Electronic waste: The 21st century monster?

I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.

With modernization, has emerged the concepts of technology and thus electronic gadgets. Be it computers, LCD screens, cooling appliances, batteries, mobile phones or any other consumer electronics, all are electronic waste or e-waste when unwanted or obsolete. Materials such as plastic, glass and metals found in the e-waste provide an opportunity for recycling. They also contain heavy metals which are hazardous to the environment and require special handling and recycling methods.

computer-e-waste-picture-clipart-10

Source: Google

This non-biodegradable waste, if improperly thrown away and added up in volume can become lethal. Recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaking of materials such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes. Heavy metals include lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants.

The ‘Global E-Waste Monitor 2014’, compiled by think-tank United Nations University (UNU), said that India is behind the U.S., China, Japan and Germany, becoming the fifth largest producer of electronic waste in the world. We discarded 1.7 million tonnes of electrical equipment in 2014 which is likely to rise by 21 per cent in the next three years. The heavy metals pose a serious threat to the environment with many metals being found in the water bodies that may also be entering ground water. The emission of toxic gases from these metals will lead to severe health hazards, in turn affecting environment as well as us simultaneously.

The implementation of laws by the Govt. of India were the first step towards the management of e-waste. In the year 2011, the first law on E-Waste management was implemented. The rules made it an obligation for producers to set up and finance collection centers for managing the e-waste in an eco-friendly way. A case study of Ahmadabad of these rules, revealed that formalities associated with collection were rarely done and the whole procedure was not consumer friendly despite the increase in processing capacity. The mission ‘Swachh Digital Bharat’ of 2014 was also an encouragement by the Government to promote better disposition of electronic waste.

While Junk Dealers have not much use of e-waste, it is in demand with the informal recyclers of other non-metropolitan cities. One such city is Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. This city does not receive the discarded electrical material in full but the informal recyclers see this as a profitable opportunity to buy the Printed Circuit Boards (PCB henceforth) from the stored go-downs of Junk Dealers and recover metals from them. Families who take part in the segregating process earn profits, especially the old women and widows. After all the remaining components are separated, PCBs are put for open burning so the thin layer of copper foils laminated in the circuit board can be extracted. The left over ash from sieving is washed in the Ramganga River, where the ash flows. Some workers are also seen on the banks of Ramganga river washing off the boards trying to recover fragments of metals from them. According to the authorities of Moradabad, some four to five trucks come every day to the city from Delhi.

An interesting question that arises is what happens to the recovered metals and why were they recovered in the first place? The answer was stated in a report by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2015, who found out that the metals were sold off to the jewelers who give them loans on higher rates of interest and buy the gold and silver at a smaller cost from them.

What can be Done?

The electronic waste is increasing day by day due to the greater use of electronics and decline in efficient disposal and recycling of it. The initiation of legislation and awareness campaigns are the small correct steps yet other policy instruments need to be devised if we want to see significant changes. If there were stricter laws pertaining to e-waste disposal and reuse then dismantling could be done under protective equipments and PCB bathing would be banned. Multilingual awareness campaigns within the country can also be credited.

E-waste-disposal-1 (1)

Source: Down to Earth. India can learn from Norway’s technique of e-waste treatment.

Implementation of e-waste collection and treatment systems (Eg. Norway) and use of proper recycle methods even for common households can also make the world a better place to live in. As responsible citizens, handing our old electronics to authorized recyclers only or return of the used products to manufacturing companies will make a huge difference. The best way to discard our old working phones would be to exchange it while buying new phones.

We dispose from our homes along with household waste and the informal recyclers use their methods to recycle and recover hoping to salvage the situation by this. What will one do when the environment is no longer able to hold any of this and how will it salvage the situation since it cannot dispose or recycle?


References:

  1. Electronics Redux Corp. What is e-Waste? (2013).
  2. United Nations University. THE GLOBAL E-WASTE MONITOR. (2014).
  3. CSE. RECOMMENDATIONS TO ADDRESS THE ISSUES OF INFORMAL SECTOR INVOLVED IN E-WASTE HANDLING. (2015).
  4. Sadia Sohail. E-waste disposal: what India can learn from Norway. Down to Earth (2015).

I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.

9 comments

  1. Reblogged this on muniapa and commented:
    We need to stop electronic waste before it gets out of hand. The environmental effects is worsening the situation of the Earth and we must stop it. Think before you buy electronic products and think of a way to recycle them without damaging the Earth.

    Like

  2. Thought provoking article. We should start thinking about ewaste NOW before it becomes unmanageable, much like plastic waste. How much more will we toxify our environment?

    Liked by 1 person

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