A Close Look at Southeast Asia’s E-Waste Crisis

A-Close-Look-at-Southeast-Asia’s-E-Waste-Crisis

For too long now, the world’s e-waste has been heaped into Southeast Asia.

The problem of e-waste is a layered one, and there is no one-for-all solution.

Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to electric or electronic devices that are meant to be thrown away. Potentially hazardous materials used to create tech products makes them toxic, meaning that they need to be discarded in an appropriate way.

A majority of smartphones, for instance have lithium and lead in their batteries, or arsenic in their microchips. While entirely safe housed inside a phone, once stripped, and discarded, these elements are increasingly harmful to their surroundings.

According to a 2020 report by the Global E-waste Statistic Partnership, there has been an increase of 21% in global e-waste over the last five years. This result in a record 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste generated in 2019.

This is a socio-economic problem as much as it is an environmental one. Simply stopping the waste disposal industry in its tracks right now would leave many jobless with no form of income. Moreover, that waste would just flow to the next place of least legal resistance. To combat this problem in its totality, there needs to be economic incentive to recycle waste, or at the very least, dispose it in a healthy way.

E-waste in Southeast Asia

Asia has been bearing the brunt of the world’s e-waste for some time now. But ever since China began refusing the West’s waste around 2018, Southeast Asia has become the next option for waste disposal, both officially and unofficially. While the main recipients of this waste are Malaysia and Thailand.

A study reported that between 2016 and 2018, after China closed its boarders to foreign waste, an increase of 171% in waste transport was recorded in Southeast Asia. Much of this was plastics and other non-biodegradable materials. But due to relatively lax regulations of waste imports in Southeast Asia, e-waste still finds its way to unofficial dumping grounds.

Seemingly, despite official bans on imports and disposal of foreign e-waste, much of it simply continues unofficially. This means disposal workers work in worse conditions, and for lesser pay. Moreover, the disposal industry ends up with almost no environmental regulation.

One such hotspot is the remote agriculture district of Chachoengsao in Thailand. It has been severely affected by e-waste imports containing traces of iron, manganese, lead, nickel, arsenic, and cadmium.

Most of this unofficial processing of waste takes place disproportionally in poorer parts of developing countries. This Sri Lankan report outlines first-hand accounts of how developed nations often exports older technology under the guise of charity, which ends up in these e-waste hotspots. Local communities are often left with little option but to use these e-waste items, and are left with little to no access to recycling options.

Potential Solutions

One solution that provides a definitive starting point to Southeast Asia’s e-waste crisis is the circular economy, or a closed loop system. In essence, a production cycle like this would mean that new products are made from old materials – reusing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, and recycling. Technology would ideally be very modular in this kind of scenario, and equally easy to upcycle into newer tech.

Many companies are also outlining new pledges and plans to better combat e-waste. Apple announced a program to reclaim and recycle old iPhone materials, and a possible transition to recycled and renewable materials. This along with their program to continuously update their tech, so long as hardware survives, sets a precedent for renewables. So long as they keep to their promise to be carbon neutral by 2030, an eco-friendly business model might be viable.

At the same time, while these large corporations have the power to make changes such these, production and profits remain their primary drivers. However, a shift from this perspective is taking place. Hong Kong’s government backed recycling plants, for instance, are viewing recycling from a ‘for-profit’ perspective (there was $USD 65 billion of valuable metals and plastic in the form of e-waste as of 2017). This approach helps to normalize the process of recycling these materials, and can help lead to a more circular economy.

Nevertheless, it will take more than individual effort to make significant changes to current e-waste projections. This will be no less than a serious restructuring of how the world produces and consumes electronic products and technology. It’s a tall order, but doing this, and holding large businesses accountable, is nothing short of a global charge.

Header image by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

SHARE THIS STORY

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

RELATED POSTS

CEOs That Crashed and Burned in 2022

CEOs That Crashed and Burned in 2022

As 2022 draws to a close, it is time to sit back and reflect on events that have unfolded this year—the good, the bad and the ugly. We saw massive layoffs in the tech space and a devastating crypto market crash with one crypto company going down after another. You must have seen article after article talking about the situation with Luna and Celsius as well as the recent bankruptcy filings of FTX and BlockFi.

TOKEN2049 London Recap

TOKEN2049 London Recap

TOKEN2049 London is the second part of the greater annual TOKEN2049 event. Every year, the event is held in both Singapore and London, bringing together a wide variety of Web3 participants from developers, thought leaders, founders and investors.

How Charming Men Get Away with Fraud

Bernie Madoff vs. FTX: How Charming Men Get Away with Fraud

The recent FTX scandal has all the trappings of a Netflix drama series where the business tycoon—once lauded for his power moves—is brought down by greed, selfishness and the judiciary system (The Wolf of Wall Street, much?). The CEO of crypto exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, has come into the spotlight for bringing about the downfall of FTX and his other company Alameda Research. In November 2022, he filed for bankruptcy for both companies after a devastating collapse in the public eye.

New to the Forex Market The Ultimate Toolkit for Success

New to the Forex Market? The Ultimate Toolkit for Success

Foreign exchange trading can be a tricky business. When it comes to choosing what tools will be the most effective in your forex trading journey, there are a few aspects to consider. Whether you are a brand-new trader or a seasoned veteran, some of these tools will always be handy to help you not only find the diamonds in the rough but also stay focused on your goals.

Looking Back on the Top Skincare Trends of 2022

Looking Back on the Top Skincare Trends of 2022

Going makeup free during the COVID-19 pandemic has whipped up interest in skincare, with people spending more on in-clinic aesthetic treatments and buying more skincare products. As of 2022, revenues in the beauty and personal care industry have reached US$534 billion. Of this, the skincare segment makes up a total revenue of US$153.30 billion, growing at a CAGR rate of 5.19% in the next five years.

Is It Ethical to Be “Overemployed”

Is It Ethical to Be “Overemployed”?

According to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics of August 2022, more than 7.5 million workers in the U.S. are overemployed, that is, they hold more than one job. With the pandemic leading to an increase in remote working and making people concerned about job safety, it doesn’t take a genius to see why people would choose to work multiple jobs.