By Dr. Ipsita Bhattacharjee

Published on February 17, 2017

Imagine a life without that shiny gadget in your hand...or without that portable lap tool which is an integral part of your work life. In today’s life electronic gadgets have become an important part of one’s life. But how many of us really spare a moment to think about what to do with them if they become obsolete or impaired.

In a survey conducted in Bangalore it was estimated that less than 1% of the people are aware about electronic wastes (e wastes) and even less had an idea that they should not be treated like regular waste.

But is the indifference the sole responsibility of the people in general. The government, non-governmental organisation and media indeed has a role to play in spreading a word.

Statistically speaking India is one of the largest waste importing countries in the world. It generates about 350000 tonnes of electronic waste every year and imports another 50000 tonnes. About 100 crore mobile phones are sold in India every year, and around 25 crore adds to the e-waste. Among the top ten cities generating E-Waste, Mumbai ranks first followed by Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat & Nagpur.

The government came up with a set of rules regarding E waste management in the form of E waste management and handling rules in 2011. It speaks about the regulations related to safe handling, transportation and storage by a registered dismantler, dealer, manufacturer, and recycler as well as monitoring and financing it. The Act alongside the regulations also encourages setting up of integrated Treatment Storage & Disposal Facilities (TSDF) for hazardous waste management on Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode. Currently, around 28 TSDF have been set up and financially assisted and 23 recycling and reprocessing units registered with Central Pollution Control Board (CBCB).

The rule was revised in 2016, that has brought under its purview additionally the management of waste generated from disposal of Compact Fluorescent Lamp & other Mercury containing lamps. Also financial clauses on manufacturers have been put forward.

The concept of “EPR” (Extended Producer Responsibility) also surfaced which is an environment protection strategy that makes the producer responsible for the entire life cycle of the product, especially for take back, recycle and final disposal of the E-products.

It however chose to ignore the unorganised, small and medium sector, where 90% of the E-Waste is generated. Also it does not provide any plan to rehabilitate those involved in informal recycling. Collection and dismantling of E-Waste is a hazardous and can be carried out by informal sector. Extraction of precious metals is the hazardous process, which should be left to the organised sector. Unfortunately, the work of segregation lies in the hand of child labourers, women and others who do it without proper safety measures; it involves detriments to their health. A whole lot of strictures are necessary when it comes to the segregation part of the disposal process.

E Parisara, a formal sector in Bengaluru has been encouraged by the Central and State Pollution control board to transport, store and recycle E-waste. The organisation expressed its intention to replicate in all major cities in the country.  IBM, Tata, Philips are among its clients. ECO-TECH RECYCLING centre, GREEN-INDIA in Mumbai & Attero recycling Pvt. Ltd. In Noida are some of the other prominent names.

“E Waste exchange scheme” and “Deposit refund scheme” is also projected to take off to encourage citizens to voluntarily adopt proper disposal schemes. According to this a consumer can either opt to exchange their old products against some incentives or Additionally Companies like Sony Samsung and Acer had started a “take back” campaign partnering with some registered recyclers, urging its consumers to return their discarded e-waste at the company collection centre.

The huge burden of E-waste has posed an ever increasing threat to environment and public health. CPCB have identified over 88 critically polluted industrial zones. As long as electronic products continue to contain an array of toxic chemicals and are designed without recycling aspect, they would pose a threat to environment and public health at their end-of-life.

Dr. Ipsita Bhattacharjee is a health professional based in Bengaluru, India.