Asia - Pacific, Environment

Bangladesh's environment at risk from improper e-waste management

E-waste contains toxic chemicals, heavy metals that pollute soil, water, poses threat to health

SM Najmus Sakib  | 07.08.2022 - Update : 07.08.2022
Bangladesh's environment at risk from improper e-waste management

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Improper e-waste management in Bangladesh is posing a threat to the environment, causing soil degradation and water contamination with heavy and toxic base metals, according to experts.

Bangladesh produces 3 million metric tons of e-waste annually and thus needs a recycling plan for the e-waste generation, said a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Sustainable Technology, and Entrepreneurship.

Leachate, or highly contaminated liquid from dumped e-waste, contains toxic heavy metals and organics that are detrimental to animals, humans, and the environment, according to a study that said Bangladesh “lacks proper legislation and systematic e-waste management strategies.”

Bangladesh’s Soil Resource Development Institute said the presence of 5% organic matter in soil is best, while it requires a minimum of 2%. But Bangladesh is now down to less than 2%.

Improper waste management

Md. Anwarul Abedin, a professor in the Department of Soil Science at Bangladesh Agricultural University, told Anadolu Agency that because of improper waste management, e-waste has affected landfills and the environment.

“We have found toxic heavy metals, chemicals, and microplastic in soil and landfills above the permissible level. When heavy metals contaminate soil, it replaces microbes, friendly bacteria, and necessary nutrients for plants in soil,” he said.

The contaminated soil also prevents the growth of necessary plants, he said, noting that when e-waste contaminates water, it quickly spreads to groundwater and other surface water sources in the rainy season.

“E-waste also contains plastics and we found the presence of microplastics in coastal hill soils -- collected from the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The level of microplastics in the soil samples collected was significantly higher,” he said.

“We also found that plants absorb those heavy metals from contaminated soil, and it remains in food grains. Heavy metals like chromium and nickel can change the soil color,” he said, referring to conditions facing the Dhaleshwari River because of industrial waste in the town of Savar in the national capital, Dhaka.

Shahriar Hossain, general secretary of the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), said: “E-waste is supposed to be collected separately. Authorities should ensure segregation at the source while collecting waste from the city houses before keeping wastes at the Secondary Transfer Stations (STS).” He alleged that the city corporation authority and the Environment Department do not ensure it.

“There are some 32 separate heavy metals including lead, chromium, cadmium and copper and plastic additives that are found in e-waste, and 18 of them can directly enter the human body through the food chain and people can develop diseases like cancer,” he said.

Heavy metals like lead, cadmium, nickel, and manganese have been found in the four landfills in Dhaka and in samples of crops cultivated near those landfills, according to another study published last year in the journal Applied Water Science.

Recycling can cut e-waste generation

“E-waste is not waste but a resource if we can manage it properly. Valuable and necessary materials from these obsolete products can be collected through proper waste management,” said Rowshan Momtaz, civil engineering professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

“A major portion of the precious metals in e-waste is being exported due to improper e-waste management. If we can ensure segregation at the source, then it will help informal recycling to collect e-waste and cut the overall e-waste generation, paving the way for developing a formal e-waste industry in the country,” Momtaz suggested.

“The informal recycling industry is dominating the sector, where e-waste often gets burned in factories, which carries dangerous occupational health risks,” said Hossain.

To counter, experts have advocated extending business support, like government incentives, to establish a formal e-waste recycling industry that will also ensure environmental or occupational safety.

Government sets rules to manage e-waste

Abdul Hamid, director general of the Department of Environment, told Anadolu Agency that the government has an e-waste management policy at the collection and management levels. He said his department monitors and enforces the policy in the implementation phase.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests’ hazardous waste (e-waste) management rules in 2021 said waste generated from electrical and electronic products must be taken back by the manufacturer or assembler.

No e-waste can be stored for more than 180 days and old or used electrical and electronic products cannot be imported, according to the rules.

Hossain, however, said the rules or policies are inactive in the implementation phase.

Hamid said his “department is not responsible for promoting the e-waste recycling industry in the country, and they don’t have any program to provide incentives for the sector.”​​​​​​​

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