Thailand a Dumping Ground for World's E-Waste no Longer
In a commendable move that is sure to upset the apple cart, Thailand has taken the decision to no longer take copious amounts of e-waste from other countries (DW, 2018; SMH, 2018). This will not only help to keep Thailand beautiful, but hopefully (with the number of willing recipients worldwide diminishing) cause countries to take responsibility and innovate to “close the loop” for broken and end-of-life electronics. In a truly progressive statement, the Environment Minister declared: "We need to prioritize good environment and the health of our citizens over industrial development" (DW, 2018). The government has taken this action, it says, to avoid becoming the world’s garbage bin. Thailand is presently one of the world’s largest contributors to ocean waste (SMH, 2018), a trend that this initiative will hopefully reverse. With tourism representing over 20 percent of the country’s GDP (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2014) ensuring Thailand remains gorgeous is a smart economic decision, too.
Globally, e-waste is a massive problem (UN University, 2014). In fact, by 2018, it is expected to have reached 50 million metric tonnes (Science Alert, 2017). Devices are bought and replaced for the “latest and greatest model” at breakneck speeds. With staggering quantities produced every year, and often containing highly hazardous materials—such as lead, cadmium and mercury—the environment is severely damaged by irresponsible disposal. Leaching into soil and water, the dangerous materials often accumulate in fauna through a process called bio-magnification via the food chain, with deplorable results for many species. Further, in the case of animals such as fish consumed by humans, significant, detrimental effects occur to human health over time.
In the end, we reap what we sow.
The export of such waste to whatever country will take it (for financial reward) simply cannot continue. Apart from being unworkable in the longer term, it can only be regarded as so unprincipled as to be intolerable, most especially for “first world” nations. There are many calls for increasingly tighter controls (ABC, 2018), but so far these have overwhelmingly fallen on deaf ears.
To facilitate effectively closing the loop on electronics, comprehensive recycling programmes emphasising legally-enforced take-back requirements must be put into place. This will pressure industry to further reduce the number of problematic materials used and to redesign products so they can more easily be disassembled and converted or reused in manufacturing processes. (One, still unproven technique may be to grind material down to an ultra-fine dust for reuse. [Science Alert, 2017])
While all major manufacturers lack transparency and urgency in tackling the tech waste problem, there are notable differences. One effort to score them is Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics, which may be found here: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/greener-electronics-2017/
In any event, it’s good to know that visitors to Thailand have a good chance to be greeted by unspoilt vistas such as these:
ABC, 2018. "E-waste exports highlight need for tighter controls on 'unethical and irresponsible' trade". Online: http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-08-16/australian-e-waste-exports-to-developing-countries-unethical/10119000
Deutsche Well, 2018. "Thailand moves to ban importing e-waste and plastic". Online: https://www.dw.com/en/thailand-moves-to-ban-importing-e-waste-and-plastic/a-45103610
Science Alert, 2017. "Scientists Say We Can Fix The E-Waste Problem by Pulverising Electronics Into Nanodust". Online: https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-say-we-can-fix-the-e-waste-problem-by-pulverising-electronics-into-nanodust
Sydney Morning Herald, 2018. "Thailand to ban e-waste, plastic imports". Online: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/thailand-to-ban-e-waste-plastic-imports-20180816-p4zxvb.html
United Nations University, 2015. "Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative" Online: https://unu.edu/projects/solving-the-e-waste-problem-step-initiative.html"
World Travel and Tourism Council, 2014. "Travel and Tourism, Economic Impact 2014: Thailand". Online [archive]: https://web.archive.org/web/20150319212933/http://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/country%20reports/thailand2014.pdf