Why Indonesia should tackle its e-waste problem before it’s too late

Image by damrong | Bigstockphoto

As the world becomes increasingly digitized, we’re generating more and more electronic waste (e-waste) – and developing countries like Indonesia are at risk of becoming victims of this growing problem.

Researchers estimate that in 20 years, Indonesia’s yearly e-waste production is expected to reach a value of about $14 billion from 3.2 million tons, or an average of roughly 10kg per person, an increase from 7.3kg per person today.

As the use of electrical gadgets in Indonesia has exploded, purchasing, selling, and throwing away these items – which include end-of-life mobile gadgets, personal computers, and batteries – has become very easy.

According to a study published last year, Indonesia may have generated approximately 2 million tons of e-waste in 2021, which is the most in Southeast Asia.

And while for some the e-waste problem may sound abstract, it is in fact becoming a serious hazard globally. By 2030, it is predicted that the world will produce roughly 74 million tons of e-waste each year, with richer nations typically exporting the issue and poorer countries in Asia and Africa left to resolve the consequences.

Unfortunately, Indonesia is one of these dumping grounds. For example, in 2019, Indonesia was forced to return tons of waste to Australia because the shipment had been contaminated by e-waste and used liquid containers.

E-waste, in addition to being hard to recycle, contains many dangerous chemicals that can cause severe health problems, including cancer. Because of improper disposal methods, e-waste can also harm the environment after it has been accumulated in landfills where dioxins are released into the air through burning.

Despite limited efforts from the Indonesian government to tackle this problem, citizens are stepping up and launching private efforts. EWasteRJ, a nonprofit, aims to normalize e-waste recycling and conscious consumerism in Indonesia. To date, they have accumulated 7+ tons of e-waste and recycled 6.8 tons.

Indonesian researchers also propose a recycling system framework that involves processing pathways and scenarios, including mobile/substation recycling facilities, to existing large metallurgical plants across the Indonesian archipelago.

Others are examining even more comprehensive solutions, such as an e-waste bank system. This will necessitate the adoption of a national law on e-waste management and cooperative action among local governments, industries/producers, recycling firms, and residents in order to set up a bank-based system for e-waste collection.

Post-pandemic, this can be a very difficult task for developing nations that already struggle to enforce the law and maintain the health of their citizens. However, Indonesia is a hotbed for innovation and can take advantage of its highly-skilled workforce and thriving startup community to address the issue.

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