The Other Covid Emergency – A 5x Increase in Toxic, Health Destroying E-Waste in Bahrain, What Happened in Other Countries, and What Will Happen with 5G?

By Patricia Burke

In recognition of World Environment Day, the gulf nation of Bahrain held an event at the French embassy, noting:

“The rate of electronic waste generation has exploded by as much as five times due to an increased use of electronic devices during the Covid-19 pandemic as users stay connected like never before, an online digital debate hosted in Bahrain heard, writes Naman Arora.

A leading environmental expert expressed concern over the hidden cost of technological advancements at a webinar staged by the French Embassy in the kingdom in commemoration of World Environment Day.

“Our smart phones alone use up to 50 different rare earth metals and minerals, which all have very environmentally-destructive methods of extraction,” said French sustainability expert in digital pollution Céline Ferre. “This has already led to a global loss of biodiversity, much higher energy consumption and rapid resource depletion, especially in emerging markets.”

This comes as the number of devices globally is set to increase from its current 22 billion to as much as 110 billion, she revealed, as a result of an increased reliance on the ‘Internet of Things’ in which a variety of household devices are connected online.

She added that the current public health crisis has also witnessed a massive increase in digital use as people connected online to avoid social contact, highlighting a list of shocking statastics such as the ‘five times’ projection.

With the advent of artificial intelligence, cloud computing and cryptocurrency mining, energy consumption has already risen dramatically, since these applications require the use of large server farms which consume more electricity and generate significant e-waste.

Around 52 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2019, according to a report by the United Nations University and while there are sustainable ways to recycle discarded devices, most companies employ low-cost, low-efficiency methods that end up having a worse environmental impact.

According to Ebrahim Hasan, IT specialist and board member of Clean up Bahrain, companies that handle sensitive data also refrain from recycling because of the risk of data leakage and corporate espionage, since most recycling companies do not employ proper data scrubbing protocol.

While e-waste is merely 1.5 per cent of the total waste generated globally, it often has a much more drastic impact, due to the metals and minerals used seeping into the ground when discarded inappropriately.

The recommendations given during the session included extending the life of mobile and computing devices on a personal level and managing online habits. Streaming, for example, is worse than downloading since it uses multiple servers simultaneously, according to Céline.

Another suggestion that was met with some resistance by an executive from a local telecommunications provider was reducing the usage of mobile data, especially newer technologies like 4G and 5G, in favor of Wi-Fi.

Celine also suggested a decreased reliance on artificial intelligence to solve human problems and an increased use of low-tech and innovative methods. One example she cited during the current pandemic involved researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine training dogs to sniff out asymptomatic Covid-19 cases.


View the 2-hour video of the remarkable event here:

World Environment Day – Webinar – Digital Pollution

2 hour webinar

According to a 2015 press release from Bahrain, “Electronic waste is an epidemic growing at three times the rate of municipal waste. Though e-waste makes up 3-5% of the waste stream, the amount of overall toxic waste is 70%. When e-waste is sent to landfill, toxic chemicals in electronics products can leach into the land over time or are released into the atmosphere, impacting nearby communities and the environment,” he added.

“The negative impacts of e-waste on the environment and humans are increasing and multiplying with time. According to UNEP, the worldwide total for E-waste could reach 50 million tons per year,” he elaborated.

Studies have proved that the heavy metals in a mobile phone are capable of contaminating 600,000 liters of water. If we recycle one million mobile phones, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 1,368 cars off the road for a year,” he said.”

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Before the United States gets led down the yellow brook road of the 5G, where is the economic analysis of the entire carbon footprint, environmental impact, and ecological lifecycle cost of the technology, including conflict minerals and e-waste?

What If We Have to Eliminate 5G, After We Eliminate Huawei

Furthermore, telecoms are now raising tremendous concerns about the cost of removing Huawei from the supply chain,

For example,  “Vodafone UK warns of dire consequences if forced to swap out Huawei kit.”

The South China Morning Post reported, “Dread over impending anti-Huawei law grows at US companies”

Section 889, part B, of the National Defence Authorisation Act requires US government contractors to ensure their global supply chain is devoid of gear from banned Chinese tech firms

More than a dozen industries are engaged in a lobbying frenzy ahead of an August 13 deadline to comply with that far-reaching provision.

Given the lack of premarket safety testing, moving ahead with 5G, without an economic analysis of the possible costs of needing to remove 5G infrastructure, for whatever reason, is reckless and irresponsible.

Surveillance, privacy, security, health, environment, e-waste, conflict minerals – there are plenty of reasons to look for the wizard behind the curtain, pulling the levers.

Patricia Burke works with activists across the country and internationally calling for new biologically-based microwave radio frequency exposure limits. .

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