About 365,000 Tonnes Of E-Waste Is Tossed Out Annually – And More Are Smuggled In

Technology is now part of our daily lives. And with every new mobile phone or computer on the market, we are quick to jump on it and replace what we deem to be “obsolete”. It is, thus, inevitable that we take our technology for granted and are quick to dispose of our unwanted electronics without any consideration for the detrimental environmental and health impacts such thoughtless disposal will incur.

Electronic waste (abbreviated as ‘e-waste) refers to any electrical or electronic devices that have been discarded at the end of their useful lifespan.

Jabatan Alam Sekitar describes e-waste as:

a broken, non-working or old/obsolete electric electronic appliance such as TV, PC, air conditioner, washing machine and refrigerator.

With our fast-paced, tech-dependent lifestyles, it is no wonder that e-waste is fast becoming one of the biggest environmental problems in recent years.

Mobile services subscription figures have gone from a mere 5.12 million in 2000 to 43.72 million in 2020. And naturally, this means that e-waste generated by mobile phones will only rise further with many Malaysians now owning more than one phone each and changing them frequently for new models[1].

Generating More E-Waste Than We Know It

It’s been estimated that Malaysia generates more than 365,000 tonnes of e-waste annually – that’s heavier than the Petronas Twin Towers![2]

According to the Malaysian Department of Environment (DOE), the e-waste estimates for television sets, personal computers and rechargeable batteries almost doubled from 463,866 metric tonnes in 2011 to 832,692 metric tonnes in 2020. Air-conditioners and washing machines, meanwhile, rose from 172,281 metric tonnes in 2010 to 211,348 metric tonnes in 2020[1].

Source: The Vibes

And The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report further estimates that Malaysians generated 364 kilotons (kt) of e-waste in 2019 or an average of 11.1kg per capita. The report also expresses concern that recycling activities are not keeping up with the amount of e-waste that people are generating each day. While recycling activities have grown to 1.8Mt since 2014, the total number of e-Waste has also increased by 9.2Mt[3].

Unfortunately, research predicts that Malaysia will generate 24.5 million units of e-waste in 2025. It is vital to keep electronic equipment to a minimum. Stick with what we have instead of getting that flashy new device. – Adawiyah Roslan, International Islamic University[4]

And We Keep Importing More!

Worse still is that Malaysia has become a dumping ground for the e-waste of other countries, especially once China closed its recycling doors in 2018[5].

An investigation by Malaysiakini alleged that 1,000 containers with tonnes of e-waste are illegally imported and processed in Malaysia, with much of this waste originating from the USA, Japan, Germany and the UK. And according to industry players, there are at least 200 plants, large and small, that are recycling e-waste illegally in the country, right under the noses of the authorities[5].

Source: Malaysiakini

Much of this illegally-imported e-waste goes unnoticed because they are usually only detected whenever the Customs officials conduct random checks and scan containers that are left too long in the port[5].

At the same time, it is also impossible to scan each and every container that leaves the port as it costs time and manpower to conduct regular checking.

When a container is found to hold illegal materials, importers will be charged a fine but many evade the fine by claiming the materials were fraudulently imported in their name.

It incurs a lot of money for the importers to return the consignments to the country of origin and they wash their hands by saying the consignments do not belong to them. – unnamed retired senior Customs officer[5]

The primary reason why such illegal operations continue is that e-waste contains precious, recoverable metals such as gold, copper, platinum and aluminium that can fetch billions of dollars once extracted[5]. The United Nations (UN) Global E-waste Monitor 2020 even calls e-waste an urban mine, with the value of raw materials in global e-waste in 2019 estimated to be US$57 billion (RM268.58 billion today)[6].

And unfortunately, most of these plants lack the proper means of safely extracting these valuable metals from e-waste and they generally have no motive to recycle the other, less valuable materials thus leading to their improper disposal.

Bad For Our Health And The Environment

All of that e-waste, whether it was generated within the country or imported elsewhere, has numerous negative effects on both the environment and our health.

Electronics such as our mobile phones are made from materials such as plastics, metals and chemical substances and minerals, many of which are toxic. And when improperly disposed of, the materials within these electronics will potentially pose a threat to us and our environments.

