Why It Matters

Timely move to curb e-waste

The Government is mulling over implementing regulations to ensure that discarded electrical and electronic items are recycled and reused.

The move comes at a good time as China, the world's biggest dumping ground, is banning a lot of the trash reaching it from overseas. And as technology continues to become more pervasive, e-waste in Singapore is expected to increase.

Official figures put the total amount of e-waste generated here at 60,000 tonnes a year, half of which comes from households and the other from industry and commerce. Experts, however, suspect that it could be much more.

As e-waste discarded here is mostly handled by the informal sector made up of scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, its flow is hard to track and data on what gets recycled or incinerated is scarce.

These scrap traders and rag-and-bone men lack the skills to fully recycle the items they collect. Hence, metals like copper, aluminium and even gold, which can be salvaged from e-waste and used to make new products, end up being incinerated.

This adds to carbon emissions and contaminates the ash at the Semakau landfill.

Worse still, these scrap traders and rag-and-bone men may end up discharging chemical compounds which are harmful to both their health and the environment.

The problem here is that there are hardly any e-waste collection programmes. Consumers find it hard to recycle, and recycling companies suffer from the lack of material to process.

The Government is considering taking on the Extended Producer Responsibility approach, where producers of electrical and electronic items must ensure their goods are recycled, for instance, through e-waste collection points in stores and one-for-one take-back services. The e-waste collected is then transported to licensed recycling facilities.

Such regulations will indeed help, but thought must be put into how the rag-and-bone men - whose livelihoods depend on waste - can be part of the solution.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline Timely move to curb e-waste. Subscribe