E-Waste: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

E-Waste: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

SoweteU K Letro

Dimapur

 

Ever wondered what happens to our electronic devices when we can no longer use it? Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) or commonly referred to as E-Waste includes TV, refrigerators, AC, washing machines, electric kettle, laptops, monitors, phones, wires, headphones, cables, scanning/copying/printing machines, calculators, music system, video cameras, electrical and electronic toys, small electrical and electronic tools, medical equipment etc. E-waste comprises of electrical appliances or accessories whole or in part that are rejects from its manufacturing or repairing process, intended to be discarded due to malfunction, outdated and obsolete.

 

Rapid economic growth, urbanization, and globalization are some major elements of E-waste generation in the world. With new technology comes new innovations and it is no doubt that electrical items are being updated every day and non-electrical equipment electrified.

 

The global quantity of e-waste generation in 2016 was around 44.7 million metric tons (Mt), or 6.1 kg per inhabitant. The amount of e-waste is expected to grow to 52.2 Mt in 2021, with an annual growth rate of 3 to 4%. (Global E-Waste Monitor, 2017). India generates 2 million tonnes per annum of E-waste of which only 4.38 lakh TPA is recycled. (ASSOCHAM-NEC Study, 2018). India is the fifth largest generators of E-waste in the world mostly due to the large population and imports from developed countries. India’s electronics industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world because of cheap labor, resources and high consumption.

 

India suffers deeply from both generation and management of E-Waste with the formal recycling sector functioning only in major cities. More than 1 million poor million are involved in manual recycling operations for decades. Low literacy levels with little awareness of the dangers of the operations lead to severe health impacts and environmental damage. India has had the e-waste rules in effect since 2011. The rule mandates producers to be responsible for the collection and financing of systems according to the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) concept. Where the responsibility of the producer of a product is extended beyond conventional sales to its post-consumer or end-of-life stage. This means that the producer is responsible for collection of the used products or repairing of used products and ensures its safe recycling or disposal.

 

E-waste contains over 1000 different substances many of which are toxic and potentially hazardous to the environment and human health if these are not handled in an environmentally sound manner. (CPCB Guidelines, 2008). Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood & plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete and ceramics, rubber and other items. Iron and steel constitute about 50% of the e-waste followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents. Non-ferrous recyclable metals are copper, aluminum and precious such as silver, gold, platinum, palladium etc. The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium and hexavalent chromium and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities in e-waste classifies them as hazardous waste.

 

High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of nervous systems, blood systems, kidneys and brain development, respiratory disorders, skin disorders, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage. The sad part is that a mere 5 percent of India’s total e-waste gets recycled due to poor infrastructure, legislation, and framework which lead to a waste of diminishing natural resources, irreparable damage of environment and health of the people working in the industry. Over 95% of e-waste generated is managed by the unorganized sector and scrap dealers in this market, dismantle the disposed products instead of recycling it. (ASSOCHAM-NEC Study, 2018)

 

The principle of out of sight, out of mind has for a long time been useful in keeping the lid on the negative side-effects of industrialization (Loon, 2002). Most of the people in Nagaland do not know how to dispose of their obsolete electrical and electronic gadgets. Generally, the obsolete electronic goods lie unattended in a room because of lack of knowledge about the management of the same. We follow three major practices when it comes to e-waste. First, these are sold to the scrap vendors at a certain cost. Second, these are discarded with the regular municipal solid waste. And lastly, some are burned in the backyards along with other wastes. Few people are aware and practice EPR and indulge themselves in “take-back” systems. But none of these consumers pay attention to the processes, these electronic goods have to go through once these are discarded. Dumping sites in Nagaland are not sustainably managed and with all types of waste being “dumped”, it leads to health and environmental hazards. The real trouble with electronic goods actually begins once it’s discarded. As soon as the wastes are out of their sight, these are out of their minds too.

 

What we as consumers can do is first buy only what is needed, secondly repair it,third sell it if it’s still working. Lastly, when it can neither be reused, sold or repaired we should make sure that it is not burned or dumped in the open. We can store it and give it to authorized E-waste dealers and if it is not available, inquire the local authorities. For any place to curb the menace of E-waste or any type of waste for that fact must have an effective awareness programs covering people from all walks of life, a comprehensive legally binding waste management policy and strict monitoring. If these are coupled with the participatory approach from all stakeholders then we will be able to manage E-Waste in its true sense. If everyone at least has their own environmental code of ethics, great and useful changes can be seen profiting the environment and US.