Associate Prof Dr Ahmad Fariz Mohamed, a senior fellow of the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said that among the toxic metals and chemical substances often used in making the components are chromium, mercury, cadmium, lead, beryllium, phthalates, polyvinyl chlorides, brominated flame retardants and antimony[1].

Exposure to these toxic materials can damage your brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system. It can also considerably affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body, leading to disease and birth defects[7].

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that continued exposure to the toxic materials in e-waste (via consumption of contaminated food and water) leads to an increased risk of some chronic diseases later in life, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease[8].

When exposed to heat and rain, the toxic materials from the devices can seep into the surroundings which can impact human health and the environment. – Associate Prof Dr Ahmad Fariz Mohamed, senior fellow of the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia[1]

Source: Malaysiakini

Ahmad Fariz adds that when e-waste is thrown away in landfills, the degradation process will see toxic substances seeping into the ecosystem and underground water. When this happens, the soil quality will be adversely affected, contaminating agricultural produce if the affected area is used for farming activities[1].

Once the ecosystem is polluted, the drainage system and rivers will become contaminated as well. Humans too will be impacted when they drink the water or use it for agricultural or livestock farming activities. – Associate Prof Dr Ahmad Fariz Mohamed, senior fellow of the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia[1]

Likewise, if these toxic materials enter our rivers, lakes and other water sources, they will cause acidification and toxification of these vital ecosystems, killing off plants and animals and contaminating our water supplies[7].

Finally, improper disposal of e-waste through dismantling, shredding, melting or even burning of materials (usually in attempts to extract precious metals) will release toxic substances into the air that can travel for miles and adversely affect the health of both people and animals[7].

Their other option is to do open burning. They just burn the component and get the metal. That can give them higher revenue. – Mohamed “Mo” Tarek El-Fatatry, founder of e-waste collector ERTH[6]

Source: Malaysiakini

Malaysiakini’s investigations have found that illegal recycling plants in the country are involved in extensive open burning and “cooking” of circuit boards in order to retrieve valuable metals, with melting plastics and metal leaving a bad stench in the air. Their sources say that in addition to polluting the air, the plants will also release discharge into the rivers and dump non-recyclable waste in forests[5].

Is There A Law For Proper Disposal Of E-Waste?

According to Jabatan Alam Sekitar E-waste is categorised as Scheduled Waste. Scheduled waste is any waste that has hazardous characteristics and the potential to negatively impact the public and the environment.

Although the public is encouraged to properly dispose of e-waste, the truth of the matter is that there is no legal framework that makes it mandatory for consumers to send electrical and electronic items to licensed e-waste recovery facilities. Existing licensed e-waste recovery facilities mostly manage only e-waste from industries, according to the Department of Environment (DoE)[6].

Most of the general public will throw their old electronics and electrical appliances into the bin, where they will get contaminated by other wastes[6].

With that, the electronic item already loses half its value. When the trash collector takes it and mixes it with other trash, the value drops by 90%. By the time it reaches the landfill, nobody wants it anymore. – Mohamed “Mo” Tarek El-Fatatry, founder of e-waste collector ERTH[6]

On the authority front, attempts to combat the illegal importing of e-waste are ongoing. However, according to Penang DOE director Sharifah Zakiah Syed Sahab, importers have also changed their tactics to bring e-waste into the country. The latest cases involve using flight to smuggle in waste after surveillance was increased at seaports[5].

They import e-waste containers by declaring them as scraps and they wash their hands whenever they are caught or detected by the Customs Department and they use many other ways to obtain the e-waste for their recycling process. – Sharifah Zakiah Syed Sahab, Penang Department of Environment (DOE) director[5]

How Can We Help To Reduce E-Waste?

Source: The Star

One way we can reduce our e-waste is to donate to registered collection centres that ensure that the discarded electronics are properly recycled or refurbished.

Jabatan Alam Sekitar lists the following method of properly disposing of your e-waste:

  1. Drop off your e-waste to the registered collection centres or recovery facilities licensed by DOE; or
  2. Contact any registered collection centres that offer a pick-up service from your house.

