14 Oct 2020
The growing issue of E-waste in India
October 14th is observed as International E-Waste Day since 2018. This year being the 3rd year of its implementation highlights the menace of e-waste in a developing country like India, perils of e-waste, solutions to minimise its impact and way ahead.

The discarded electronic products ranging from computers, equipment used in information and communication technology ( ICT), audio and video products, home appliance are known as electronic waste (e-waste) .Electronic industry is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing manufacturing industries.

With such a tagline, it is obvious that it is responsible for providing some form of leverage to the technological and socio-economic growth of a developing country like India. 

pile of e-waste

India being on the verge of becoming the most populated country in the world is leaving no stoned unturned to fuel its economy, in return, it is facing severe consequences such as the dilemma of pollution and greenhouse gas emission. With technological advances, there is a new environmental challenge – ‘ The menace of electronic waste or e-waste’ because consumerism pattern is directly proportional to the amount of waste generated. Population explosion and consumerism pattern cannot be capped adequately in just a blow because it goes hand in hand.

The dilemma of e-waste is not new to us, it is in fact concerning due to its impact on the environment i.e. air, water, and soil pollution. 

IT ( Information technology sector) is in full bloom since the last century and with its bloom, it has invited a plethora of problems along with it.

First and foremost being the mismanagement of e-waste which is like a ticking bomb of pollution and contamination.

Secondly, the average life span of PCs ( personal computers) has been decreasing rapidly. The life span of central processing units (CPUs) has reduced way back from 4-6 years in 1997 to 2 years in 2005, the rest is history. India might have some world’s most advanced high tech software and hardware developing facilities but the recycling sector is way too depressing and underdeveloped, what an irony!

Remember, e-waste is not hazardous if it is stocked in safe storage or recycled by scientific methods, however, it can be considered hazardous if recycled by primitive methods.

“India generates about 20 lakh ton of e-waste annually, nearly 82% of which is coming from personal device” – The Global E-Waste Monitor, 2017

 Perils of e-waste

As we are acquainted with the the magnitude of this issue, it’s time we evaluate their impacts on our environment as well as health. Apart from electronic products being a complex mixture of several hundred tiny particles, it contains deadly chemicals thereby threatening human health and environment.

E-waste contains lead, cadmium, mercury, PVC’s, brominated flame retardants (BFR’s), barium, beryllium, toners, phosphates, chromium VI. Long-term exposure to these toxic substances can damage the nervous system, kidney and bones, reproductive and endocrine disruptors, lung cancer, DNA damage, liver damage  etc.

Apart from this, it is responsible for air pollution, heavy metal leaching through the soil ultimately polluting the groundwater, the wind carries toxic particles, and then enters the soil-crop-food pathway affecting both humans and animals as they enter the fragile food chain. Ultimately it harms us through the 3 medium of the matrix: Air, water, and soil.

Some solutions: 

  1. A holistic approach is needed at this moment to address the challenges.
  2. Proper education, awareness and most importantly alternative cost effective technology.
  3. Recycling and reuse of materials should be the ultimate motto.
  4. Policymakers should keep vigilance and implement the 11th International Waste Management & Landfill Symposium for environmentally sound e-waste management.
  5. Collection systems should be established so that e-waste is collected directly from source to the recycling unit.

Way forward:

“There is 100 times more gold in a tonne of smart phones than in a tonne of gold ore itself! But the precious metal is virtually thrown away due to poor recycling of e-waste” – Down To Earth

E-waste is not just waste, it is a treasure. If proper extraction of ores from metals take place, then it will be like a economical benefit in true sense. All it takes is hybrid methodology to takeover. 

International e-waste day ( 14th October) is indeed a wake-up call for millennials as millennials are the drivers of change, facilitators of bringing about behavioral changes of consumerism pattern. Even though there is a well-established E-waste management rule of 2016 facilitated by MoEFCC, but proper implementation is a myth.

Still, there are waste pilling up in the municipal solid waste landfills, deteriorating the leftover pristine environment. The prevalence of legal loopholes adds pressure to the already existing dilemma of e-waste. Lack of awareness about e-waste and recycling are added challenges to the problem. Therefore, public awareness is the need of the hour as it can only convert the challenges into practical actions thereby making the environment free from unwanted toxins and stop it from getting into our system. 

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