E-Wastes in India: A Rising Concern

Advancement in technology has brought about a revolution in exchange of ideas and communication. Getting in touch with a person in any part of the world has now become simpler and quicker, thus expanding the global market in terms of latest gadgets and electronic products. The question which arises is- At what cost are we producing such electronic gadgets and devices? It is estimated that every year 20 to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical equipment waste (E- waste) is generated every year which could bring serious risks to human health as well as the environment.

E-waste consists of discarded old computers, refrigerators, radios or any other electric or electronic appliance which has reached the end of its life. It has been confirmed that at every stage of processing of any electronic or electric item, a significant amount of toxic heavy metals and organic compounds is released posing harm to people as well as the surrounding land and water bodies of the work place. The most abundantly found metals are lead and tin, coming from solder and lead batteries; copper from wires and cables and cadmium from batteries and solder joints. Organic chemicals like Polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDE) and Polychrominated biphenyls (PCB). PCBs are highly persistent and bio- accumulative chemicals which develop thousand- fold body tissues in wildlife. PCBs exhibit toxic effects such as suppression of immune system, liver damage and cancer promotion. On the other hand, recycling of many of these components is hazardous to human life and the environment too. Home-based recyclers burn wires and integrated chips over small flames to get at the copper and other metal inside, inhaling toxic fumes in the process.

It is thus implicit from the above facts and figures that treatment of the constituents of all electric and electronic items is a matter of serious concern as not only do their properties have an impact the human anatomy and the nature but also the recycling of most of these compounds is detrimental. In India particularly, the presence of e-waste is mainly clustered in the metropolitan and developed cities. Last month, the government has finalised one of the strictest set of rules in disposal of e-waste. Under the new ‘E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules’, each manufacturer is responsible for the disposal for his products whether mobile phones or computers. A complete ban on import of any kind of electric or electronic product for dismantling or recycling has also been proposed.

However, these incentives on the government’s part will only prove worthwhile if the consumers too take the responsibility of handling of electronic and electric devices properly. The community, as a whole, must understand the gravity of the situation and act upon it by spreading knowledge in e- waste management. The executives in the leading electronic companies should also join hands with the government in setting up a strategy at the corporate level. They must also work on increasing the sustainability of their products so as to decrease the amount of e-waste generated. Legislation of all policies must take place at every strata- local, regional as well as national level. In addition to this, the government should also organise an entirely separate department for e-waste management and bring into experienced personnel for planning out various strategies.

Above all this, an individual must realise the discrepancy between his needs and wants. It is well said by Ravi Agrawal, founding director of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO, “It is easier to prevent generation of e-waste than to manage it.” Being technologically upgraded is definitely beneficial at the individual as well as community level. However, one should contemplate if the technology is for him or he is for the technology.

Referencing: Recycling of E-waste in China and India; Pg.3; Greenpeace Report

Prerita Vijay Chauthaiwale

[Image courtesy: http://envis.maharashtra.gov.in/envis_data/files/Eewaste%20management1.jpg]