Getting to grips with hazardous waste

Kazakhstan is facing the growing problem of how to safely dispose of its e-waste, that ever-increasing mountain of electronic products that have reached the end of their useful life. Twinned with this problem is the question of what to do with hazardous substances such as mercury, found in bulbs and batteries.

To tackle these pressing problems, UNDP joined forces with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy and other partners to create a network of disposal points for e-waste and dangerous materials in the capital Astana and other cities.

Kazakhstan produces some 343,000 tonnes of e-waste each year and this has traditionally made its way into landfill sites, polluting both the soil and ground water. It is estimated that out of the three million computers imported to Kazakhstan from 2000 to 2010, half of them have already become e-waste.

Aigul Manataeva, a successful businesswoman and mother of two in Astana, is meticulous about clearing out her household junk. After reading a newsletter about the negative impact of e-waste, she found herself hard-pressed to find an environmentally sound way to dispose of her redundant mobile phones.

Now, thanks to advocacy campaigns and the establishment of dedicated e-waste disposal points in various sites around the city, Aigul knows exactly where to turn in her outdated phones. Dozens of eco-boxes have been installed in large stores in Astana and Karaganda and at local government offices. As an additional incentive, a programme was set up urging people to hand in their old phones and electronic devices in return for discounts on future purchases.

In order to set up these collection points, UNDP teamed up with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy to develop a project, with generous financial support from Samsung Electronics, which has helped to improve the efficiency of services for the collection, transportation, recycling or disposal of this type of waste.

E-waste is not the only waste disposal problem Kazakhstan is tackling. In 2013 UNDP joined a project initiated by the local authorities in Astana which installed 100 special containers around the city for the proper disposal of used bulbs, thermometers, and batteries, all items that contain mercury. Containers were placed in residential courtyards for the convenient disposal of this hazardous material.

UNDP, in conjunction with the Global Environment Facility, has developed several methods of collecting and disposing of mercury bulbs. These methods have been shared with local authorities in Kazakhstan to help them choose a system that fits them best. Posters and leaflets with images of containers and usage instructions were displayed on public transport, at bus-stops and in other public places.

In recent years, the Government of Kazakhstan’s efforts have been focused on transitioning to the green economy and UNDP has supported these efforts by helping connect Kazakhstan to the best available experience in this area.

Waste management is an overarching issue that touches upon a number of goals in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Without proper waste management, sustainable cities are unthinkable, as are clean water and sanitation. No country can pursue a truly sustainable future without a cogent waste management strategy.