Isaan villages face threat of e-waste

national June 16, 2014 00:00

By Wisit Pipatthanapongchai

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Specialist warns Kalasin and Buri Ram villages facing same fate as China's Guiyu

Two villages in Isaan are following in the footsteps of Guiyu, a Chinese town believed to have the largest electronic waste (e-waste) on earth, an expert warned yesterday.
Dr Panet Manomaiwiboon, a specialist in natural resources and environmental management at Mae Fah Luang University, who is on a panel drafting e-waste legislation, has urged authorities to crack down on dangerous e-waste separation practices at the two villages in the Thai Northeast.
If they didn’t, he said people living in Kongchai district in Kalasin and a village in Ban Mai Chaiyapoj in Buri Ram, plus nearby areas would face the same fate as those living in Guiyu, in Guangdong. 
Panet said that with fast-changing and more advanced technology, developed countries were discarding older electronic appliances outside their countries. 
He said electronic gadgets and appliances were branded e-waste under the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal and found their way to Guiyu as “second-hand equipment” to be disposed of.
In 2001, residents of Guiyu, which consists of four small villages, changed the way they earned their livelihood – abandoning farming in favour of separating e-waste due to more attractive financial returns.
When pictures emerged of villagers separating e-waste without knowing the health and environmental risks, Chinese authorities were forced to ban the import of e-waste and ordered a crackdown.
There were toxic substances in the water and land at unprecedented and dangerous levels. More than 80 per cent of the town’s children have experienced retarded growth.
After Chinese authorities put strict controls on e-waste, hazardous waste has been smuggled to India, Africa, Ghana and Nigeria instead.
Panet said although Thailand was not a major destination for the smuggling of e-waste, over the past few years the amount of old mobile phones dumped by local communities had jumped significantly due to the lack of controls by the central government. 
He said the law states that waste management is the responsibility of local government, but officials lack knowledge about how to handle e-waste correctly. 
Thailand’s laws on handling e-waste lagged behind China, Vietnam and India.
He said e-waste in Thailand was also created unnecessarily as a result of wrong policies being issued, such promoting the use of new light bulbs, which resulted in old light bulbs being dumped.
51% ‘get rid of gadgets’
Wichien Jungrungruang, head of the Pollution Control Department, said a survey showed that 51 per cent of people get rid of e-waste by selling it, while 25 per cent keep it, 8 per cent give it to others to use, and 16 per cent dump such appliances in the garbage.
As a result, he said 75 per cent of e-waste ended up in garbage bins – with 75 per cent of it toxic and unusable.
And e-waste was smuggled into Thailand because of legal loopholes. 
“Although Thailand is not the major final destination of e-waste, our concern is our country can be used as a centre to separate e-waste,’’ he said.
He said the National Environment Board had drafted an integrated strategy on e-waste management in 2007 but there had been little progress since.
“We have no idea when the new laws will be enacted, he said.