E-waste – Bane if Dumped, Boon if Recycled

A software professional working on a latest PC, companies making ample of pirated CDs or a sophomore chatting with his/her friends; all might be happy with their current status. But have they ceased to think what happens when they get parts of their gadgets, or all of it, replaced? Where do these parts go and where do all the unwanted or unusable stuffs land up? E-waste or Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) is way ahead a subject to be discussed at the environmental forums. E-waste includes computers, entertainment electronics, telecommunication equipment, cooling appliances and tools that are discarded. Technically, E-waste is the component which is dumped or disposed or discarded rather than recycled.


E-waste is a matter of concern, largely due to the toxicity and carcinogenicity of some of the substances. Toxic substances in E-waste may include lead, mercury and cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in E-waste may include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A typical monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, much of which forms a part of the lead glass of the CRT. Capacitors, transformers, PVC insulated wires, PVC coated components manufactured before 1977 often contain large amounts of PCBs.


Many of the plastics used in electronic-equipments contain flame retardants. These are generally halogens added to the plastic resin, making it difficult to recycle them. Land filling E-waste, one of the most widely used methods of disposal, is perilous because of leachate which often contains heavy water resources.


Due to lack of awareness, the workers are risking their health and the environment as well. They use strong acids to retrieve precious metals such as gold. Working in poorly-ventilated or no ventilation areas, without masks and technical expertise results in exposure to dangerous and slow-poisoning chemicals, which not only affects them but their coming generations.


Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO, says that India generates $1.5 billion worth of E-waste annually. As per a study done by Bengaluru-based NGO, Saahas, Bengaluru generates around 8,000 tons of E-waste every year. IT companies are the single largest contributors of E-waste because 30 percent of their equipment is rendered passé every year. Although many steps have been taken to bring E-waste under control, it is still a grave matter.


E-Parisaraa, Bengaluru, is India’s first scientific E-waste recycling unit and is helping to recover valuable metals, plastics and glass as well as reducing degradation to the environment. Trishyiraya Recycling India Private Limited, Chennai, is also involved with making use of E-waste. E-waste recycling plants have come up at Mumbai, Meerut and Firozabad. Allied Computers International (Asia), a Mumbai-based company which makes laptops, is planning to set up country’s first chip-level laptop motherboards and parts recycling plant at Gandhinagar in Gujarat. Waiting for the democratic system to do something with an overreaching policy is well, asking for too much!


The government should form a proper E-waste policy and legislation. It should encourage an organized system of recycling and should collect fees from manufacturers/consumers for the disposal of toxic materials. In order to promote recycling, the government should subsidize recycling and disposal industries. State-of-the-art infrastructure would help in mitigating the issues surrounding the workers working in the recycling plants. The General public should be encouraged to collect and hand-over the E-waste to the concerned authorities. Awareness programmes on E-waste should be organized. Each country should dump its own E-waste, rather than exporting it to other countries.


TCS and other companies have set an example by following the ‘Green purchase policy’ – where consumers buy PCs only from companies with a take-back policy. IT R&D should be encouraged to find some means to upgrade rather than to replace. The minerals procured can be an added advantage if they are collected by eco-friendly means like bio-leaching (use of microorganisms for the recovery of metals from finely grained e-waste).


Only two things can be done with the environment: Either preserve and live in it or destroy and summon your death. The choice is all yours.


Ashish Chowdhary

[Image source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/techbirmingham/345897594/]