Securitizing e-Waste: Framing Environmental Issue as a Threat to Human Security

The rapid growth of global industrialization and mass-consumption of electric and electronic items change the way it is perceived; from a luxury that can only be accessed by some to be a lifestyle and daily needs. From a communication device to a mobile hub which connects us to banking, transportation, or healthcare services. What we tend to forget is what happen to all of these waste electrical and electronic equipments (WEEEs) after they’re deemed to be unusable, or when new technology arrives. The result is millions of tons of electronic waste which confuse countries in managing it both locally and globally, and demand human intervention since it is not naturally decomposed.

The chemicals found in e-waste materials are also harmful to the body, such as nickel that can cause skin damage, asthma, impaired lung health and cancer if inhaled, Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) that is harmful to the kidneys of humans and animals and can be consolidated in nature, especially in water and food chains, cadmium that harmful to the kidneys and can cause cancer and death and are often absorbed by plants, lead which can lead to anorexia, muscle pain and headaches, brain damage and death and can disrupt the reproductive system and mercury that can damage the lungs, brain, skin, eyes, kidneys and digestive system (Pinto, 2008, pp. 67-68).

From an economic perspective, e-waste poses both risks and opportunities. The cost of establishing an e-waste recycling center, which needs state-of-the-art technology, is high and often surpasses other means in managing e-waste, such as exporting it to developing countries (Pinto, 2008). A research shows that despite laws are being implemented worldwide to prevent the illegal trade practices, e-waste is still arriving in e-waste scrapping centers in various countries, such as in Guiyu, Guangdong Province, China (Schwarzer, et. al., 2005). Greenpeace also found growing e-waste trade problem in India where 25,000 workers are employed in e-waste hoarding center in Delhi alone, where 10-20,000 tonnes of e-waste is handled each year (Greenpeace, 2011).

This trade also presents opportunities for companies and individuals. In developing countries, while e-waste recycling center needs companies with big venture, it is also practiced by individuals and families which establish themselves around e-waste dumping areas such as in Guiyu, China and Agbogbloshie, Ghana. They are all after the same thing: precious metals contained in e-waste components.

The e-waste issue thus poses a challenge for human security dimension since it relates both environmentally and economically. While it is common to approach the issue from these perspectives, it raises a question whether approaching e-waste from human security perspective as an alternative can offer a more comprehensive solution towards the problem. This paper will be based from such question. While the research indeed utilizes the “securitization” concept proposed by Copenhagen School, it aims not to identify the components of securitization, instead it will argue that the e-waste issue will benefit from undergoing the process of securitization. Thus, the scope of research will be limited to the process itself and will not consider whether it is accepted or not by the “audience” of securitization. Based on this framework, the research found that framing e-waste issue as a threat for human security adds another dimension in the discussion which open new viable solutions for the problem.This paper is structured into four parts. Part one will lay out the background issue of this research. Part two will explain the methodology in conducting this research, from securitization proposed by Copenhagen School of International Relations as theoretical framework and human security as the dimension to the concept of waste and e-waste. Part three is the result and analysis, which describes the risks and opportunities of e-waste both as a global issue and seen from the environmental and human dimension, and also arguments in securitizing e-waste as a threat to human security may benefit the ongoing efforts in preventing it from becoming a major threat while also assisting current agenda. Part four is the conclusion of the paper.

Author : Fajar Ajie Setiawan; Fitriana Putri Hapsari