E-Waste Management: Why should you care?

By Karan Thakkar, Founder, EcoCentric Management Pvt. Ltd

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It is intriguing to know that although India happens to be the 5th largest producer of e-waste in the world, not even 30% of the population is aware of the need for and the right methods of E-Waste management!

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 among others which have been discarded by users. Electronic and electrical equipments are used extensively in our day to day lives. Modern life in industrialised and industrializing countries is inconceivable without electronic and electrical equipments. E- Waste is likely to reach 52 lakh metric tons per annum by 2020 from the current level 18 lakh metric tons growing at a CAGR of about 30%, according to an ASSOCHAM-cKinetics recent study.

For many years, China, India and some other parts of Asia have been a dumping ground for discarded electronics from the developed world. Informal recycling markets in these Asian countries handle anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of this e-waste, often shredding, burning, and dismantling the products in “backyards.” Emissions from these recycling practices are damaging human health and the environment.

Other factors contributing to the rise of E-Waste generation in India  are new Indian and multinational companies setting up, shutdown of many companies, the ‘Make in India’ campaign encouraging manufacturing in India on the enterprise level and also the growing affluence of individuals leading to rise in purchase of new gadgets and appliances.

E-waste is an important global environmental and health issue

E-waste is a cocktail of toxins like mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium and brominated flame retardants that are hazardous to human health and the environment if not recycled using state-of-the-art technology. E-waste is not just a problem of waste quantity or volumes. The concern is compounded because of the presence of toxic materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, certain BFRs (brominated flame retardants) and many other chemicals. In developing country like India, most E-waste lands up in the informal sector where it is recycled without any consideration to health and environment.

 

Open burning, acid baths, unventilated work spaces and crude handling of chemicals are typical of these operations, where susceptible groups like children and women are regularly employed. With no safety equipment at hand, the workers in some of the recycling hotspots spread all over the country, are exposed to the toxic cocktails daily. The unregulated practices also release hazardous materials in air, water and soil, thereby endangering our environment.

Thus, treatment of ‘E-waste’ with the correct know-how and technology is essential.

The Union environment ministry in March 2016 has taken a key step to combat this most lethal form of pollution by notifying stringent E-Waste Management Rules 2016 replacing the 2011 version. However, India in the current scenario faces the following changes.

Challenges in E-waste management in India:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Improper enforcement of the existing laws
  • Poor infrastructure
  • Lack of ‘Systematization’ of processes 
  • Continued adoption of rudimentary processes, owing to lack of awareness
  • Very few professionally run recycling companies.

Out of the many challenges to the management of e-waste in the country, the major hurdle is the dominance of informal sector due to the lack of awareness. There is a need for increasing the level of awareness using communication that encourages consumers to return electronic devices for collection and reuse/recycling. Managing e-waste is not just a particular individuals responsibility or the government responsibility rather it is a community work. All of us have a role to play in managing e-waste for a cleaner India.

E-Waste Management: Ideal scenario

Ewaste contains potentially hazardouse substances which when exposed to the environment causes harm to the environment. Further in manual process resource recovery is not optimum. In an ideal scenario the ewaste collected is sorted based on the material category. The hazardous component is trated for resource recovery. In this manner nothing is given out in the environment 

The major modes of final disposal of e-waste are- Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

Recycling raw materials from end-of-life electronics is the most effective solution to the growing e-waste problem. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals that can be recovered for future uses. By dismantling and providing reuse possibilities, intact natural resources are conserved and air and water pollution caused by hazardous disposal is avoided. Additionally, recycling reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products. Another benefit of recycling e-waste is that many of the materials can be recycled and re-used again.

Protection of environment is everyone’s duty and every effort matters while creating a change.

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