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Toxic e-waste from cellphones
Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
New Sunday Times, October 10, 2004
Mobile or cellular phones continue to make headlines. Other than the concerns have also been expressed regarding their abuse.
Of late, it is the poison-SMS sent out either to discredit individuals or products. Otherwise, it is the overuse of SMS in the attempt to win competitions.
More recently though, mobile phones are implicated as sources of e-waste. There is a familiar ring to this, given that we are still grappling with e-waste arising form the dumping of old computers.
In fact, mobile phones are even easier to dispose of than old computers. At least 25 million phones will end up in the dumps in the US alone, according to an Asian Wall Street Journal report on Sept 24.
Though still regarded as small in comparison to overall waste, the e-waste is generally hazardous. Like computers, mobile phones are known to contain materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium, and some that could degenerate into very toxic elements, such as arsenic.
Already a study funded by US Environmental Protection Agency reportedly found that “lead levels in mobile phones were above a threshold that would cause waste to be classified as hazardous”.
The substance is largely found in the circuit board.
As prices of mobile phones get cheaper, chances are more of them will be thrown away in preference for new models. Just a few years ago, the replacement cycle for mobile phone was about three years.
Today, it has declined to less than two years, and is decreasing further as a result of slicker designs and new fancy features such as colour screens, cameras, and Internet access.
According to one estimate, last year alone 277 million new mobile phones were sold to replace old ones worldwide. This number is expected to increase at least by 50 per cent to more 400 million this year.
Already some developing countries are being targeted as “resale centers” of old refurbished mobile phones that are discarded in the North.
Many mobile phones companies are yet to acknowledge this problem, let alone educate he user and consumers about the related hazards.
Few are starting to provide recycling services, albeit on a voluntary basis.
Still not many countries, not even the United States, have a law that requires mobile phones sellers to accept responsibility for their products, be it to recycle them, or provide facilities for this purpose, or at least educate the user about the potential health and environmental problems mobile phones can cause.
It is a shame that as we have embarked on a sophisticated ICT agenda, and urged Malaysians to be e-savvy, we are not as meticulous in ensuring that we are not as meticulous in ensuring that we are equally earnest in the protection of our personal and environmental health and safety.
Recommended site: http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/news/0,12597,1309268,00.html
The writer is the vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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