Toxic waste and the urban poor
Toxicity is a growing challenge with today's expanding global market and rampant industrialization. Many substances, from industrial discharge and household waste to e-waste, pose all sorts of dangers to the health of people and of the environment. The following articles profile solutions to the problem of toxic waste across the Global South: an e-waste recycling plant, tough legislation, sewerage service provision, and door-to-door collection of hazardous materials. Read on to learn more about toxicity in Accra, Nairobi, Bangalore, Chittagong, and São Paulo, and then join the discussion below.
The dangers of toxicity in Accra, Ghana
Felix Nyamedor, Accra City Community Manager
The toxicity situation in Accra is very challenging to the health conditions of the city's population. This situation is aggravated by a high level of urbanization and a large population. These chemical substances are from e-waste, industrial and institutional waste-discharge, environmental, and household waste. In the landfills where electronic waste substances are disposed of, children, mostly boys between the ages of 11 and 18, take apart the electronic scrap, often with their bare hands, burn it, and sometime use stones to extract metal parts. These activities pose many health challenges to these young children and others in the city, like itchy eyes, lung and kidney infections.
In light of these challenges, the Government of Ghana has signed the Basel Convention to regulate the flow of hazardous waste from industrialised nations. This has led to the formation of various committees and stakeholders to expedite action on toxic waste in the country. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has launched a number of projects to take care of toxic substances and to improve general sanitation in the metropolis. One important project, the construction of a central culvert in Accra's largest landfill, was recently completed with the funding of the Department For International Development and the World Bank.
The AMA's Millennium City project aims to promote sanitation and to restore the position of the city to a millennium standard. With the support of Zoom Alliance and the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana, it has led the construction of a recycling plant to convert otherwise harmful substances into usable forms. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has started work on the Odaw River, which is so polluted with garbage that it poses a major environmental threat to the city. The AMA is helping in efforts to return the Odaw River to its former glory and to have it serve as an ecotourism site for revenue generation, and to lessen the level of stench and pollution in central Accra.
The Fisheries Commission and its subsidiary body at the Assembly encourage the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources through legislation, regulations, education, and awareness-creation programmes. Sanctions and penalties have also been clearly spelt out to curb the use of chemicals for fishing. The Ga Mashie Development Association is consciously making efforts to stop the burning of tyres to limit smoke and other related toxins in the environment.
These efforts and many more are being mounted by the Government and the donor community to ensure a toxic-waste-free Accra. Lessons from other countries are incorporated and the best strategies are being undertaken. Regulations should include the essential elements of effective enforcement such as enforcement targets, monitoring, follow-up of suspected violators, and tough prosecution of violators — a fair price to pay to protect the health of Accra's residents and environment.
Photo: My Joy Online
Kenyan innovations in e-waste recycling
Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community Manager
The fact that developed countries have been using Africa as a dumping ground for electronic waste is an old story. Under the guise of "charitable donations," tons of e-products of dubious worth — refrigerators, washing machines, computers, cellular phones, TVs (the list goes on) — are disposed of on the continent every year.
Kenya is no exception to this trend: it is estimated that every day the port of Mombasa receives thousands of electronic devices. These subsequently get sold on to businesses and other institutions, but their shelf life is approaching its end and most of this equipment lives out its final years in the country and is subsequently not adequately disposed of.
A 2012 study conducted at Kenyatta University, in Nairobi, established that once different institutions have finished using the equipment they are sold off on the informal market. In this way the electronic components trickle down the chain until they are eventually dismantled and find their way to city roadside markets or are discarded or burned as cheaply as possible. This inefficient system for discarding the waste causes a significant environmental impact due to the substances that leak out and pollute water supplies, the air, and the surrounding soil.
While the government of Kenya increasingly recognises the importance of tackling the e-waste problem, so far it has been ill-prepared to face the challenge. As a result, private companies have begun to step up and propose their own solutions.
Since 2009, the technology giant Hewlett-Packard has been operating an e-waste recycling plant in Mombasa. Initially the only facility in East Africa to dismantle, separate, and recycle e-waste components, the company has since 2012 opened a branch in Nairobi as well. One of the consequences of establishing this recycling plant has been the recognition that there are significant financial benefits to be accrued from the recycling of e-waste.
