Pollution of any kind poses a threat to our environment and our lives. In this day and age, one of the most significant pollution we’re trying to fight is e-waste pollution, as it is taking over the environment and contributing to air pollution resulting in poor air quality which is outright fatal to our health.
What is E-waste?
E-waste according to the Basel Action Network (BAN) is defined as a wide and developing range of electronic appliances ranging from large household appliances, such as refrigerators, air-conditioners, cell phones, stereo systems and consumable items to computers discarded by their users. There is no solid definition of what e-waste is, or what it should be. It is a slow-growing plague of the modern world.
Unlike general waste, particularly, domestic waste, e-waste cannot be recycled in a similar way, as e-waste contains chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, beryllium, lead, brominated flame retardants, and cadmium that can be detrimental to humans and our environment. Landfilling of e-wastes is not viable as the wastes produce contaminated leachates that eventually pollute the groundwater.
Acids and sludge from melting computer chips when disposed lead to the acidification of soil. Incineration is equally dangerous as burning e-waste leads to emission of toxic fumes and gases into the atmosphere. Potentially hazardous materials are disposed off in landfill sites or incinerated which is of great concern due to the leaching behaviour of metals and that landfilling is not the proper method to treat volatile and non-biodegradable materials. While incineration can be useful to reduce the waste volume and utilise the energy content of combustible materials, it can be quite expensive and is more than often carried out in the unregulated environment, where there’s no control of emissions.
Open-air burning of plastics in order to obtain metals such as copper can be one of the most dangerous forms of burning e-waste, as it leads to the toxic fall out affecting the local environment and broader global air currents. Burning of the isolated covers of cables in open barrels is said to produce 100 times more dioxins than domestic waste burning.
Causes of E-waste
The IT sector is one of the major contributors to the Indian economy, but at the same time, it is known to be one of the major generators of e-waste, electrical, electronic and electronic equipment (WEEE) in India. According to Toxics Link (NGO), India generates an estimate of $1.5 billion worth of domestic e-waste annually.
Sixty-five cities in India account for 60% of the total e-waste generated by India. Ten states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab generate 70% of the total e-waste. Most people in India are not aware of the disposal of e-waste.
It is generally left unattended due to the lack of knowledge on its disposal or sold to scrap vendors at certain cost or they are discarded with the regular municipal solid waste. Few are known to practice extended-producer responsibility but the later processes are rarely taken into notice by the consumers.
Considering the problems related to e-waste in India, we have to keep in the mind, the five major components, they are main sources of e-waste in India: the magnitude of the problem with respect to the Indian scenario, health and environmental implications of e-waste, current management practices of e-waste in India and policy-level initiatives in the country. India not only deals with the problem of managing its own e-waste but has developed countries dumping its own e-waste as well.
This remains a major concern for India, China and various countries in the Asia Pacific region. One of the major reasons being cheap labour and lack of environmental and occupational standards in Asia. This results in toxic effluents from developed countries being accumulated in developing countries. The fact remains that rapid economic growth, urbanisation, industrialisation, etc. are the catalysts and will continue to feed into it unless specific changes in the technology or its consumption habits come into play, reducing the global e-waste production.
The involvement of urban poor, especially women and children and illegal import of e-waste also adds fuel to the fire of e-waste in India as it is estimated that approximately 80% of the quantity collected for recycling is exported to countries such as Vietnam, Ghana, Philippines, India, China, Malaysia, Nigeria, etc in the name of e-waste management. However, we must note that if the waste to be recycled is transported through great distance due to stipulations then the benefit of recycling vanishes immediately.
Management of e-waste
BAN and SVTC state that because most of the e-waste collected is not treated correctly and instead exported, the current e-waste management does not function properly. To counteract this problem the solution is to strengthen producers’ responsibility for eliminating toxic substances from their products and for collecting end-of-life products.
The European Parliament developed legislation based on the three axes: Prevention, Recycling and Re-use of e-waste. One of the major approaches would be to reduce the concentration of hazardous chemicals through recycling and recovery. Recycle and recovery includes dismantling, segregation of ferrous metal, non-ferrous metal and plastic by shredder process, refurbishment and reuse, recycling and recovery of valuable materials while treating dangerous materials and waste simultaneously.
It is also proposed to carry out a cement solidification on e-waste that increases the pH. Awareness plays one of the biggest roles in e-waste management. Raising awareness especially in receiving countries is very important followed by alternative recycling technologies, enforcement and regulation policies, informal sectors involved in making these materials should be developed into formal sectors, and technological alterations such as replacement of CRT screens with LCD screens, the introduction of optical fibres and using of rechargeable batteries should be implemented.
Switzerland was the first country in the world to officiate an e-waste management system and implement it. Apart from this Japan has also seen success with their e-waste management system which is owed to the social responsibility of the people. The Government of India has also put forth many initiatives such as the assessment conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the Management and Handling of E-waste in May 2008 and the E-waste Management and Handling Rules of 2011.
There are currently two e-waste management facilities in India (Trishyiraya Recycling Facilities, Chennai and E-Parisaraa, Bangalore). The need for more however rises as the problem of e-waste continues to grow.
At the end of the day, the responsibility lies quite heavily on our shoulders. To want a clean environment we have to take the measures to ensure that. Our surroundings are at threat, our health is at threat, we must take action before it’s too late.
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