Electronic Waste, The Dark Side of Technological Innovations

By Saba Fatmi

New Delhi: The rise in technological invention is directly proportional to the rise in E- waste which is culminating into huge environmental problem. The national capital already being the most polluted city in the world seems to be heading on to acquiring the status of largest E- waste dumpyard.

As per the study conducted by ASSOCHAM ( Associated Chambers of Commerce) ,Delhi alone gets around 85% of the electronic waste generated in the developed world. In terms of total e-waste produced internally or brought from outside for recycling, Delhi’s e-waste weighs between 25,000 and 30,000 metric tonnes per year.

E- waste stands for electronic waste, which is used to describe the growing stream of waste from discarded electronics and appliances. The items included in this category ranges from television, computers, mobile phones and other electrical appliances. These products are discarded not because they are trash, they are just removed due to outdated model which is traded for the latest version in the market.

The study highlights that though Mumbai and Chennai are the top importers of junk computers and electronic waste in India, Delhi has emerged as the main hub of e-waste recycling in country, and perhaps in the world. The e-waste imported from Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai makes its way to Delhi as there is a ready market for glass and plastic in the NCR. Also, the wastes from Mumbai constitute a bulk of the 1,500 tonnes discarded electronics that land in Delhi’s scrap yards every day.

The environmental hazards are huge due to seepage of E-waste in the soil. It is leading to biomagnifications and polluting the underground water. People involved in the dismantling process are  most vulnerable towards toxic materials. ” The processes used in the micro and small units are crude which lead to release of the toxic material like lead, mercury, cadmium, BFRs etc. With no precautionary measure in place, the marginalized population involved in these operations are exposed to high levels of known toxins,” said Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxic Link.

Mobile companies like Nokia, Lava and others are taking the recycling of their waste products seriously and have installed recycling units to make sure the products are reprocessed in an efficient manner. “We have our recycling unit where we ensure that our old products get recycled properly and do not end up causing more harm than good,” said Halima Akhtar, Senior executive, Brand Communication, Lava International.

The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 71 %  of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 16% ; the rest being contributed by manufacturers. Though individual households are not large contributors to waste generated by computers, they consume large quantities of consumer durables and are, therefore, potential creators of waste, reveals the ASSOCHAM study.

“Technology should lead to sustainable development and should act as a boon when it leads to development without harming the ecosystem,” said Mohtashim Ul Haque, Senior Engineer, LNT (Larsen and Toubro).

The Silicon valley of India is also another major contributor of E-waste, being the hub of technological innovations. ” Bangalore will die a natural death by the end of 2025, as per the scientific research,” said Haque.

For the recycling of e-waste, India heavily depends on the unorganized sector as only a handful of organized e-waste recycling facilities are available. Over 95% of the e-waste is treated and processed in the majority of urban slums of the country, where untrained workers carry out the dangerous procedures without personal protective equipment, which are detrimental not only to their health but also to the environment, said the study.

At the ground level recycling of products gets difficult due to lack of  recycling units. It creates another hassle for the general masses to think on the eco friendly guidelines.   “We can see excess of e-waste getting accumulated day by day, it should get recycled at the same pace with the production is taking place. Thought of getting recycled previously used products but due to lack of infrastructure available couldn’t get it done,” said  Naureen Anwar,  Software Engineer, Mahindra Comviva.

Heading towards technological development is also leading us towards innumerable environmental hazards at an alarming rate. “The concern is serious, especially in a country like India where more than 90% of this waste lands up in the informal sector. This would lead to improper recycling, resulting in environmental pollution, and will also result in inefficient recycling, resulting in loss of natural resources- a global concern,” said Ravi Agarwal.

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