Technology has gripped our psyche like never before. And tech-led products are our constant companions at all phases of our lives. So, what happens to these products once we are done with them?
E-waste or electronic waste is essentially discarded computer motherboards, monitors, device chargers, mobile phones, television sets, compact discs, headphones, air conditioners and refrigerators, and others. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor, India generates far more than 2 million tonnes (MT) of e-waste every year and it is the fifth country among the top e-waste producers, after the US, China, Japan, and Germany.
The dismal fact is that only 20% the global e-waste produce is recycled. But recycling has its own merits. A United Nations report shows recycled metals are 2 to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals that have been smelted from virgin ore. The report also suggests that lowering the amount of electronics that enter the waste stream and boosting the end-of-life handling are crucial to build a more circular economy, whereby waste is significantly reduced, resources are conserved and can be fed back into the supply chain to generate new products.
And even though new rules have been enforced to safely process this hazardous material, nearly 80% of e-waste continues to be broken down, leading to environmental pollution to a large extent.
Initiatives on developing e-waste management awareness
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), under Digital India, seek to:
- Raise awareness among the public about the hazards of improper e-waste recycling
- Educate the people at large about alternative methods of disposing e-waste
- Need for adopting environment-friendly recycling practices related to e-waste
- Adoption of globally available best practices for e-waste recycling
However, in spite of the efforts that are put in, the on-ground reality continues to be very bleak.
Research has shown that among the e-waste sent for recycling, only 20% is formally recycled, while the rest either ends up in landfills or gets informally recycled.
A UN report states “In developing countries, labourers who work with bare hands are exposed to hazardous and carcinogenic substances consisting of lead, mercury and cadmium. E-waste that are found in landfill contaminates first the soil followed by the groundwater, thereby putting food supply systems and water sources at risk.”
In India, over 95% of e-waste that is being generated, is managed by the unorganised sector along with scrap dealers who for business interests, dismantle the disposed products rather than recycle them in the right way. It’s a cause for concern that electronics are stored in open spaces, which further increases the risk of electric leakages.
The health impacts of e-waste management are startling and along with it, there is loss of valuable raw materials such as platinum, gold and cobalt.
There is an urgent need for augmenting e-waste recycling by the organised sector, in India. And to take these ahead, what we need are:
- awareness campaigns
- introduction of technology
- building human capital
- skill development
- adoption of adequate safety measures
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- Date: 22-07-2020