Seeking solutions for e-waste | Daily News

Seeking solutions for e-waste

Though most of our people do not seem to realise it, electronic waste (or e-waste) is becoming a new and controversial national challenge in Sri Lanka. Traditionally, e-waste encompasses electronic home appliances like TVs, air conditioners, fans, cookers etc. and IT equipment’s such as computers, mobile phones, laptops etc. that have reached the end of their life cycle and are awaiting disposal.

Experts project that the severity of our e-waste problem will escalate as the demand for electronic consumer goods is continuously rising in our country.

For all these reasons, in this day and age, e-waste disposal should have become a major public utility in Sri Lanka but, unfortunately, it is not. We have not yet implemented a well-coordinated programme to manage e-waste.


E-waste contains heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium that can be harmful if released into the environment. Recycling electronics ensures these materials are safely managed and that valuable materials such as steel, glass, and plastic, as well as precious metals such as copper, gold, tin, silicon, and aluminium are reclaimed for the manufacturing of new products.

Reusing and recycling raw materials from e-waste will conserve natural resources and avoid environmental pollution. Yet, the most important benefit would be that an effective recycle programme will pave way for many electronic devices to be kept out of landfills and incinerators.

Another issue we face is the lack of public awareness about the hazards of e-waste. Most people indiscriminately dispose their e-waste. Some even burn them openly within their gardens. The well-known environment activist Supun Prakash says, “People must be regularly educated about what to do with their e-waste and how to recycle some of the items.”

He is in the opinion that the Government should allocate a yard where people could handover their e-waste. It may be a good idea to create reasonable number of central points throughout the country, something like 3 units per province, to collect e-waste and sort out what could be recycled.

Of course, there are recyclers registered with the Central Environment Authority. Most of them seem to export the collected e-waste to foreign countries without doing any treatment. They only divide the e-waste into small parts. The Director General of CEA touched this point in a recent newspaper interview. He said, “A house-to-house collection system also should be implemented to prevent people from handing over e-waste to CEA-Registered recyclers rather than to used-item collectors who normally savage valuable parts and dump the rest.”

The Government, in a number of occasions, has shown interest in establishing recycling processes. In June last year, it was reported that the Sri Lankan officials have enlisted Danish consultancy COWI to provide solutions to the country’s unsustainable waste practices in the western region. There are no updates about the progress of the project.

To grasp better knowledge about the type of e-waste management suits us, it is worth taking a brief look at the situations in a couple of other Asian countries.

Japanese experience

Since the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) entered the spotlight as a potential policy alternative for waste management about two decades ago, legislation on e-waste management has been promoted at an international level. In 2003, the EU released its e-waste Directive and all EU members were accordingly required to ensure their own domestic regulations are compatible with it. Along with UK and USA, Japan, too, followed suit.

Japan deals with e-waste in two ways. One is the Law for the Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources (LPUR), which focuses on enhancing measures for recycling goods and reducing waste generation. For example, personal computers, mobile phones, printers etc., are regarded as recyclable products.

The other is the Law for the Recycling of (specified kinds of) home appliances (LRHA), which imposes certain responsibilities related to the recycling of used home appliances on manufacturers and consumers. LRHA deals with four classes of items: television sets, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners.

The major difference between LPUR and LRHA is that the former encourages manufacturers’ voluntary efforts while the latter imposes compulsory obligations on manufacturers (or their agents).

In the case of LPUR, the consumers need to despatch the specified products to the manufacturer or other designated points for disposal. Under the LRHA, the manufacturer or its agents must collect the products from the consumer and transport them to the collection site. The recycling rates per item are recommended by the Government.

Manufacturers (or their country agents) are required to either establish their own recycling facilities or commission commercial recycling companies to fulfil their recycling obligations.

Korean experience

Let us now turn to South Korea. Most local governments in Korea have special e-waste recycling programmes. In the city of Seoul, for example, most of the e-waste of the city goes to the Seoul Resource (SR) Centre. There, electronic devices are taken apart so that valuable metals like gold or copper can be extracted and reused. And about 90 percent of what is brought to the centre will be used on other products.

Other cities in the country are considering the opportunity to implement Resources Centres to undertake e-waste recycling initiatives.

Korea deals with e-waste according to their Producer recycling system. The system emphasizes the role of manufacturers in e-waste recycling as a substantial one.

The Ministry of Environment annually announces the item-specific recycling rate for each item. Thus, in the case where a consumer buys a new electronic product, manufacturers, or their agents, are obliged to collect the used home appliance per consumer’s request.

Each manufacturer can fulfil their legal obligation in one of three ways. One way is to construct their own recycling plant and do their own recycling. Another is to outsource the job to commercial recycling companies. The third is to join the Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), pay the required fees, and have them do the recycling.

Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) are not-for-profit industry organisations that manage programmes to enhance material recycling. The programmes they manage are typically funded by industry, either directly or indirectly, in the form of eco fees on products purchased by consumers. The funds collected by the PROs are used to run their programmes and to pay drop-off sites.

The Korea Environment and Resource Corporation (ENVICO) is responsible for the overall duties associated with the running system, such as keeping records on product shipments for each manufacturer, investigating the state of recycling performance and levying a recycling charge.


This writer believes we could learn few lessons from experiences of other countries who managed to implement successful e-waste management,

1. We should have clear and specific identification of what should be covered under management procedures. (What types of e-waste are really necessary to be controlled by laws and regulations)

2. There should be clear description of roles and responsibilities (obligations) of stakeholders (Who does what, who pays what, and so forth).

3. Transparency and fairness of the system should prevail. (Consensus building process is the key to address this.)

4. “Free-riders” must be prevented.

5. Collection efficiency is the most vital factor.

6. Above all, we must realize that the recycling cost is the most difficult part in designing workable and feasible system. This include managing cost, stock yard cost, recycling and disposal cost. All are necessary for determining the cost recycling operation. Revenue only absorbs cost partially.

Government and Provincial Councils should provide financial assistance to the recycling companies to provide a cheaper and easier way to recycle e-waste. Manufacturers, or their country agents, should also be more involved and provide funds for recycling programmes. With this combination, recycling e-waste can become an affordable project. 



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