Hot on the heels of HP, a more recent initiative has seen a consortium of different companies collaborate to create a sustainable and ongoing e-waste recycling system in Nairobi. Going by the name of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE), the company aims to dismantle ICT hardware and recycle it in an environmentally friendly way. Furthermore, the company encourages ICT users and resellers to dispose of products with them in order to raise awareness about the importance of appropriate ICT recycling.
Working in close collaboration with the National Environmental Authority, WEE have successfully created a series of different sustainable approaches to electronic waste management. Of these, one that has received a lot of attention is a scheme made in collaboration with Kenya's telecommunications provider Safaricom. The initiative involves a caravan that for five weeks makes the rounds of Nairobi's many street and informal markets, in order to collect electronic waste and exchange it for branded items and other promotional materials.
"I heard about the caravan coming to Gikomba market," says Jessica Nyawira, a lady who lives in the neighborhood. "I myself did not have anything to bring to them, but I think this is good, because when market traders burn plastic it gives me bad headaches in the evening."
The aim of the initiative is to collect 50 tons of waste over the month of July. It remains to be seen if the caravan will make a significant overall impact, but it should help to raise awareness of the importance of recycling e-waste in a city that has pledged to make the recycling of different refuse streams its main priority for 2013.
Toxic trash: hazardous waste management in Bangalore
Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
Nearly everyone in India has a mobile phone these days. Rickshaw drivers slow their engines to answer calls en route. Streetside fruit sellers take orders with their mobiles. And women picking up trash in the road use their mobiles to keep tabs on their children. Yet the growing availability of new technologies raises concerns for environmentalists, who warn that e-waste can be extremely hazardous if not dealt with properly. A Times of India article says that old computers and electronics can lead to public health issues such as mercury poisoning or a possible stroke if they are simply dumped and left to pile up. Hazardous e-waste is part of a larger issue in urban India about the lack of waste management services — especially for hazardous industries including biomedical companies, oil refineries and chemical industries — leading to serious environmental and health issues.
What's more concerning is that not all of the hazardous waste each year is not all being generated domestically. Although there are laws that ban other countries from depositing their hazardous materials in India, loopholes in the system have perpetuated the exploitative practice. The passing on of the problem happens internally as well. Villagers around Bangalore, which produces 64,379 million tonnes of hazardous waste each year from 1,702 industries, complain that they are suffering from Bangalore's waste being dumped on their lands. "It is well known that villages around Bangalore have become victim to the massive and largely illegal dumping of about 5,000 tonnes of solid waste generated daily in the city... Several villagers have died as a direct consequence of such dumping of toxic waste, and many more are suffering a wide range of infectious and chronic illnesses," says a press release from the Environmental Support Group Trust.
The group's proposal says that landfills are not the way forward. The only solution is segregation of waste at source. While this is true — and has been mandated in Bangalore since last year — hazardous waste requires a more comprehensive plan. In 2008, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) implemented the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules 2008, but many of the rules are not being followed. For example, a DNA article uncovered that while Bangalore generates about 300 barrels (of 50 kl capacity each) of waste oil a day, "50% of this used oil does not reach the refineries for recycling but is siphoned off to small garages and mechanic shops." A report from the Pollution Board said that the main reasons industries are not complying is cost.
Earlier this year, the KSPCB launched a new initiative: door-to-door collection of hazardous materials at individual industrial units in one area of Bangalore. Two agencies have been appointed by the board to collect hazardous materials from about 500 units and process them outside the city in a designated center. The KSPCB chairman stated that "the closed loop system will help the industries segregate and dispose of hazardous wastes in a systematic manner which will also help in tapping the unregistered industries. Most of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are operating in small sheds without enough space to store hazardous wastes."
The initiative is a good first step, especially the digital documentation that has been implemented as part of the program to better track the hazardous industries and their legality. More awareness around recycling hazardous materials and even e-waste on a household level needs to take place in the city. Comprehensive waste management is one of the most pressing issues in Bangalore and most Indian cities. Without a plan to deal with this new generation of trash, the modern Indian city will turn into a toxic trash dump, choking its residents on its own waste.
