A discarded cell phone among other waste at the Beetham Landfill in Trinidad. (Image by RACHEL RAMSEY, BCRC-Caribbean)

Owners of used and end-of-life mobile phones will have an opportunity to safely dispose of their devices when a national collection campaign is launched later this year.

The campaign will include a survey, a public awareness programme, and the creation of collection sites—all geared at changing the way such electronic waste (e-waste) is managed in this country.  Most importantly, it ultimately seeks to capture this category of e-waste before it reaches landfills across the country.

The initiative is one of many being pursued under an umbrella project titled, Demonstration of the Environmentally Sound Management of Used and End-of-Life Mobile Phones in Trinidad and Tobago, which is being carried out by the Basel Convention Regional Centre for Training and Technology Transfer for the Caribbean (BCRC-Caribbean), with endorsement from the Ministry of Planning and Development.

BCRC-Caribbean says the project is seeking to change the way e-waste is perceived and managed in Trinidad and Tobago, with a view to ensuring it is disposed of in a manner that is environmentally sound.

“Electronic Waste (e-waste) is a growing concern worldwide,” BCRC-Caribbean explains.  “The first issue is that many electronic devices contain hazardous materials that can leach into the environment as their casings degrade in landfills, where a lot of consumer electronic waste currently ends up. Another reason for the urgent need for responsible recycling is that many components are becoming increasingly scarce or are dangerous to source globally.”

BCRC-Caribbean adds: “Global estimates suggest that as little as 20% of e-waste is recycled.  However, recycling just one million cell phones can recover more than 35,000 pounds of copper, 33 pounds of palladium, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold. These assets can be put to future use in new smart devices, semiconductors for vehicles, and more.”

The organisation notes that several national stakeholders in Trinidad and Tobago, with the support of bmobile, are hoping to change the way e-waste is handled in this country. 

According to BCRC-Caribbean, the total number of mobile connections in T&T is almost double the population, just short of two million subscriptions. The total number of smart devices, including mobile phones and tablets, can easily be double this number.

“At the end of their usability, the project seeks to divert [these devices] from landfills where chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic can end up being exposed to humans directly in landfills, or even find their way into underground watercourses and eventually be consumed. Many people are unaware of this threat,” the organisation warned.

The BCRC Team – Top row (L-R): Jewel Batchasingh, Director; Rachel Ramsey, Project Coordinator; Janine Boodram, Research Analyst. Bottom row (L to R): Laura Teixeira, Project Officer II; Sarah De Freitas, Research Officer; Shalina Rooplal, Associate Professional. (image courtesy BCRC)

BCRC Caribbean is undertaking a multi-pronged approach to the project, Demonstration of the Environmentally Sound Management of Used and End-of-Life Mobile Phones in Trinidad and Tobago.  The first phase involved a national survey launched in March 2022, to understand the current environment and citizens’ knowledge and attitudes as it pertains to end-of-life mobile phones. Phase two will see the public awareness drive to disseminate information on the environmentally sound management (ESM) of mobile phones.  This will be followed by the national collection campaign.

Phones collected under the campaign will be sent to an internationally certified waste management company in Trinidad and Tobago for environmentally sound management.  To facilitate collection, receptacles will be placed at bmobile outlets and other locations across Trinidad and Tobago for a limited period.

“Citizens are encouraged to reset their phones to factory settings (if possible) and dispose of them in the receptacles provided—at no cost—through the project. Where phones are in good condition in terms of physical appearance and can be booted up without issue, these phones may be considered for donation or refurbishment abroad. Phones which cannot be powered on will be dismantled for recycling. Any make and model of mobile phone is welcome. User data will not be accessed in any way as the devices will be disassembled to their useful parts on processing,” BCRC-Caribbean says.

General Manager Shared Services at TSTT, Gerard Cooper, is looking forward to a positive response from the general public.

“Last year, we worked with CANTO, the Lion’s Club District 60A, and Piranha International to offer free collection of used and old smart devices for responsible disposal,” he recalled.

“These opportunities are not free locally or globally as some US States and other countries charge users to dispose of their devices at the end of the device’s lifespan. We hope that citizens will use this opportunity, which is good for the environment and good for their homes—to rid themselves of device clutter and put any recoverable minerals and components back to use,” he added.

Director at BCRC Caribbean, Jewel Batchasingh, detailed the background of this far-reaching e-waste initiative, which obtained funding in 2021.

“Trinidad and Tobago ratified the Basel Convention for the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal in 1994,” she points out.  “The Follow-up Partnership to the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), established under this Convention, issued a call for project proposals that would support the on-the-ground implementation of the guidance documents developed to support the environmentally sound management (ESM) of computing equipment and mobile phones.”

She added: “The Ministry, the national focal point for Trinidad and Tobago, indicated an interest in submitting a proposal, which BCRC-Caribbean then developed for the aforementioned project. The project was approved for funding in 2021.”

The BCRC-Caribbean director says the project also will inform continued ESM efforts.

“The National Working Group for the project, which comprises key local stakeholders from the public and private sectors involved in waste management, will also guide the development of a policy paper for the ESM of this waste stream nationally,” she said.