Disposing our mounting e-waste: The Jakarta Post

In its editorial on September 29, the paper reminds of the serious damange to human health due to exposure to even low levels of mercury, lead and chromium among other wastes.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Almost a decade after Indonesia passed the Waste Management Law, the country is still struggling to address electronic waste (e-waste), a specific term relating to all kinds of discarded electrical equipment.

The 2015 global e-waste report discovered that Indonesia's mountain of electronic waste topped the list in Southeast Asia with 812 kilotons, followed by Vietnam with 451 kilotons and Malaysia with 243 kilotons.

Indonesia remains clueless as to how to treat its omnipresent e-waste. Many Indonesians reuse their old/broken devices for different purposes, others sell them to scavengers, and only a small number have begun to submit theirs to the authorities for proper management and disposal - a breakthrough campaign initiated by the Jakarta administration through its environmental agency.

Electronic devices - including used and discarded ones - contain poisonous chemicals and heavy metals that pose health hazards, such as mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, silver, cobalt, palladium and copper.

The World Health Organisation has warned that exposure to even low levels of mercury, cadmium or lead, for instance, can cause serious neurological damage and impair a child's physical and mental development.

However, people's ignorance of the dangers of e-waste and of how to treat their e-waste properly is not the sole cause for concern. The government should also take some of the blame, as Law No. 18/2008 on waste management is unenforceable because of the absence of specific regulations to implement the law.

The government, in this case the Environment and Forestry Ministry, has insisted that a long-awaited government regulation is halfway ready.

Under future legislation, e-waste will be treated as "distinctive waste" and will receive special treatment because of its highly toxic nature. The regulation will require the government to provide the necessary infrastructure and supporting facilities for e-waste management and disposal.

The fast increasing amount of electronic waste across the archipelago and the danger of its chemical and heavy metal content should not be an alien issue for us all here in Indonesia. The rapid development of information technology has made it much easier for anyone to learn about it.

The clock continues to tick, and time cannot wait for us to draft a regulation that will make the law enforceable. Nearly a decade of hibernation at the expense of a much-needed operational regulation for e-waste management and disposal is more than we can tolerate.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.