protects life on Earth against harmful UV radiation," says the project coordinator Ing. Miroslava Jopková from the Czech organization Arnika.

Not only are many so-called "recycling" plants in Thailand dumping sites for e-waste from the whole of Thailand, hardly coping with their own waste production, but a recent study from the Basel Action Network [5] proved that e-waste from Europe also ends up there, and EARTH uncovered evidence that even e-waste from the Czech Republic has reached Thai Customs port. Moreover, Thai PBS News recently provided information that the imports of plastic waste into Thailand might increase to an unbelievable 650,000 tonnes in 2021. "To bring attention to Thailand’s waste processing and industrial pollution is one of the major objectives of our project. That is why we have prepared special videoclips, to sound the alarm to the public and the civic initiatives and organizations, as well as the authorities, about the seriousness of the situation. Now we are releasing the first video, demonstrating a wide range of problems caused by the improper handling of the e-waste shipped to Thailand," explains RNDr. Jindřich Petrlík, Arnika’s expert on toxics and waste.

 Arnika and EARTH will continue to map the places where electronic waste is processed and there will be further sampling. "It would now help if Thailand ratified the Ban Amendment to the Basel Convention, which would give our country an international legislative instrument to protect us against harmful waste imports," says Penchom Saetang, director of EARTH, repeating one of the conclusions from the book published within this project, of which she is the co-author. "The International Day of the Preservation of the Ozone Layer is also a perfect day to look at the problem of e-waste as international conventions on Ozone Layer Protection like the Montreal Protocol worked very well and have shown that international cooperation can lead to real results in saving the environment for future generations. If other conventions on chemicals and waste like the Basel Convention [6] could follow its remarkable success, a clean environment will be saved," concluded Petrlík.

The 2019–2022 joint project of the NGOs Arnika and EARTH, "Increasing Transparency in Industrial Pollution Management through Citizen Science and EIA System Enhancement", is funded by the European Union (EU) and co-funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic within the framework of the Transition Promotion Programme.

The video about the problematics of e-waste is available here

The executive summary from "Trading Away Health and the Environment: The Toxic Business of Waste Imports into Thailand" is available in the attachments.

tha project


Footnotes:
[1] Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH) is an independent non-governmental organization striving for social and environmental sustainability and justice in Thai society. EARTH serves as a watchdog monitoring the Thai government’s industrialization policy, industrial pollution, and unsustainable consumption patterns. It also promotes climate justice, good governance, and the accountability of governmental and international agencies. The main focus of EARTH’s interest is the impacts of hazardous substances on ecosystems, local communities, and workers’ health. Read more at http://www.earththailand.org/en.

[2] The Czech non-governmental organization Arnika focuses on nature conservation, toxics and waste management, and public participation in decision making on environmental issues. During its existence, Arnika has become a valued European NGO in terms of fighting against toxic substances and chemicals or unsafe contamination of the environment and enhancing spreading the right to have information about chemical pollution. The organization cooperates with a number of partners around the globe (e.g. in Ukraine, Armenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) to provide a better and healthier future for as many as possible, regardless of the geographical location.

[3] In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 16 September the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The objective of the Protocol is to adopt and implement world-wide measures to eliminate the production and use of almost 100 regulated substances that damage the ozone layer.

[4] Freons are aerosol propellants, refrigerants, or organic solvents consisting of one or more of a group of chlorofluorocarbons and related compounds. According to the regulation of the Montreal Protocol, freons became one of the chemicals to be eliminated and completely phased out by 2020.

[5] "Holes in the Circular Economy: WEEE Leakage from Europe" (2019), published by the global environmental watchdog organization Basel Action Network, is a two-year study in ten EU countries that followed 314 old computers, printers, and monitors in which GPS trackers had been secretly installed. A very significant stream of illegal shipments of hazardous consumer electronic scrap to countries with vulnerable populations, including Thailand, was discovered.

[6] A total of 53 countries, including Thailand, have so far ratified the Basel Convention.

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