Mismanagement of E-waste: How Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Poison the People and the Planet

Maruf Rahman/Pixabay

Have you ever wondered where your disposed electronic wastes end up? Electronic and electrical wastes, commonly referred to as "e-waste," are often mismanaged, ending up in landfills or burned down in illegal dumpsites. This is partly due to the global insufficiency of Treatment, Storage, and Disposal (TSD) Facilities that can adequately manage hazardous waste but also to the lack of awareness and urgency about the harmful effects of e-wastes on people's health and the planet.

E-wastes are any broken, spent, obsolete, and unwanted electronic and electrical products requiring disposal. The most common types of e-waste found in homes are computers, cellular phones, washing machines, and refrigerators. While proper e-waste management may look straightforward at face value, its many Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) make it very challenging and dangerous, especially for informal waste pickers who do not have the proper tools and protection to handle them.

POPs are hazardous chemicals considered a grave global concern due to their potential for long-range transport, environmental persistence, ability to bio-magnify and bio-accumulate in ecosystems, and adversely affecting human health. Among the many types of POPs, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) are most present in e-wastes. This hazardous chemical is unfortunately everywhere, and its effects are irreversible. 

On the other hand, PBDEs pose a danger to the body's thyroid, liver, kidney, skin, and entire reproductive and immune systems. These chemicals are usually used as flame retardants in electronics and can enter the body by simply inhaling contaminated air or ingesting contaminated food. More than being cancer to the human population, it also pollutes the environment and accumulates in the food chain for decades. 

Since it is considered a global threat, international norm-setting bodies like the Stockholm Convention regulate it. However, like many environmental and health policies, monitoring and implementation are still weak. There is still a long way to go in the fight against the mismanagement of e-wastes and POPs, and the path to victory begins with awareness-raising.

The “Safe PCB and E-Waste Management Project,” formally referred to as “Implementation of PCB Management Programs for Electric Cooperatives and Safe E-Wastes Management,” is implemented in the Philippines by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), lead executing agency, and other collaborators.

The project was approved by the Global Environmental Facility in December 2016, and is being implemented in the Philippines for 60 months. The project’s primary objective is the protection of health and the environment through sound management of PCBs and PBDEs in e-wastes.