5 Places To Discard Your E-Waste Responsibly

Here are some places for you to discard your e-waste responsibly:

#1: ERTH, Klang Valley

Founders Mohamed Tarek El-Fatary and Nahed Bedir Eletribi/Source: Vulcan Post/Image credit: ERTH

Founded by Mohamed Tarek El-Fatary and Nahed Bedir Eletribi in early 2019, ERTH (Electronic Recycling Through Heroes) provides free pickup and collection services for Klang Valley residents seeking a way to effortlessly trade in their unwanted electronics for easy cash[2].

Address: Jalan Teknokrat 6 Ground Floor, G-3A, Kanvas Retail @ Prima 15, Cyberjaya, 63000 Cyberjaya, Selangor

#2: UrbanR Recycle+, Cheras

UrbanR Recycle+ founder Vincent Chung/Source: Facebook

UrbanR Recycle+ collects scraps of electronics, electrical devices, and “computer-related stuff”. And they will only charge a collector’s fee if the items that need to be picked up are large household appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines. Additionally, the items can be dropped off at their store, Artemis Space located at 1 Shamelin Mall.

Address: 1 Shamelin Mall (Level 3) 100, Jalan 4/91, Taman Shamelin Perkasa, 56100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

#3: SOLS Tech, Kuala Lumpur

If you have an old computer that can still be refurbished, try donating it to SOLS Tech.

A computer refurbishing initiative under a not-for-profit organisation, SOLS 24/7, SOLS Tech collects mainly old and unused electronic devices, which are then refurbished and distributed to various projects and deserving communities.

As a Microsoft-licensed refurbisher, they guarantee that “donated computers are refurbished to the highest standard possible, data wiped, and equipped with original software”.

Items can be dropped off at their office in Taman Sri Sinar, but do give them a call prior to the visit.

Address: 32 & 34-1, Jalan 8/38A, Taman Sri Sinar, 51200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

#4: Ellusion: Recycle E-Waste, Penang

Ellusion is a social enterprise that aims to curb e-waste pollution in Malaysia by Malaysia by providing excellent electronic waste recycling service.

Like ERTH, they’ll also pay you for collecting and properly disposing of your e-waste and will ensure that all collected e-waste is recycled at proper government-sanctioned facilities.

Ellusion accepts an extensive range of e-waste including monitors, TV, CPU, laptops, printers, projectors, cables & wires, inverters, motors, etc.

Address: 51, Lorong Gamelan Indah 11/1, Taman Gamelan Indah, Sungai Bakap, Sungai Bakap, Malaysia

#5: Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation Malaysia

Source: NGO Recycling

The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation Malaysia runs multiple recycling points and centres nationwide for the public to drop their recyclables.

Among the recyclables the Foundation collects are:

  • computers, communications, and consumer appliances (“3C products”),
  • car batteries, and
  • CDs and DVDs

Do kindly pre-sort your recyclables before you drop them off at one of the recycling points or centres.

If you’re still unsure of where to find an e-waste recycling point, fret not. You can check out this map compiled by the Department of Environment.

Explore our sources

  1. Bernama (2021) Recycle e-waste, save the planet. The Malaysian Reserve. Link.
  2. A. Hakim (2022) Malaysia’s Annual E-Waste Production Weighs More Than KLCC?! The Rakyat Post. Link.
  3. D. Sobri (2021) e-Waste management in Malaysia: Where and how to dispose of electronic and electrical appliances. iProperty. Link.
  4. A. Roslan (2022) Be mindful of where your e-waste ends up. The Sun Daily. Link.
  5. A. Sinnappan (2022) E-waste smuggled into the country leaves a trail of pollution. Malaysiakini. Link.
  6. T.Z. Y (2021) Cover Story: E-waste, the new urban mine. The Edge Markets. Link.
  7.  Elytus (n.d.) E-Waste & its Negative Effects on the Environment. Link.
  8. World Health Organisation (2021) Soaring e-waste affects the health of millions of children, WHO warns. Link.

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