Carlos de Leon

TOGETHER FOR A CAUSE: Carlos de Leon, from left, of Piranha International, is joined by Teresa Wankin, secretary general of CANTO, Candice Campbell, Lions Club District 60A service associate; Ian Mulhern, general manager of Cell Master, and Vivianne Ferguson, Lions Club District 60A environmental associate, as they commemorate the initiative at bmobile’s Trincity Mall store.

Consumer-grade technology has gone from convenience in modern life to necessity for most. With that comes an unpleasant issue: electronic waste—and a lot of it. Conservative estimates note that e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream globally, with as much as 48.5 tonnes generated in 2018 alone.

However, throwing old devices in the trash is not and should not be an option as two things happen in that instance. Firstly, the consumer opens themselves up to potential security breaches if their data is recovered. And secondly, the devices themselves contain components that become toxic in a landfill site and precious metals that can be recycled responsibly into newer products.

The Lions Club District 60A, which represents Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Guyana, has partnered with CANTO, bmobile, other corporate entities and Piranha International to offer citizens of these three countries a free and easy way to dispose of electronic clutter from their homes for a limited period. Piranha International is the only Responsible Recycling (R2) Certified recycler in the region.

The company provides certified e-waste management services in line with the NIST 800-88 Standard to ensure that all data is destroyed in the recycling process. CANTO is a non-profit association made up of operators, companies and individuals in the telecommunications sector and has served as the connection point for corporate T&T and Lion’s Club to operationalise this e-waste initiative.

Secretary general of CANTO, Teresa Wankin, said, “CANTO is excited about partnering with the Lions Club and Piranha International on this pilot project. When approached, our members were enthusiastic about it and their support displays how generous and passionate they are as it relates to caring for the environment in all facets. This initiative is particularly special as it targets what I believe is a not often enough thought about issue—that of electronic waste and proper disposal.”

According to Vivian Amoy Ferguson, environmental associate for Lions Club District 60A, the three countries in their district are amassing increasing amounts of consumer electronic waste that will end up in regular landfills due to a lack of other, more appropriate options.

“Items that contain batteries like phones and tablets, that are disposed into our regular trash bins, end up in our landfills where the toxic components of batteries leach into the soil and eventually our water sources or are burned which results in toxic fumes being added to the air around us. We know that phones and batteries include materials like bromide which, in the landfill, will eventually find its way into underground water that seeps into our water sources for consumption or will be burnt and cause respiratory and neurological issues,” she pointed out.

Repurpose and reuse

“Also, many of the components that are needed to construct new devices are also increasing in rarity. By responsibly disposing of electronics, these materials can be reused and re-purposed too.” Ferguson noted that disposing of specialty waste in other countries often comes at a cost to the consumer. This initiative is an opportunity for citizens to make the responsible choice and clear their homes of old, defunct phones at no cost to themselves.

Location partner bmobile noted that this partnership was significant. Reza Hosein, general manager, Wireless Solutions (Ag) at TSTT, stated, “We have made locations easily available for customers at our store partners in key areas so that customers can drop off old devices on their visits to top up or make payments to their accounts. While we want our customers to always have the option to keep in line with device upgrades and the latest technology that we offer, we are also keenly aware of the need to ensure that old devices are disposed of in a responsible manner. Given the global demand for smart devices that is set to escalate even further as new markets open up alongside already high demand, this is one way that we can re-purpose, reuse and recycle responsibly.”

Carlos de Leon of Piranha International explained the process in greater detail. “For this initiative, the bins in place for consumers have two ports to place the devices into. One is for phones and the other is for chargers and charging cables. We wanted to consider smart tablets but we may do that at another time. With regard to the phones collected from this project, the batteries will be removed and the phones will be shredded completely. This eliminates the issue of data security in line with the global standards that our company operates within,” he explained. All cellular phones of all makes and models and their charging cables are acceptable for recycling.

Harmful to humans

In California, USA, the first US state to adopt an e-waste recycling programme, the average fee charged to the consumer to return their device for recycling a device less than 15 inches in size is from US$4-$10 while some manufacturers in the US offer buy-back programmes too. Recycling just one million cellphones can result in the recovery of more than 35,000 pounds of copper, 33 pounds of palladium, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold.

Chemical components can cause damage in human blood and kidneys, as well as central and peripheral nervous systems—not just to those who work in landfills but to all citizens. Global figures estimate that as little as 20 per cent of e-waste is recycled, and while statistics for the Caribbean are not readily available, the figure would be almost non-existent due to a lack of legislation and adequate disposal methods. This e-waste initiative aims to recover at least 50 tonnes from the three countries in which it is currently deployed.

Persons in T&T wishing to drop devices should do so as soon as possible at the following locations:

• bmobile store locations: CellMaster Trincity and Gulf City; Cellular Planet, Broadway, Port of Spain; and Cell 4 Less, Centre City Mall, Chaguanas, until May 31.

• Massy Stores Maraval, Gulf View, Westmoorings, Mandalay from March 14 to 31; and Massy Stores Trincity, Marabella, St Augustine, Chaguanas from April 1 to 17.

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