ISLAMABAD: Electronic waste —mainly personal computers, monitors, televisions and wiring — imported as scrap is being burned in the open in the outskirts of the capital, polluting the ground and air.
According to a source in the Ministry of Climate Change, electronic waste is being imported without following international guidelines. This is particularly alarming, he said, since Pakistan is signatory to international laws that prohibit electronic waste from being imported under the Basel Convention.
Pakistan signed the Basel Convention to control the trans-boundary movement of obsolete and hazardous waste from wealthy developed countries and its disposal in 1994. The official said the convention defines electronic waste as hazardous material, and its import in bulk as scrap is prohibited.
Pak-EPA, CDA does not have capacity to monitor, act against burning of electronic waste in the open, climate change DG says
The official explained that this imported electronic waste is burned, releasing toxic smoke, to isolate precious metals including hazardous heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, which are recycled.
Among these precious metals are copper, aluminium, silver and gold.
When asked why there was no check on openly burning electronic waste, Ministry of Climate Change Director General Irfan Tariq that the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency and the Capital Development Authority’s environment directorate lack the capacity and resources to monitor the practice and conduct raids.
Explaining illegal and unchecked electronic waste imports, the deputy director chemicals at the climate change minister, Zagham Abbas, told Dawn that used computers in working condition are permitted by the Basel Convention. Electronic scrap waste enters Pakistan in the same containers, in the guise of working computers.
But there is not enough data to ascertain the exact amount of electronic waste dumped in Pakistan by developed countries, he added. The majority of electronic waste enters through ports where customs officials are either unaware of the law, or look the other way.
“It is not difficult to catch such shipments. To our knowledge Sher Shah in Karachi is the hotspot where electronic waste lands and is traded and even burned to harvest precious and heavy metals,” Mr Abbas said.
He added that the ministry is working on launching an electronic waste management policy after meeting with stakeholders.
“The policy will help further control electronic waste being imported into the country. Under the policy, we will also develop an electronic waste recycling facility; there is not a single electronic waste recycling facility in the country at the moment,” he said.