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Can we turn the problem into an opportunity as India becomes the third-largest producer of e-waste?

By: Esha Mishra

A recent report said that the world’s top three most populated countries are the world’s top three e-waste producers. The largest e-waste producer in the world is China followed by USA and then India. We have seen a lot of coverage about air pollution, plastic in the ocean and forest fires but not much on e-waste in recent times.

e-waste
Representational Image (via Wikipedia)

What is e-waste and why it is increasing?

E-waste is referred to any consumer or business electronics which are near or at the end of its useful life. Electronics have become an integral part of our life and there is no going back. A report said that average useful life of an electronic has been significantly getting reduced as more new devices are being introduced in the market.

This means that we are discarding our phones, PCs, laptops after
a short period of use. Most of us are busy keeping up with the trend as Companies keep on launching new products and models with better features in every few months.

How does e-waste affect the environment and us?

Only 20 percent of the global e-waste gets recycled while the rest of it to goes to trash. E-waste adversely affects all three air, water, and soil. Wires in these electronics are often burned to obtain copper which results in the release of toxic fumes.

As e-waste breaks down it releases toxic metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium, etc. These toxic metals can influence plants on that soil and if they enter
the human food chain, they can cause serious problems like birth defects. Improperly disposed e-waste can result in contamination of groundwater and other water bodies with heavy metals like lead, barium, and mercury. These heavy metals are carcinogenic in nature.

Most of the e-waste is recycled or just dumped in developing countries in Asia and Africa where it gets recycled by unauthorized people, like the kabadiwallah in India. This raises serious concerns over not only the health of people involved in this work but also the locals of that area.

And yes, don’t forget about the environment. Several studies done on the health of people living in Guiyu, a city in south-eastern China known as one of the world’s largest e-waste recycling cites, showed that people living there were suffering from neurological, digestive, respiratory and bone problems.

About 80% of the city’s children were suffering from respiratory problems.
Apart from health and environmental concerns, e-waste can also be used for data theft if not disposed off properly.

Can we turn the problem into an opportunity?

I believe that with individuals, governments, and corporates working together we can certainly reduce the rate of increase in e-waste around the world but we can’t stop it. It’s an inevitable fact that in the next few decades we will be producing more and more e-waste as technology is going to be
more closely integrated into our lives than ever before.

We should consider the fact that E-waste can be much more valuable than we think it is. Did you know that 2020 Tokyo Olympic (which has been postponed due to pandemic) medals will be made from metal recycled from e-waste? About 5000 gold, silver and bronze medals will be made. Japan is
among the top 5 e-waste producers in the world and it has decided to do something with it.

A report cites that one recycler in china produces more cobalt than what the whole country produces in one year. Recycled metals are 2 to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore. E-waste can also be used to produce material for 3-D printing. These are some of the few ways e-waste can be useful for us.

By developing better technology and efficient techniques for recycling e-waste which are safe for people involved in dealing with e-waste, locals living in that area along with the environment we can not only reduce a great amount of waste but also earn from it. Some experts believe that this can even fulfill the deficiency of important minerals in the country. Better recycling of e-waste can also help in resource conservation and it is very essential for a circular economy.

As I said before that e-waste will only increase from now, with the proper investment in this sector, it can become a huge recycling industry. The government should provide incentives to those who develop tech for better and more efficient recycling. Digital India’s mission should also work towards spreading awareness about e-waste and its management. We need to make our country better equipped in dealing with our e-waste.

Electronic manufacturers should be asked to take responsibility for their products, many big companies already offer taking back their old products and some of them provide good value for your used devices.

What can we do?

As for the people like us, we should try increasing the useful life of our electronics which can be done through proper usage and maintenance (you can find them online). If possible, buy second-hand products, don’t buy devices that are not essential. Decide whether it is a need or a want.

Resell or donate products that you don’t use. If the product can no longer be used give it to your local recycler or try returning it back to the firm don’t throw it in the trash.

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Esha Mishra

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