PTA’s Device Identification Registration Blocking System (DIRBS) is already in effect and it ensures that only verified phones work in Pakistan.
DIRBS allows the governing authority to block used and smuggled phones, which cause a loss of millions to the national exchequer every year. However, 59% of Pakistan’s phones are smuggled, according to a Customs report.
What do we do with the millions of smuggled phones?
If you are the FBR, you say they are “useless” and instruct Customs to destroy them.
A few days ago, the FBR asked Customs to compile a list of all confiscated phones and send it to the PTA, which will then evaluate them and decide if they qualify for being whitelisted.
All whitelisted phones will be sold off through an open auction and the remaining will be destroyed.
Here is why destroying those phones is ill-advised.
Phones Can Be Exported to Other Countries
While Pakistan may not have any use for phones which can’t be whitelisted, they can be exported to other countries, which can sell them on the used market, salvage them for parts or recycle them properly. This would generate revenue and is preferable to destroying the phones outright and losing what little value they could provide.
It’s Makes Pakistan’s Waste Problem Worse
Over 1.5 billion smartphones are sold every year and the ones thrown away are shipped to developing countries (like Pakistan) to be resold or dumped in landfills.
The waste generated this way, called electronic waste or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste problem in the world.
Electronics, including smartphones, have substances and chemicals which are a significant environment and health risk.
Pakistan mostly burns, dumps or buries waste in landfills and vacant lots.
Burning e-waste produces harmful chemicals like mercury, chloride, and others, which pollute the environment and pose serious health risks to the people working and living around waste disposal centers.
Dumping or burying e-waste isn’t a good solution either as smartphones and electronics contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the soil and end up in water supplies, leading to life-threatening health problems.
In the absence of proper recycling facilities, destroying smartphones and willfully contributing to the toxic waste problem is a strange decision by government authorities.
Toxic Waste is a Lucrative Problem
While we’re on this point, I want to implore the government to invite private companies to solve the e-waste problem.
A public awareness campaign could be started but it’s going to take time to change customer attitudes towards disposing of electronics. Another lucrative and more immediate solution is to ask companies and businessmen to invest in proper recycling facilities for e-waste. Electronics contain valuable metals and substances like copper, iron, silicon, nickel, and gold, which can be extracted.
Making a policy framework, creating regulations and inviting investment into the waste management sector will generate jobs as well as millions in income for the government and help Pakistan deal with a problem which is only going to get worse with time.
It will also help in reigning in businessmen who are making the problem worse by importing second-hand electronics and disposing of them improperly with no oversight or consequences.