Photo: Rolling Okie
The hidden cost of Bangladesh's ship dismantling industry
Saima Sultana Jaba, Chittagong Community Manager
Bangladesh is one of the world's biggest ship dismantlers: about 52 percent of the world's big ships are demolished each year near the coastline of Chittagong. Every year, these ship breaking industries earn around US$1 billion. More than 30,000 laborers, including men, women, and children, work in the city's 70 shipyards companies. Though ship recycling is a profitable industry, ship breaking activities carry a real threat to the ambient environment and to workers, as the whole process entails a series of risky tasks and a number of hazardous substances. The demolition of ships is considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.
Every year, hundreds of workers die from toxic waste-related diseases as the working conditions are extremely bad and safety measures are barely existant. The shipping industry sends 800 to 900 end-of-life ships to yards where they are recycled, mainly by hand, to recover steel. Most of the time, workers use blowtorches and hammers without wearing protective gloves. Many of the ships contain toxic materials, sometimes hidden in pipers that workers cut with their torches. These include asbestos, PCBs, arsenic-laced paint, and tons of oil and grease, most of which are identified as hazardous waste under the Basel Convention. Workers constantly being exposed to a deadly cocktail of toxic fumes, asbestos, and dust can face serious injury or death. According to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Greenpeace, on average, one ship worker gets injured every day, and one dies each week.
The Bangladeshi government does not officially recognize ship dismantling as an industry, and ship workers therefore operate without a trade license. As a result of this unofficial status, Bangladeshi ship workers do not receive any government grants, subsidies, or compensation. Moreover, there is no governmental body keeping records of the ship working accidents or of illnesses related to ship dismantling.
A local non-profit organization, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), has significantly contributed to gathering information about the injuries and accidents of ship dismantling workers since 1997. Today, YPSA is working to improve social policies at the national level, which have a direct influence on 50,000 ship dismantling workers. YPSA organizes social campaigns and does advocacy to raise public awareness regarding workers' rights. The organization is also working to minimize the impact on caused by the pollution generated from the unsafe and uncontrolled ship dismantling practices.
Alongside YPSA, other international organizations like International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, and Greenpeace are working to influence international policy markers for ensuring environment friendly ship dismantling. Greenpeace and FIDH call upon UN institutions and governments to implement an effective and enforceable mandatory regime, based on the existing Basel Convention and the existing Guidelines of the IMO, UNEP, and ILO.
The Bangladesh Ministry of Industry and Bangladesh Ship Breaking Association must use a sustainable approach for ensuring the human and environmental justice in the ship dismantling yards as well as surrounding coastal areas, and should endeavor the full implementation of its domestic legislation and its international commitments to protect the workers and the environment from the danger of toxic waste.
O preço do descuido: a despoluição do rio Tietê
Catalina Gomez, Coordenadora da Rede em São Paulo
O Tietê é o rio mais importante do Estado de São Paulo. Com 1100 km, ele atravessa praticamente todo o estado de leste a oeste. O rio é particularmente importante para a cidade de São Paulo sendo que ele marca sua geografia urbana. Infelizmente o rio se encontra bastante poluído, devido a anos de descuido, principalmente na Região Metropolitana São Paulo que tem um total de 37 municípios e 20 milhões de moradores. O processo de degradação do rio começou na década de 1920 com a construção de algumas obras de infraestrutura na capital. A poluição industrial e esgotos domésticos tem origem principalmente no processo de expansão urbana ocorrido entre as décadas de 1940 e 1970.
A poluição do rio continua devido principalmente às indústrias que ainda lançam no rio materiais inorgânicos, tais como metais e produtos químicos resultantes de processos industriais. Mais atualmente o maior poluente do rio é o esgoto doméstico. Por isso o foco das intervenções de despoluição do Tietê estão focadas na ampliação da rede de tratamento de esgotos para a população que mora em torno do rio. E aquelas intervenções tem apresentado melhoras importantes: Em 1990, apenas 24 por cento do esgoto em São Paulo era tratado. Hoje, é 68 por cento. Em duas décadas a extensão da faixa de rio completamente poluído diminuiu mais de 200 quilômetros e a agua tratada aumentou de 1992 até 2007 de 4.5 m3/s para 13 m3/s, equivalente ao tratamento de esgoto de mais de 5 milhões de pessoas.
