Unorganized E-Waste Disposal - an Alarming Situation in India

Nearly 95per cent of the e-waste of this glowing economy is managed by the unorganized sector, majorly including the scrap dealers and here's how it can be taken to task

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By Raj Kumar • Apr 4, 2019


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A joint study by ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) and Japanese firm NEC Technologies revealed that India produced over 2 Million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2016 and only 5per cent of the humongous amount could get recycled. The numbers are just going to increase and the e-waste is expected to touch 3 Million TPA mark in 2018 with a total value of over $60 Billion. The highly unorganized e-waste management and disposal sector pose serious threats to the nation, slowly dragging India towards the irreparable deterioration.

Growing E-waste in the Developing Indian Economy

The Central Statistics Organization (CSO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have projected India as the fastest growing major economy in the world with a current GDP of 7.3per cent. The country with a flourishing economy at $2.6 Trillion thrives to become the IT capital of the world, with one of the largest resource pool and market potential in the world. Nearly 95per cent of the e-waste of this glowing economy is managed by the unorganized sector, majorly including the scrap dealers. If the concern is not addressed in time, there are chances that the coming decade will show drastic environmental damages and health hazards because of the piling of e-waste and its unsafe handling. To save the country from problems of piling e-waste, India must regulate the growth of e-waste management, recycling and dismantling plants that follow the technologically advanced methods. Additionally, the workforce engaged in the informal sector needs to be streamlined in the formal sector of e-waste management.

With the increased PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) the consumption of electronic equipment, especially mobiles, laptops, and computers have increased. This contributes to nearly 80per cent of the current e-waste produced in the nation. E-waste includes all the waste electronic products that run either on battery or power supply, ranging from mobile phones, laptops, computers, and televisions to industrial grade electronics machinery. In terms of products, only mobile phone in India has created 1 billion users mark in 2018, as per research by Gartner. Considering, the technological advancements, where a phone gets outdated and replaced with a newer one almost every year, the amount of e-waste from mobiles alone in India is enough to give goosebumps. Every year nearly 50 million MT of e-waste is tossed into landfills globally, and hardly 10 to 18per cent enters the recycling chain. India despite being a growing economy has even more disappointing statistics, and the implementation of a proper recycling chain and establishment of e-waste processing units is the only way out.

E-waste: A threat to Lives of Humans and Nature Alike

The burgeoning e-waste poses a great threat to the environment and the public alike. Moreover, the unorganized e-waste management, disposal, and dismantling are digging the grave deeper of the health of the nation and its citizen. Hazardous materials like lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls, and the toxic fumes generated from burning of the e-waste not only make the air polluted but severely damage the health of people who come in contact with these disastrous elements. The gradual accumulation of these materials in soil and water also contribute to the deterioration of public health and nature. The situation is even worse for the people employed in the informal sector who deal with the toxic e-waste daily. The number of people working in the informal sector is staggeringly high, in fact, the number of children involved accounts for 4 to 5 lakhs, as per the ASSOCHAM-NEC study. Finding an alternate employment stream and creating a rehabilitation mechanism is quintessential for the lives of millions of people involved in the unorganized e-waste industry. The combined efforts of electronics producers and e-waste management companies can help in fighting the Gorgon of e-waste, and safeguard humans and nature.

On one hand, where the widespread technological revolution is taking our nation to the cusp of development, the hazardous effects of the e-waste, on the other hand, are slowly crippling the very soul of India – including the men and nature. The array of health ailments that unsafe disposal and dismantling of hazardous e-waste bring include reproductive issues, damaged immune system, damaging the nervous system, lungs, and kidney damage, skin diseases, endocrine disruptions, birth deformities, and dreadfully chronic diseases like cancer, CBD, and DNA destructions.

The need to find a Right Path to Sustainable Development and E-waste Management

E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 and the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 enacted by the Ministry Of Environment, Forest and Climate Change have paved the road to e-waste management and safety regulations in the country. Despite the government's efforts, the path of e-waste management is still long and people still lack guidance to follow the correct roadmap. Currently, the e-waste generation rate in India is 5 times of the processing capacity. ASSOCHAM in 2016 has also ranked India as the fifth largest e-waste producer country in the world. All these statistics and the current scenario compel the nation to work in Public-Private Partnership model to manage the e-waste in India. The new laws have increased producers' responsibility to manage the e-waste and advise to create a deposit-refund system (DRS) for consumers to receive the used products. E-waste is also a good source of raw materials that can be used in electronic products. The time gives a clarion call to incorporate a Circular Economy Model with a closed loop of Production, Consumption, and Re-use. Also, producers should step ahead and collaborate with visionary e-waste management firms to ascertain proper recycling and dismantling of e-waste under safe and scientifically sound environment. The governing authorities of CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) and NGT (National Green Tribunal) should be strengthened more to ensure the compliances.

The unorganized sector, mainly including the recyclers and dismantlers working in an un-protective environment without any safety measures needs immediate attention. Also, the population that finds employment in this unorganized sector must be given an appropriate alternative source of income. Moreover, this is the need of the hour for the producers to take the responsibility, the government to remodel the policy, and the nation to rehabilitate and facilitate the e-waste management sector to save our nation from the dreary threats that e-waste possesses.

Raj Kumar

CEO of Deshwal Waste Management Pvt. Ltd.

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