E-waste a major concern

E-waste is a term used to cover almost all types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) that has or could enter the waste stream. The main factors responsible for the increased consumption and productions of electrical and electronic equipment are rapid economic growth, coupled with urbanization and industrialization. The Indian Information Technology (IT) sector is one of the major contributors to the global economy. At the same time, it is responsible for generation of the bulk of E-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in India. E-waste in India are reasonably poor and have the potential to risk both human health and the environment.

Major issues related to E-waste in India:

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Sixty-five cities in India generate more than 60% of the total E-waste generated in India. Ten states generate 70% of the total E-waste generated in India.

Major Challenges:

  • The recycling of E-waste is a major concern in India. The workers in the recycling sector are dominated by the urban poor with very low literacy levels and hence they have very little awareness regarding the potential hazards of E-waste.
  • Shipping of hazardous waste to developing countries is a major alarm. Large quantities of used electronics are typically sold to India. It happens because of cheap labour and lack of environmental legislations in developing countries.
  • Majority of these components contain toxic substances that have adverse impacts on human health and the environment if not handled properly.
  • Due to lack of knowledge about their management, such electronic junks lie in houses, offices, warehouses etc. Generally, these wastes are mixed with household wastes, which are finally disposed of at landfills.

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Health and Environmental Implications of E-waste:

  • Electronic wastes that are landfilled produces contaminated leachates which eventually pollute the groundwater.
  • Acids and sludge obtained from melting computer chips, if disposed on the ground causes acidification of soil.
  • Incineration of E-waste possesses another threat. It can emit toxic fumes and gases, thereby polluting the surrounding air.

Steps/Measures:

  • Implementation of appropriate management measures including stringent regulations. The management practices currently in operation in India have severe health and environmental implications.
  • Major approach to treat E-waste is to reduce the concentration of these hazardous chemicals and elements through recycle and recovery.

Policy initiatives:

  • The Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Amendment Rules, 2003 – Under Schedule 3, E-waste is be defined as “Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment including all components, sub-assemblies and their fractions except batteries falling under these rules”.
  • Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, 2008 – It classified the E-waste according to its various components and compositions and mainly emphasises on the management and treatment practices of E-waste. The guideline incorporated concepts such as “Extended Producer Responsibility”.
  • The e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 – Responsibilities of producers, collection centers, consumers, dismantlers, recyclers etc. are defined and incorporated in these rules.

In India, the amount of E-waste generated is rising rapidly. In context with the recent government’s vision of ‘Digital India’, the rise of E-waste generation is well expected in the country. There is no large scale organized E-waste recycling facility in India and the entire recycling exists in unorganized sector.

Moreover, the management practices are often poorly designed and have a lot of health and environmental repercussions. Involvement of urban poor, especially women and children and illegally imported E-waste from developed countries further exaggerate the problem of E-waste in India. The lack of public awareness regarding the disposal of electronic goods and inadequacy of policies to handle the issues related to E-waste enhance the problem in India.

Indian people are still to realize the associations between the cause of generation of E-waste and its effects including detrimental health and environmental effects. Government is planning to make it mandatory for the manufacturing companies to buy back used electronic items and ensure its disposal is scientific. Also Proper implementation of the “e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011” is exceedingly essential to address the ever growing pile of E-waste in the country.

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