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DUBAI — A majority of the people in the UAE are unaware that used and thrown electronic gadgets and components can be recycled as more than 75 per cent of them are being dumped in landfills or burnt making it hazardous to the environment.
“Studies have indicated that there has been low consumer effort to recycle or segregate e-waste,” Dr Radhiya Al Hashimi, executive community member of the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), said at a community lecture to create awareness about recycling unused and thrown-away electronic items.
A survey conducted by mobile phone company Nokia in the UAE revealed that more than 59 per cent of the people did not know that they could recycle their mobile phones. “Only 3 per cent of the people recycle their handsets and our key issue has been not getting enough mobile phones back to recycle,” said Mia Ranta-aho, senior environmental manager for Nokia Middle East and Africa.
e-waste includes all discarded electronic items — mobile phones, refrigerators, stereo equipment and computerswhose wastes may contain hazardous materials such as cadmium, mercury, lead and polychlorinated biphenyl. According a Greenpeace International study published this year, the number of mobile phone users around the world will reach the two billion mark. The sales of other electronic gadgets have also been noted to grow exponentially at 400 per cent annually.
The United Nations estimates that roughly 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide each year, comprising more than five per cent of all municipal solid waste.
Mobile phones contain inorganic materials, metals and plastic that can be recycled as part of the sustainable e-waste management. “The battery is removed from the handset and metals like gold, titanium and copper can be reused once they are treated.
“The plastic can be reused to make traffic cones and park benches. It is important for people to realise that up to 80 per cent of the device can be recycled,” said Ranta-aho.
A UAE resident has more than two mobile phones on average but use only one. Recycling just one unused phone of all people can save nearly 80,000 tonnes of raw materials.
EnviroFone, a mobile phone and e-waste collection campaign by etisalat, collected 40,000 mobile phones and 23 tonnes of other electronic wastes in the UAE in the beginning of this year. In 2008, 200,000 mobile phones and 52 tonnes of e-waste were collected.
The Dubai Municipality has developed a refurbishment programme to upgrade discarded computers and donate them to charity. It aims to collect over 10,000 computers annually.
Recycling e-waste does not only save the environment but can slow the depletion of essential resources. “A landfill or improper incineration pollutes the ground and emits toxins which is harmful for people and animals. “Also, the consumption trend must be supplemented with a waste management system because if we do not put the metals back into the loop, then the global supply will eventually deplete and there are economic consequences as well,” said Ranta-aho.
Many countries follow a producer take-back law that makes manufacturers responsible for recycling used electronic items. The UAE currently does not have any such regulation and while waste, including plastic, can be locally recycled, other materials need to be exported to facilities in other countries for recycling.
By 2010, it is estimated that the e-waste in industrialised and developing countries will triple.
EEG has joined Nokia to set up mobile phone collection points in the
country and create awareness among the public. “As individuals, we
can contribute by segregating our waste to make sure that e-wastes
are delivered to the proper disposal systems,” said Al Hashimi.
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