E-waste: How should India defuse a ticking time bomb?

E-waste in India:

  • India’s annual electronic waste (e-waste) generation was 1.8 million MTs in 2016 and is expected to reach 5.2 million MTs by 2020.
  • Mumbai stands first among the top ten Indian cities generating e-waste, followed by Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur.
  • The government, public and private sectors act as the primary source of e-waste, accounting for 70 per cent of the total e-waste generation.
  • Individual households contribute only 15 per cent. The balance 15 per cent is produced by manufacturers.

What is e-waste?

  • Electronic and electrical equipment that have become unfit for their originally intended use or which have crossed the expiry date are called “e-waste”.
  • Computers, servers, mainframes, monitors, CDs, printers, scanners, copiers, calculators, fax machines, battery cells, cellular phones, transceivers, TVs, iPods, medical apparatus, washing machines, refrigerators and air-conditioners are examples of e-waste.

Effects of E-waste:

  • If e-waste is processed scientifically, valuable metals such as copper, silver, gold and platinum could be recovered from it. However, substances like liquid crystal, lithium, mercury, nickel, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), selenium, arsenic, barium, brominated flameproofing agent, cadmium, chrome, cobalt, copper and lead, which are an inherent part of electronic equipment, are toxic and carcinogenic.
  • If e-waste is dismantled and processed in a crude manner, its toxic constituents can wreak havoc on the human body.
  • The cathode ray tubes (CRTs) present in computer monitors, with heavy metals like lead, barium and cadmium, may be harmful during the improper processing and cause an adverse impact on the human nervous and respiratory systems.
  • In the same way, lead and cadmium present in the printed circuit boards, beryllium of the motherboards, mercury in switches and flat-screen monitors, cadmium in the computer batteries, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in the cable insulation and bromine in plastic housing may cause damage to the human body parts such as nervous system, kidney and liver, lungs and skin, heart, lever and muscles, brain and skin, kidney and liver, immune system and endocrine system respectively.

How E-waste is handled in India?

  • In India, 90 per cent of the recycling and disposal of e-waste is done by the informal/unorganised sector.
  • Unskilled workers not only work without any protection measure or safeguards but also live in slums close to the untreated e-waste dumps and landfills.
  • For instance, they don’t wear any glove or mask when they use nitric acid for removal of gold and platinum from the circuit boards. Usually, children are engaged in dismantling the circuit boards.
  • The private and public sectors prefer selling their e-waste to informal dismantlers as they get more price since the expenditure is less when the recycling is done through the unorganised sector.
  • As per the E-Waste Management Rules, which were notified in October 2016, manufacturers of electric and electronic equipment’s must facilitate their collection and return it to authorized dismantlers or recyclers. However, even one and a half years after the law was passed, there is little evidence that it is being.

Way Forward:

  • Inventorisation of the e-waste produced annually should be done by engaging an established government agency.Only then can suitable steps can be planned for recycling and disposal of e-waste in an organised manner.
  • Co-ordination between organized and unorganized sector. Unorganized sector will collect, and organized sector will process it.
  • Awareness programmes need to be conducted to make the public understand the real health problems caused by untreated e-waste.

Source: Downtoearth


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