E-Waste and its Management

e-wast.JPGIt is estimated that e-waste generated in India accounts for over $1.5 billion. This if recycled and reclaimed has the potential to generate $ 8 billion worth of economic activity. It would also go a long way in keeping our environment clean.

‘E-waste’ refers to electronic waste and encompasses obsolete electronic devices such as computers, monitors, servers, main frames, washing machines, TVs, calculators, printers, telecommunication devices such as cellular phones & pagers, batteries, scanners, copiers besides air conditioners. It also includes recording devices such as CDs, DVDs, floppies, tapes, military electronic waste, chips, processors, mother boards, circuit boards, industrial electronics and security devices.

There are three primary reasons for its generations; changes in fashion, tastes & lifestyles, advancement in technology and the end of their useful life. They are considered dangerous as they contain toxic fluids, fumes and release harmful gases if left to decay. On the other hand, e-waste contains large amounts of secondary raw material such as aluminum, copper, and precious metals, which on being recycled would have a considerable market value.

In the U.S. and the European Union, the annual amount of e-waste from electronic products is estimated to be more than 10 million tones. It is predicted to double in the next two decades. In India as well, management, recycling, and disposal of e-waste has taken off. At present Bangalore alone generates about 8000 tonnes of computer waste annually. E-Parisaraa, an eco-friendly recycling unit located about 45 Km north of Bangalore, is making full use of this waste. It is India’s first scientific e-waste recycling unit and is helping to recover valuable metals, plastics, glass as well as reducing degradation to the environment. Other smaller organizations are buying metallic waste from scrap dealers, recycling the metals and supplying it to various metal-based industries.

However due to the lack of governmental legislations on e-waste, standards for disposal and a proper mechanism for handling these toxic hi-tech products they usually end up in landfills, rivers or get partly recycled in unhygienic and hazardous conditions. Mr Sharat Chandra, Environmental Consultant and former Special Secretary of the Environment Department states that, “Policy and legislative action will include definition of e-waste, the intended goals and objectives. E-waste products also need to be labeled hazardous, and manufacture of e-waste products should be registered with some agency so that it can be monitored”. It remains to be seen when this would come into practice.

India as a developing country needs to find solutions to this growing problem. Organizations must be encouraged to develop in-house waste systems, since a lot can be gained by its efficient management. Environmental pollution, a major concern the world over, must be checked. E-waste can either help us mint money or become a serious nuisance in the years to come.

Astik Sinha