Electronic waste, abbreviated as ‘e-waste’ is a term used to describe old, end-of-life electronic appliances such as computers, laptops, TV’s, radios, refrigerators etc., which have been discarded by users. E-waste comprises of numerous valuable but harmful substances that can cause an adverse effect on human health. Recycling e-waste can be dangerous if not done using suitable techniques and measures.
In India, Information Technology (IT) and telecom are two of the fastest growing industries and hence contribute to a majority of e-waste. Rapid growth of the country coupled with urbanization and growing demand of electrical appliances has contributed to the digital revolution as well as continues to provide all forms of comfort, security, easy access to information and exchange. However, this rapid development in hyper-technology has made e-waste one of the fastest waste streams.
Importer: About 50% of the products imported to India are from secondary markets and are re-assembled using old components. The remaining percentage is covered by international manufacturers and national brands which import electronic scrap to other countries.
Manufacturers: Multinational manufacturers are major contributors of e-waste. E-waste includes motherboards, CRT’s (cathode ray tube), IC chips and other peripheral devices.
Consumer: The main sources of the e-waste generation are business sectors such as the corporate sector, private or public sectors which accounts for a total of 78% of all the PC’s installed in India. Sometimes charitable and educational institutes use old computers as well.
Scrap dealers: Rag pickers and scrap dealers have found a new way to begin their business by adopting this new waste stream. They carry out the primary work of re-assembling obsolete computers, reuse the working components, assemble new computers and sell them in the secondary market.
Recyclers: Delhi has never been concerned about the e-waste spread. Areas like slums of Seelampur, Mundka in the west, Shastri Park and Geeta Colony are doing unorganized recycling of e-waste. They use bare hands, hammers and screwdrivers for recycling.
Average PC of approximately 3.15 kg weight contains:
7.24 kg – Plastics
1.98 kg – Lead
0.693 g – Mercury
0.409 g – Arsenic
2.961 g – Cadmium
1.98 g – Chromium
9.92 g – Barium
4.94 g – Beryllium
E-waste contains many hazardous substances and chemicals, many of which are toxic and are likely to cause adverse effects on the environment and your health.
Effects on the environment: Pollution of ground water, air pollution and acidification of soil.
Effects on your health: Chronic damage to the brain, DNA damage, lung cancer, immune system damage, respiratory problems etc.
Management of e-waste should begin at the time of generation. Minimization of waste and adapting replaceable techniques to manage e-waste can be helpful. The managing of e-waste includes:
1. Recovery and reuse
2. Volume Reduction
3. Production-process modification
Current Scenario of E-waste in India
* Mumbai – 11,000 tons
* Delhi – 9,750 tons
* Bangalore – 4,650 tons
* Chennai – 4,100 tons
* Calicut – 4,025 tons
* Ahmedabad – 3,250 tons
* Hyderabad – 2,800 tons
* Pune – 2,584 tons
* Surat – 1,836 tons
Current procedures used in India for recycling e-waste are:
Dismantling: Electronic waste, especially printed wiring boards, cathode ray tubes, condensers, plastics are dismantled.
Hammering: Rag pickers use hammers to break old computers and burn them.
Refining and conditioning: Other e-waste fractions are processed to directly reusable components and to secondary raw materials in different refining and conditioning processes.
Shredding: Conventional method employed is mechanical shredding and density separation using water but the recycling efficiency is quite low.
Treatment options for re-waste:
1. Land filling: Solid waste should be deposited in a municipal landfill.
2. Incineration: Systematic water and gas collecting systems must be installed.
India is a developing country and certainly needs to eliminate this growing waste stream. If not taken seriously, this growth can be alarming for the country. Recommended steps to eradicate e-waste are: waste minimization, restructuring recycling, protective protocol for workers and building awareness among citizens. Recycling is the environmentally preferable option by extending the life of old equipments that defers the pollution and resource consumption. Deposit/refund schemes should be made to encourage consumers to return electronic devices for collection and recycling. Thus, India should convert this challenge into an opportunity and deal it with astuteness.