TSTT CEO Ronald Walcott

bmobile partners with BCRC – Caribbean to tackle the challenge of e-Waste in T&T sustainably

TSTT Corporate Communications

Press Release

Electronic Waste (e-waste) is a growing concern worldwide. 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. Moves are afoot to change this in Trinidad and Tobago by several national stakeholders, with the support of bmobile.

The Basel Convention Regional Centre for Training and Technology Transfer for the Caribbean (BCRC-Caribbean), with endorsement from The Ministry of Planning and Development (the Ministry), is seeking to change the way we perceive and manage e-waste in T&T. BCRC Caribbean is undertaking a multi-pronged approach which started with a national survey to understand the current environment and citizens’ knowledge and attitudes as it pertains to end-of-life mobile phones. The project, Demonstration of the Environmentally Sound Management of Used and End-of-Life Mobile Phones in Trinidad and Tobago, will ultimately seek to capture this category of e-waste before it reaches landfills across the country. It will also do so by stimulating positive behavioural change as it relates to the management of e-waste through timely communications with citizens.

Jewel Batchasingh, Director, BCRC Caribbean, detailed the background of this initiative and the international aspects in which Trinidad and Tobago finds itself. According to Batchasingh, “Trinidad and Tobago ratified the Basel Convention for the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal in 1994. 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. 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 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, which, at the end of their usability, the project seeks to divert from landfills where chemical 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. Hence, the project commenced with a survey in March 2022 to understand the knowledge, attitude, and practices (KAP) in Trinidad and Tobago related to the management of used and end-of-life mobile phones. The survey will also be utilised to measure the impact created by the project’s awareness campaign on environmentally sound management (ESM) on used and end-of-life phones after that.

After the survey, the BCRC-Caribbean will launch an awareness drive under this project to disseminate information on the ESM of mobile phones. BCRC and its partners will also launch a national collection campaign for used and end-of-life mobile phones. These phones will then be submitted to an internationally certified waste management company in Trinidad and Tobago for environmentally sound management. 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 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.

Gerard Cooper, General Manager Shared Services at TSTT, looks 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. 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. The nation’s native telecommunications provider is doing its part to ensure that technology and data access are continuously being expanded in a sustainable manner that also considers the environment and the citizens of T&T.

Global estimates suggest that as little as 20% of e-waste is recycled but 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 Demonstration of the Environmentally Sound Management of Used and End-of-Life Mobile Phones in Trinidad and Tobago project will also inform continued efforts later. 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.