Mais estas melhoras significativas tem um preço. A partir de 1992, a Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp), empresa encarregada da execução do projeto de despoluição do Tietê, tem recebido do Banco Interamericano de Desenvolvimento (BID) mais de US$1,2 bilhão no apoio das primeiras três fases do projeto de um total de quatro. Atualmente a terceira fase está em execução; além do BID, o Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), tem assinado recentemente um contrato de financiamento de US$600 milhões para apoiar a terceira fase do projeto de despoluição do rio Tietê.
Na presente etapa serão construídos aproximadamente 420 quilômetros de coletores e interceptores, 1251 quilômetros de redes coletoras e serão realizadas 200 mil ligações domiciliares de esgotos. Está prevista também a instalação de seis estações elevatórias de esgoto e a ampliação de três estações de tratamento de esgoto (ETEs) do sistema principal.
A primeira lição do projeto de despoluição do rio Tietê, é a importância do trabalho em parceria entre Sabesp e os municípios da Região Metropolitana de São Paulo. Para conseguir bons resultados foi necessario investir no fortalecimento institucional da Sabesp para garantir um adequado gerenciamento e operação do projeto. Tambem tem sido de grande importancia envolver às indústrias que tem operações perto do rio para que participem do processo de despoluição. Finalmente, é importante tomar conhecimento sobre o grande preço para a Região Metropolitana e para a propria cidade de São Paulo que tem o descuido do rio por tantos anos e a falta de atenção por parte dos moradores, das industrias e dos dirigentes locais.
Crédito fotográfico: Mario Ângelo
The price of contempt: the cleanup of the Tietê River
Catalina Gomez, São Paulo Community Manager
The Tietê River is the State of São Paulo's most important river. It runs more than 1100 km and crosses almost the entire state from east to west. The river is particularly important to the city of São Paulo, as it marks its urban geography. Unfortunately, the river has been polluted for years due to the lack of care, especially from the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, which encompasses 37 municipalities and has around 20 million residents. The pollution of the river began in 1920 with the construction of various infrastructure projects in the city. Then, between the 1940s and 1970s, during the city's expansion, the river started receiving industrial effluents and domestic sewage.
The river's pollution is still one of the area's greatest environmental problems: non-organic materials, like metals and chemical products from industrial processing, are discharged to the river. But the greatest contaminant of the Tietê nowadays is domestic sewage. That is why the efforts to salvage the river are focused on the expansion of basic sewage coverage for the population that lives near the river. And in recent years, improvements have been made: in 1990, only 24 percent of the sewage in São Paulo was treated; today there is coverage of 68 percent. In two decades, the highly contaminated area was reduced by more than 200 km, and the amount of water being treated increased from 4,5m3/s in 1992 to 13 m3/s in 2007, which is equivalent to treating the effluents of more than five million people.
But these significant improvements have come at a price. Since 1992, the Basic Sewerage Company from the State of São Paulo (Sabesp), which is the institution in charge of the implementation of the Tietê River Cleanup Program, has received more than US$1.2 billion in support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the first three phases out of the project's four stages. The third phase is currently under implementation and in addition to the IDB, the National Economic and Social Development Bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social) has recently signed a loan contract with Sabesp of US$600 million.
The third phase of the cleanup program is expected to build around 420 km of collector mains and interceptors, and around 1251 km of wastewater collection networks. This phase also aims to build around 200 thousand household connections, and for the expansion of three main treatment plants and six smaller treatment plants.
One of the main lessons from the Tietê River Cleanup Program is the importance of the joint partnership between Sabesp and the municipalities of São Paulo's Metropolitan Region. This has required important investments in Sabesp's institutional capacity and its consolidation of corporate governance procedures and environmental management practices. Another lesson is the importance of involving the industries that are also polluting the river, so they can be part of its cleanup. Finally, it is important to understand the high price that the Metropolitan Region and the city of São Paulo itself are paying for failing to take adequate care of the Tietê river for so many decades.
Photo: Mario Ângelo