There is a widespread lack of awareness of electronic waste (ewaste) and an absence of an ewaste policy and legislation in Palestine. Palestinian officials and relevant institutions, which are living in a territory that is plagued by a prolonged Israeli military occupation and that is struggling with deep internal governance strife, view ewaste policies and legislation as low on their list of priorities – that is, if the issue even makes it onto their radar. Our research indicates that only a few local municipalities tasked with solid waste collection are working on ewaste. It is our impression that this research effort was the first time the topic has ever been specifically addressed in Palestine. Nevertheless, throughout Palestine, dismantling computers and taking out all the good and usable parts to reuse is common, especially in the Gaza Strip, which is under siege, and legally importing parts is nearly impossible.
Policy and legislative context
Our research took us to the main cities of Palestine: Nablus, Ramallah, El-Bireh, Hebron and Gaza. We also spoke to representatives of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. Not only are there no actual policies or legislation related to ewaste, but many we spoke to dismissed its importance given other priorities, and suspected low ewaste volumes. However, many businesses, ministries and municipalities do have in place policies or practices of donating their information and communications technology (ICT) equipment for refurbishment and reuse in academic institutions, both schools and universities. The absence of state policy and legislation related to ewaste can be directly attributed to the fact that Palestine is under military occupation, which leaves more important priorities. The fact that Palestine does not have full jurisdiction over its land, including many of its solid waste dumps, contributes to the lack of attention ewaste musters. It should be noted that East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, both also under Israeli occupation, each have their own particular political and security constraints which exasperate dealing with the ewaste issue. These areas are legally part of the occupied Palestinian territory; however, Israel retains jurisdiction either directly (via annexation of East Jerusalem) or indirectly (via blockade on the Gaza Strip).
Reuse and refurbishment, but little widespread knowledge of ewaste
There is a serious lack of knowledge on the actual topic of ewaste. The most important issue that needs to be raised in Palestine is awareness of the damage that ewaste may cause. Without such awareness, it can be expected that addressing ewaste policy, legislation and best practices will not be realised in the short and medium term.
The Palestinian Information Technology Association of Companies (PITA)1 is a group of Palestinian private sector firms that created a professional trade association to defend the interests of the ICT sector. PITA represents over 80 ICT-specific companies working in various sub-sectors. PITA operates an IT incubator called the Palestine Information and Communication Incubator (PICTI).2
When challenged on the importance of the issue of ewaste, Hassan Omar, PICTI’s incubator manager, said that “we need to benchmark what ewaste policies exist in the region, and integrate with them.”
General manager of IT Supplies and Computer Technology at the West Bank-based Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MTIT),3 Jamil Zagharneh, said that he has never heard of ewaste and had no information about the topic. He did note some basic information about what is done with their own offices’ used ICT equipment. When ICT products are no longer usable, an IT technician examines the products and writes up a report, after which they decide whether to donate them to schools or universities or, if beyond repair, discard them in the nearest public garbage dump. According to Zagharneh the ministry has no plans for introducing ewaste policy or legislation because of their other, more important priorities.
An interview was also conducted with an organisation called Joint Service Council for Solid Waste Management.4 Reem Khalil, a member of the organisation, told us that they have never worked with any ewaste projects and was unable to direct us to any organisation that does.
Nasser al-Khateeb, director of ICT Supplies at the Supplies and Procurement Department in the Ministry of Finance,5 advised that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) mostly repairs their ICT equipment until it can no longer be used.
In some instances, when they have a surplus of used equipment they no longer need, it is sold by a public bidding process. In other cases, they donate their used computers and printers to academic institutions. If they finally reach the point of disposing of ICTs, they go through a short and basic process: first, an IT technician examines the product and writes up a report and second, there is a meeting between the head representative of the department and the IT technician to decide whether to keep and fix the product, to donate it, or to remove the important parts that can be reused, and dispose of the rest by breaking it with a hammer, burning, or burying.
The municipalities of Gaza, Nablus and Hebron were not able to provide any useful information, but they did say that they have no idea what ewaste is and they have no rules or procedures on disposing of ICTs. As far as we were able to discern, ewaste is usually just disposed of as if it were normal garbage.
In the Municipality of Ramallah6 we interviewed Jad Kondah, general manager of IT. He told us that there is no policy for ewaste and that currently they are trying to work on a general recycling programme throughout the city. He did not know exactly how and where old IT equipment is disposed of.
At the Municipality of Al-Bireh7 Dr. Eyad Daraghmeh is in charge of solid waste. Daraghmeh said that he has tried working on projects to help recycle ICTs on several occasions, but because he was a municipality staff person he needed approval from other government officials. However, he never received it.
Daraghmeh preferred not to go into specifics about the recycling projects he was referring to. Our understanding is that he may be currently pursuing them through different channels. He also noted that, to date, the only ICT products that are directly disposed of by the municipality are computer monitors and obsolete printers. Other ICT equipment is either repaired or put into a storeroom. These storerooms typically contain an array of obsolete computers, printers, photocopy machines and fax machines that the municipality departments no longer want or that cannot be otherwise used.
Although a structured approach to ewaste does not exist, the awareness of recycling and donating ICT products to civil society is clearly prevalent. For example, in addition to the above-mentioned practices, there is a project at Birzeit University in Palestine called the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP).8
This is part of a worldwide project that started in Canada. The project collects old computers and uses the parts to build servers and workstations. This project was successfully implemented at the Birzeit computer lab and also in one public school in the city of Birzeit.
We did find a disturbing general trend that should be addressed in the context of ewaste as well: Israeli solid waste is trucked into the occupied Palestinian territory and dumped in illegal dumping sites.9 Given that Israel is a much more modern and developed economy, with ICT production facilities in operation, this trend poses an immediate danger, especially given the lack of awareness and regulation on the Palestinian side.
- Immediately stop the use of illegal dumping sites.
- Educate people in Palestine about the seriousness of ewaste.
- Promote the separation of ewaste from general solid waste in Palestine.
- Promote organisational efforts to address ewaste in the various cities of Palestine.
- Develop a national policy and legislation that deals with ewaste in Palestine.
- Create public awareness about the new policy and legislation through educational institutions, governmental institutions, and the private sector.
- Build capacity at the municipality level to implement and be in compliance with the new legislation.