Everything you need to know about Electronic Waste

28 December 2015

Electronic waste commonly known as E-waste includes everything, which uses electricity and is no longer in working condition or has become obsolete. From our laptops, desktops, mobile phones to our home appliances. Since electronic waste contains toxic substances such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and beryllium that pose a hazard to both humans and the environment; it is very complicated problem to deal with this.

All over the world, the quantity of electrical and electronic waste purchased each year, especially computers and televisions, has reached the enormous numbers. According to a UN report, India ranks as the fifth biggest generator of E-waste in 2014 generating about 4.1 million tonnes of E-waste annually.

Among the 10 largest E-waste generating states, Maharashtra ranks first followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab (A.jayapradha, 2015).

The disposal of E-waste is a global concern and while the developed countries contribute the maximum towards the generation of E-waste, the lesser-developed or undeveloped countries pay the price for environmental impacts of it. Cheap labor and lack of adequate environmental regulations have created an E-waste trail from developed world to developing countries where many of the digital discards are sent for reprocessing.

E-waste disposals impact human health in two ways which include: (a) Food chain issues; contamination of toxic substances from disposal and primitive recycling processes that result in these substances entering the food chain and thus impacting humans; and (b) Direct impact on workers who labor in outdated and unsafe recycling conditions resulting in exposure to toxic substances. Lack of awareness among laborers often exposes them to hazardous substances, which sometimes prove to be fatal.

E-waste Scenario in Delhi
Delhi with a population of 11,007,835 individuals as per the census of 2011 is facing a serious problem of E-waste management. Amidst of the extremely poor and extremely rich classes of society, we find that there are some things they have in common. The easy access to use electronic devices, whether it has been purchased from a branded store or Chinese product or even a second hand one, devices such as mobile phones, computers and televisions has reached one and all.

In a article by Times of India, dated August 31, 2013 it was stated,“Delhi, NCR was likely to generate 50,000 metric tonnes of E-waste by 2015” and would emerge as worlds dumping capital for e-waste. The Assocham study on “E-waste in India by 2015” revealed E-waste of Delhi then was approximately 30,000 metric tonnes per annum and employed more than 1.5 lakh workers in citys various organised and unorganised recycling units. It was also stated that as many as 8,500 mobile handsets; 5,500 TV sets and 3,000 personal computers were dismantled in the city every day for reuse of their component parts and materials. The recyclers were also not fully aware of the health risks.

DS Rawat, Secretary General of Assocham remarked “Issues relating to poor sensitisation about this sector, low organized recycling, cross-border flow of waste equipment into India, limited reach out and awareness regarding disposal, after determining end of useful life and lack of coordination between various authorities are responsible for the non-involvement of municipalities in E-waste management”.

Sakshi Aggarwal works as a Programme Officer with CEED.