E-waste contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals that are added to various parts of the electronic product. Phthalates, brominated flame retardants (BFR) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are often added to gadgets’ plastic housing and electrical wiring. Aside from possibly damaging the liver, lungs and kidney, phthalates are also suspected to cause infertility in males. On the other hand, both BFR and PVC are cancer-causing substances. In addition, poisonous metals like mercury and lead, both of which damage the nervous system and cause developmental disorders, are found in some television and computer screens.
In response to the e-waste problem and the lack of awareness of many Filipinos regarding the issue, Ban Toxics and the EcoWaste Coalition, with financial support from the Foundation for the Philippine Environment developed a short film entitled “the Vanishing E-Wastes of the Philippines,” that talks about the e-waste problem in the country and launched a nationwide network called e-Waste Action Now! (e-WAN).
Initiated by the EcoWaste Coalition, e-WAN includes diverse groups such as Ang Nars, Arugaan, Ban Toxics, Cavite Green Coalition, Concerned Citizens’ Organization Advocating for Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Interface Development Interventions, Kinaiyahan Foundation, Office of the Committee on Parks and Playground, Wildlife, Ecology and Environmental Management of Cebu City Council, and the Philippine Earth Justice Center.
Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director of Ban Toxics, commented that “E-waste is an urgent topic of concern, especially for countries such as the Philippines, where discarded electronics from countries such as Japan and South Korea are exported as secondhand goods.” Gutierrez further noted that “e-Wastes contain toxic substances which may be released through improper use and recycling. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we don’t add to the growing mountain of e-waste in the country by buying gadgets which may potentially harm both human health and the environment.”
“Before anyone can take action, there must be a need for correct information to be available and made accessible,” explained Mr. Rei Panaligan, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition. “The complexity of the e-waste problem presented many challenges and we had to capture the nuances in this short film in order for people to understand the issue.”
During the forum, the over 70 participants recommended that consumers take the following steps to minimize e-waste:
1. Research. Know which companies produce safe and environmentally sustainable electronic gadgets. Visit websites such as those set up by Greenpeace particularly their Guide to Greener Electronics, a guide that ranks the top electronics manufacturers according to their policies on toxics, recycling, and climate change. The guide is available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/toxics/electronics/how-the-companies-line-up/.
2. Purchase electronics that have the “RoHS” logo. This means that the equipment complies with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive which means these do not contain mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated biphenyl ethers – common toxins found in electronic gadgets.
3. Buy energy-efficient electronic products. Look for the Energy Star or the energy efficiency ratio (EER).
4. Look for brands with good warranty and take-back policies.
5. Go for quality, not quantity! Avoid buying very cheap items in bulk. Most of these items will wear out after a few months. Also, the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT has found that 6 out of 7 cheap toys from bargain centers contain toxic plastic. Cheap does not necessarily mean good. Buying a product with good quality item is a much better investment, and better for the environment, too.
6. Look for electronics with rechargeable rather than disposable batteries.
“The message we are trying to convey is simple, the solution to the e-waste problem is in our hands,” explained Panaligan. “We are all generators of e-waste from simple consumers to companies and the government.”
“Although we are bombarded by e-wastes from within the Philippines and from outside, we can take action now. Choosing the right products, prohibiting toxic e-waste and not burning or dumping e-waste are sensible solutions to the e-waste crisis,” added Gutierrez.