E-waste still fuels pollution, says NGO

The majority of Beijing’s electronic waste, or e-waste, is still falling into the hands of unqualified trash collectors and causing serious environmental pollution, according to an NGO study.

 Despite greater awareness among the public, a report released on Sunday by the E-waste Civil Action Network warns that as much as 60 percent of discarded computers and other high-tech appliances are not being disposed through standard recycling channels. 

 Based on a survey of 342 residents in four communities in the downtown districts of Dongcheng, Xicheng and Haidian, researchers found 70 percent knew about the dangers e-waste poses to the environment. However, the illegal reclaim chain is still big business.

 “Without care for the environmental cost, reclaiming e-waste means considerable profits, and that’s why the nonstandard channel continues to exist,” said Shi Jianhan, a volunteer with the action network and co-author of the report.

 The e-waste produced in Beijing accounted for about 10 percent of China’s total amount in 2009, although the reclaim rate through standard channels was just 15 percent, according to official data. Of the more than 4 million items discarded every year, 85 percent come from consumers.

 From vendors riding tricycles with signs that read “Waste Reclaim” (still common sights in the capital’s residential areas) to secondhand markets to sites outside the Fifth Ring Road where items are sorted and dismantled, the e-waste usually ends up in places like South China’s Guangdong province, hubs for the underground disposal market.

 Volunteer Shi said a Guangdong businessman told network researchers he can buy a circuit board in Beijing for 30 yuan per kilogram and then sell it for double the price in his native province.

 “Most people choose to sell their e-waste to unqualified vendors, partly because it is more convenient and also because the price offered is always much higher (than legal reclaim centers),” said Shi.

 Chen Jingping, director of the capital’s hazardous waste disposal center, one of four qualified facilities citywide, said his base finds it difficult to match the estimated 170,000 illegal collectors.

 “As the capital bans the harmful destruction of e-waste, such as burning, serious pollution can’t be caused here,” he said. “Qualified disposal centers have to prevent secondary pollution when processing e-waste. The cost means it’s impossible for us to compete with vendors who have almost no cost and offer cash.

“Also, it’s really unrealistic for citizens to expect us to go to their homes and collect e-waste like vendors do.”

 The NGO report also suggests that there is great public expectation toward the government and “green” groups to promote environmentally friendly e-waste disposal methods.

 “We’ll work more actively in the future, as the public expect more from us than from the producers,” said Lai Yun, director of Greenpeace’s pollution control project, who added that his group has looked into building a platform where e-waste is based on brands and is returned to the relevant producers for treatment.

“We hope more international brands will participate in reclaiming their products. This way, they’ll be willing to perfect the design of their products to make them easy to be dismantled later,” added Lai.

By Wu Wencong with China Daily

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