Philippines urged to fight e-waste

MANILA – Local and international groups campaigning for a green environment are calling Filipino consumers to help in a global drive to properly dispose Silicon Valley’s e-wastes.

The campaign is part of a global campaign being waged these past decades by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals against the billion-dollar global electronics industry.

The NGOs, some of which have affiliations with global movements, organized a forum here Tuesday where they urged consumers to dispose their electronic wastes properly and support companies who are responsible enough to do the same.

Ted Smith, an anti-e-waste activist and guest speaker at the forum, said that the electronic industry is far from being the “clean industry” that some peoples in other parts of the world consider.

He said the U.S. has already debunked this “mythology” as they have made progress in raising public awareness on the issue.

But Smith, founder and former executive director of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), which started out as a group campaigning against the occupation safety and health hazards in some technology companies, said the U.S. still has to catch up with Europe and Japan.

Governments in Europe and Japan have already legislated proper waste disposal, including restrictions in dumping hazardous waste materials in poor countries in Asia and Africa.

According to the State Department Web site, the U.S. has not yet ratified the Basel Convention which controls the international trade in hazardous wastes, including wastes from electrical and electronic components.

In the forum, Smith cited several studies made involving some Silicon Valley-based electronics companies which showed that working for some of these companies pose occupational hazards to employees and their families.

And after the consumers have no more use for the electronics products that these companies produce, toxic wastes allegedly dumped in poor countries in Asia and Africa posed health risks to people working in some of these recycling dump sites. Smith, who is co-editor of the book “Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry” published in 2006, cited several worldwide documented cases where old electronic products were being exported to Asia from developed countries despite the Basel Convention.

Smith said that among the toxic components found in computers include solvents to make chips, disks and drives; lead and cadium in circuit boards; lead and barium in monitors; and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing.

For its part, the Philippines itself has a lot of catching up to do in raising awareness and coming up with policies.

Ban Toxics!, a local NGO that is also the Asia Pacific office of Basel Action Network (BAN), is one of the NGOs currently reviewing pending legislation related to the issues at hand. BAN is a global organization focused on confronting issues related to toxic wastes dumping.

Richard Gutierrez, Ban Toxics! executive director and BAN’s resident toxics policy analyst, said in the forum that there is a need to share information to the consumers on proper ways to dispose electronic products. “We are coming out with a plan to get computers and (electronic) wastes properly managed,” he told the audience composed mostly of NGOs and the media. He discouraged the consumers from disposing their unwanted electronics products without knowing how some companies or organizations are actually disposing these products.

Gutierrez said consumers should keep their old electronic products until such a time that there is an infrastructure in the Philippines that can solve the problem. In working for legislative measures to prevent toxic wastes disposal in the country, Gutierrez said the European model is an “environmentally and socially responsible model” from which the Philippines can learn. The European model obligates electronics companies to take back their waste products and this obligation is not a special feature that these companies offer their consumers, said Gutierrez.

He said if this European model can be adopted in the Philippines, this would free up the local government units and consumers from the responsibility and cost of disposing these e-wastes properly.

Smith, who is also co-founder and co-ordinator of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT), an international network committed to working for the development of sustainable, non-polluting technologies, is in the country to meet with NGOs and visit some sites where electronics products are being manufactured.

Smith was also the co-founder and chair of the steering committee of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, which is working to promote life-cycle producer responsibility within the high-tech electronics industry.