Mexico, an electronic waste dump

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Annually Mexico generates 350 million tons of electronic garbage, of which 90% doesn’t undergo any special treatment. With considerable delay The Mexican legislation has categorized it as waste of special handling and not as dangerous waste, leaving the handling and confinement to the State governments and not the Federal authorities.

Mexico generates around 350 million tons of electric and electronic residues every year. There are televisions, desktop and laptop computers, fixed and mobile phones, audio and video devices and consoles that have reached the end of their operating life and are considered as waste.

According to the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) –a decentralized body of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat)-, in 2006 the country generated 257 million tons of electric and electronic waste; in 2010, 300 million; and in 2014 358 thousand tons were reached.

“There is an annual growth of 5% to 7%”, says in an interview to Contralínea Arturo Gavilán García, Director of Research for the Sustainable Handling of Chemical Substances, Products and Waste of the INECC.

The increase of the production and use of electronic equipment, added to the reduction of the operation time of those products, raise every year the volume of obsolete devices that are either disposed or remain stored.

PC’s are a representative example of it. Back in 1997 a new PC was used on average 6 years; in 2005, 2 years. In 1994 around 20 million PC’s were disposed worldwide, equal to 7 million tons of equipment. Ten years after there were over 100 million to be disposed.

Currently Mexico barely recycles 10% of its waste; 40% remains stored in family homes, offices or warehouses and nearly 50% ends up in landfills or uncontrolled dumps. The residues of electronic devices can be hazardous to human health and for the environment as they contain heavy metal such as mercury, plumb, cadmium, beryllium, chromium and barium, as well as the substances used to reduce the degree of flammability of the products, particularly the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), substances that can bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues of living beings and the several environmental compartments and they represent a threat to human health when they are released as a result of informal recycling activities or when they are disposed in open-pit dumps or uncontrolled sites.

The 500 million PC’s that arrived to the end of their operation life between 1994 and 2003 reached close to 2,872,000 tons plastic, 718 thousand tons of plumb, 1,363 tons of cadmium and 287 tons of mercury.

Nonetheless the potential toxicity of electronic waste and the scarce rate of recycled waste, the Mexican legislation- General Prevention and Integral Management of Waste Act- qualifies them as waste of special handling and not as hazardous residue, thus it’s the state competence throughout the Management Plans.

Only in 19 states there is the legal framework to achieve this: Aguascalientes, Baja California, Chiapas, Chihuahua, the Federal District, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz, points out the INECC in the latest report The electronic residues in Mexico and the World (Los residuos electrónicos en México y en el mundo).

Unlike in Mexico, where the shared responsibility scheme and the confinement of residues, explains Victor Alcántara, also member of the INECC, Germany and Japan are   countries that have achieved rates of 35% via the implementation of an extended responsibility, a scheme that compels the producers to take care of the electronic devices after their operational life.

The United States and Canada have a state program and defined regulations to recollect and recycle electronic residues reaching recycling rates of 20%.

In an interview with Contralínea, the Assistant Attorney of the Industrial Inspection of the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (Profepa), Arturo Rodríguez Abitia, argues that in the Union Congress an initiative is already being worked out to modify the General Residue Act and to declare the electronic junk as hazardous, granting it a federal competence in its handling.

Despite the state character that has been conferred in the legislation on the handling of electric and electronic, two international treaties undersigned, the way of handling of the Profepa is being justified: the Stockholm Convention, under which committed to eliminate the use of polybrominated biphenyls (BPB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, therefore existing the commitment to eliminate the products that contain them, as well as the Basel Convention. With the ratification of the latter the country is compelled to regulate the cross-border movement of electric and electronic residues and of materials containing these.

The illicit traffic

There is an intense flow of electronic waste on a global scale. The residue movement in the 80’s was characterized by the transfer from industrialized countries, with stricter rules, towards developing countries in Southeast Asia, Northern Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America for its handling and final elimination.

The triggering factor of this international flow of residues is its content of precious metals, such as gold, silver and copper. The recovery of these metals is a profitable process that generates a cross-border market both formal and informal.

Rodríguez Abitia says in the weekly magazine that out of 1 ton of mobile phones (approximately 10 thousand units) you can extract around 400 grams of gold meanwhile out of one ton of rock you can barely get 5 to 10 grams.

Beyond the precious metals the electronic second use products are distributed illegally in developing countries, which take over the charge of disposing them when their operation life has been reached, without any additional compensation.

According to the INECC China is the biggest importation country of electronic waste in the world, with 70% of the total cross-border flow performed, however they are also exported to India, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nigeria, Ghana and possibly Brazil and Mexico.

Starting from 2010 until May 2015 the Profepa has verified 598 cross-border movements of electronic junk, around 3, 028 tons in the entry and exit points of the country.

Derived from these actions 17 illicit shipments were detected, eight in the Port of Altamira, Tamaulipas, five in the Port of Manzanillo Colima; two in the Port of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán; and one in the border crossing of Suchiate II in Chiapas; one more on the International Bridge of Zaragoza, Chihuahua.

In May of the current year the Attorney’s Office detected over 19 tons of waste in the customs of Altamira, Tamaulipas. The electronic waste was embarked in the Port of Cartagena, Colombia and was meant to be imported without authorization of the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat). The freight consisted of computer monitors damaged displays and keyboards and electronic boards (PC hard drives), whose operation life had ended.

The electronic waste came packed in plastic and carton, in wooden boxes containing used and damaged TV displays, as well as two platforms out of wood containing electronic boards (PC hard drive units), packed in plastic bags.

On the exterior of the boxes could be read on a sheet the following: “Disused Material destined for destruction”, where also is indicated the date, name of the client, and the different dimensions of the televisions, the weight for which they were covered by the insurance.

Arturo Rodríguez Abitia informs Contralínea that for the time being in the present administration 15 national operations have been performed for hazardous residues with the aim to limit the illegal traffic of them and to promote the culture of compliance with the environmental legislation.

In total 957,748 transport units and containers were verified at 1,102 revision points, both on highways as well as at the customs (25) with the detection of 1,109 tons of hazardous residues.

 

 

Elva Mendonza, @elva_contra

 (Translated by: Axel Plasa)

 

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 Contralínea 442 / del 22 al 28 de Junio 2015