E- Waste in Palestine…The Inability to Recycle and Fear of Normalization Prevent Disposal
electronic waste in a random landfill
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Anas, a young man in his twenties from Shoqba village near Ramallah wanders around in his small car calling to buy aluminum and copper. Young kids in the alley and the streets of the village try to sell him the bags they had collected from burning scarp of old devices in order to take out the copper and aluminum wires. They also sell batteries, motors, washing machines and refrigerators in exchange for small amounts of up to 30 shekels at its best. Anas, who considers this profession as his source of living, sells what he has collected from the children to men in his village.
What is the content of this waste and what is its effect?
The researcher, Dr. Kifaya Abu-Huda indicated in an interview with Afaq Environment and Development Magazine about a study she had prepared for a conference in Turkey titled “Evaluating Electronic Waste Management in the West Bank, using Geographic Information System-GIS”, that 1000 toxic substances are used in producing electronic devices, where these substances are mixed in small amounts making it difficult to separate them, not to mention that this waste contains raw materials that have economic value.
She explained that according to the environmental education manual authored by the environmental expert George Kurzom, the electric circuits in electronic devices contain toxic lead and cadmium, remote controls and electronic devices’ keys contain mercury and most of the energy-saving lamps and mobile phones’ battery contain high percentage of cadmium. She also mentioned that a computer weighing 32kg has 1.7 kg of toxic lead, arsenic and cobalt.
According to Kurzom, the percentage of cadmium in a mobile phone battery is enough to pollute 600m3 of groundwater. And according to information obtained by the researcher Abu-Huda from Electronic Waste Addressing the Future (2008), the Palestinian solid waste dumping sites have large amounts of mercury, lead, chromium and cadmium that leak into the soil from electronic waste.
No Mechanism of disposal
In Palestine, thousands of tons of electronic and electric devices, lamps and batteries annually accumulate in the West Bank collected from residential areas. This waste is being disposed in an uncontrolled way incompatible with the environmental conditions, as they are thrown on the sidewalks and the roadsides and end up in random landfills and open land without treatment. Some people buy used devices to repair them, re-manufacture them or sell them.
The engineer Hussein Abu Oun who is the executive manager for the Joint Services Council for Solid Waste Management in Ramallah explained that there is no clear mechanism to dispose e-waste in Palestine but rather they are sent to ordinary landfills. He added “we tried to find a solution but we failed, we had an idea to set up an area for sorted waste of carton, plastic and electronic waste and we had a German grant to fund the project but we did not succeed in finding a place with the municipalities and therefore the project was canceled.”
Abu Oun added, what prevented the municipalities from providing a place is that the final location for waste treatment after sorting would be in Israel since there aren’t any Palestinian factories that could recycle e-waste and thus there was fear of normalization with Israel, although Palestinian paper and carton waste goes to Israeli factories due to the absence of recycling factories.
He added that if we want to find an environmental solution, sending waste to Israel is the only solution. In fact Ramallah Municipality had a project worth more than 50 thousand dollars to collect carton and send it to Israel, funded by the Bank of Palestine. However, the project was cancelled owing to fears of normalization.
Abu Oun denounced, “in the end we take our electricity and water from Israel because our benefit is more important, and this toxic waste could be disposed through Israel, and the workshops that deal with it such as in Hebron where they use primitive ways of disposal by burning computers and taking out aluminum, but these ways are dangerous to the environment and the people who utilize such methods.”
He also added that Palestine does not have the capacity to establish recycling factories because every ton of carton or paper needs 2.4 cubic meters of water and Palestine suffers from a scarcity of water, but for electronics it’s not difficult to have small workshops that take into consideration health and environmental conditions.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh