Concern on e-waste law

Concern on e-waste law

This makeshift assembly line was supposedly recycling electronic waste when police and troops raided the factory in June. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
This makeshift assembly line was supposedly recycling electronic waste when police and troops raided the factory in June. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The country's major big business representative has asked the government for a 45-day delay in new regulations on recycling and disposal of electronics waste. The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) claims that haste on waste laws could cost up to (exactly) 753,357 workers their jobs. While the request is worded to appear benign and pro-labour, the FTI must be more forthcoming before it can convince the National Legislative Assembly it is acceptable.

The NLA is considering a waste disposal bill. Such a law is obviously needed for an industry that has utterly failed to follow its duties to community and country. Left to the honour system, electronics producers, sellers and recyclers have failed. The result, as dramatically seen last June in a police crackdown, has been massive and mostly uncaring pollution. Worse is that a so-called "cleanup" and recycling has produced highly dangerous conditions and put tens of thousands of employees and bystanders in real danger.

Hazardous material is used in making electronics. Computers and watches, smartphones and speakers -- almost everything involved in "digital" contains danger. This is literally masked and shielded on new products reaching consumers, who are minimally endangered. But once products are broken, discarded or -- this is crucial -- taken for recycling, the shielding is stripped and the rot starts, both in the rubbished product and in those handling it.

In an attempt to get both electronic and plastic waste under control, the police and the army conducted numerous raids last June. Measurable results were minimal at best. But the joint raids, via media coverage, exposed the massive scale of the problem to the public. More importantly, they embarrassed and focused agencies and ministries that should have taken action years ago. So the impetus for proper laws and regulations began.

Among early measures, the government put a stop to the import of electronic waste. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment compiled a list of 432 kinds of electronic waste and banned them all. An industry had grown, aimed at mining valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper. But a 2017 ban on waste by China had wound up dumping literally shiploads of such waste in Thailand, and junkyards grew exponentially and dangerously.

The NLA began work on a new law on electronic items last year. "Electronics" was defined as anything with a power cord or battery, and including cords and batteries. The model for the Thai law is from the European Union. In essence, companies making electronics will be responsible for their disposal.

Of course, those firms dislike the coming law. The FTI request for a 45-day pause by the NLA is part of that fightback. In 45 days, the election will be over and the NLA will be gone or in its final days.

This is why it is vital to realise that any delay comes with codicils and agreements. First and foremost, electronics firms must show immediately that they have been working to enact proper waste handling.

If they cannot, the NLA should accelerate its debate and quickly pass a new waste law. The proposal by the FTI for a six-week delay in deciding the new bill is acceptable only if it truly aids in formulating the final regulations.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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