Computers are now increasingly becoming like an nth family member, a part of our daily lives, and a means of an educated future for our children…what would the world now do without them? Computer literacy and basic computer skills have now become today’s functioning requirement and hence a computer has become a must for everybody, households and businesses alike. Individuals are actually awakening from their unplugged dark ages and learning the importance of computers and technology in shaping their lives. We, however in our effort to become a part of this revolution, are causing more damage to ourselves than good.
Pakistan is a Price Conscious Market. However, in the quest to buy technology at its cheapest, people flock towards the second-hand market, which has a popularity level of its own. Rummaging through the streets and alleyways of Regal Plaza and Shershah, the people have come to swear by the availability of big brands at a much “reduced price” than buying the same ‘brand new’. One believes that these throw-away rejects of the first world are repairable, re-workable, and probably at the most need a little tweaking. After all these are affordable and in a good condition. Contrary to their beliefs however these markets, are in actual landfills and dumping grounds for what is called e-waste.
E-waste or WEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) comprises of the old, discarded, end of life products and appliances. The trading of equipment, commodity versus e-waste debate continues worldwide. The companies in developed countries are those that generate the greatest amount of e-waste and are bound by laws for recycling. Many of these companies however have conveniently found an under-handed way of dealing with their troubles by chucking out the trash to Asia, expediently tagging it as exports and comforting the global face by claiming its helping third world countries attain that higher level of development and to convey a greener picture. An overwhelming amount, about 500,000 computers is shipped to Pakistani ports every year, bringing in its tow many problems.
Now, like every waste, this too is detrimental and the unwitting consumers are ignorant to see the dark side of this trade. What then is the benefit we obtain from purchasing broken-down, obsolete, running-at-the-bang-of-a-hand computers which we feel are low-priced? If price was earlier a motivator, it can now be disregarded, because due to the latest innovations, the price differences hardly vary now. A second-hand computer bought at Rs. 10,000 with no warranty cannot even compete slightly with a brand new computer at as low as Rs. 11,000 with the added benefit of monthly installments at Rs. 350 and a 3 years warranty. Second-hand computers are a hazard not only to the environment but to our wallets as well, they pose great financial risk and are devoid of manuals, installation diskettes and CDs. They are on an ‘as-is’ purchase basis, extremely slow, and happen to be the outdated technology making it a case of ‘older system incompatibility’. And yes, another fact that cannot be ignored, they constantly are asking for some repair or other. It all adds up fairly simple second hand computers are bad news.
Secondly, apart from the fact that our country is being used as a trash-bin, a toxic-crisis is being given birth. The hardware and other peripherals are nearly defunct, with only a mere 15% to 40 % in a saleable condition. By the time they reach Karachi, the equipment not only gathers rust but is piled up in dust. Broken monitors, obsolete circuit boards, short circuited transistors, and other junk are difficult to spot in a container load of used electronics. The material that cannot be sold is stripped for copper, solders, and very minute quantities of gold and silver and other metals in warehouses located in Karachi and Lahore. The recycling is done by women and children, who work with rocks and their bare hands in order to separate the so called precious materials with no controlling regulations and laws. It is an atrocity for those who work there, as they are victimized to toxic fume exposure from the burning hardware. Inhaling toxic substances like lead, cadmium, mercury and other carcinogenic substances like the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) poses great risk to their health. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain ‘flame retardants’, which are basically halogens added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle. Circuit boards contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders, which sell for Rs. 120 per kg (solder) and are more likely to leach into ground water or become air pollution if managed in an incinerator. Moreover the waste that is generated harms living entities other than humans by winding up in the Arabian Sea, via a route through Lyari River where it is initially ditched.
The big players of the computer industry are now coming up with technology that is greener and easier to recycle. And they are accomplishing it in highly cost-effective ways making it less of a burden on the consumers. We are educated and knowledgeable and talk of global predicaments with so much feeling, then why do we abandon those problem-solving thoughts and protesting voice for our own homeland? It is high-time to clean-up our act and do the most that we can do, be responsible. And the simplest step is by being the reasonable, sensible consumer, not the ignorant selfish individual. Although purchasing somewhat expensive computers may seem vaguely like a demonstration against e-waste, it is surely bound to assist the decrease of environmental pollution. In addition to that, it would be a Good Samaritan act for the workers of such noxious warehouses. A little prudence can go a long way in benefiting us all from our actions.
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