Worldwide, electronic waste accounts for only 1 to 3 percent of solid household waste. However, it is one of the most dangerous types of waste. Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) comprises of more than a thousand different substances, containing up to 60 chemical elements. Many of these chemicals (e.g. lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium) are very toxic and can have an adverse impact on human health and the environment if not handled properly.
People living in the regions should be able to get rid of used batteries, mercury-containing light bulbs, and household appliances and old electronics. They need to do this in a safe and proper way with no harm to the environment. However, e-waste management remains a challenge due to lack of e-waste collection and disposal infrastructure, as well as low public awareness on the issue.
The District is taking a systemic approach to find a proper solution to this challenge. The mechanism for the WEEE disposal has been developed as part of the environmental initiative within the “Ecomonitoring” project, implemented jointly by UNDP and the Ministry of Environment with funding from the European Union. The solution offers local communities three options of how to dispose of WEEE.
The first option is to bring used batteries, light bulbs, small and large-sized domestic appliances to a stationary WEEE collection point.
To use the second option, one can call a mobile collection unit. The option is perfect for disposing of large-sized appliances and for people who can’t bring old and broken appliances to a collection point themselves. After the call a special truck will come and pick the waste up for free. People in remote rural areas, the elderly and people with disabilities will benefit most from using this option.
Finally, one can use a network of specialized containers installed in public areas. These are specially designed for collecting used batteries and light bulbs and are sealed to prevent toxic liquids and gases from reaching the environment.
Apart from the obvious benefits for the environment, e-waste collection and recycling can also bring significant economic profit through extraction of precious metals, such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium, which are contained in WEEE. According to experts at BelVTI company, recycling of e-waste in Salihorsk and the district will supply up to one kilogram of precious metals a year, with their subsequent transfer to the State Fund of Precious Metals and Precious Stones of the Republic of Belarus.
The e-waste public collection services are run by the key local partner of the initiative - JSC BelVTI. The company provides transportation services and further environmentally safe recycling of the collected waste using the three options described earlier. The e-waste collection and recycling resulted in the necessity to create four new jobs, needed to ensure smooth and efficient operation of the whole system.
The efficiency of the system is supported by the numbers. In the first quarter of 2021, when the collection system was just launched, 65 tons of WEEE were collected in Salihorsk and the district, compared to only 54 tons collected during the same period in 2020.
The way the system has initially operated has helped to identify some key risks to its successful operation. Among them is a lack of awareness among local communities concerning the separate collection of hazardous waste. This can slow down the development of the system.
“Our goal was not only to create the conditions for the collection of e-waste in the district, but also to raise the awareness of the population about this issue, especially among children and youth,” says Svetlana Shotskaya, the Head of the environmental initiative “Creation of a waste electronic and electrical equipment collection system in the territory of Salihorsky district in Minsk region”. “We organized various competitions and because of the pandemic actively used distance learning platforms.”
Parallel to the e-waste disposal mechanism, the initiative launched an outreach programme to raise public awareness on the need to responsibly manage e-waste and to promote a culture of recycling among local communities.
As part of the e-learning platform ‘YaKlass’, ‘WEEE management’ section was created in order to increase the level of motivation and awareness among schoolchildren. Free online access to the information makes it accessible to everyone and helps children better understand the topic.
Interest among young nature lovers in the topic of the WEEE separate collection was supported by an amateur video competition and an Olympiad. A video about how the WEEE collection system works was filmed.
It will take around three years for the system to reach its full capacity, provided that regular publicity work is carried out. The e-waste management experience of Salihorski district is expected to be used by other regions for shaping local e-waste disposal strategies and practice.
The environmental initiative ‘Creation of a Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Collection System in the Territory of Salihorsky District of Minsk Region” was implemented by the Belarusian Public Association “Environmental Initiative”.
The environmental initiative was implemented within the framework of the project ‘Civic Engagement in Environmental Monitoring and Improving Environmental Management at the Local Level’, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus and funded by the European Union.