WHAT IS INDIA DOING WITH ITS 2 MILLION TONNES OF E-WASTE EVERY YEAR?
Author: Jacob Koshy
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The United Nations reported that the world generated 44.7 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2016 — equivalent to the weight of some 4,500 Eiffel Towers. India’s contribution to this was a significant 2 million tonnes.
Despite new rules that have come into place to safely process this hazardous material, close to 80% of e-waste — old laptops and cell phones, cameras and air conditioners, televisions and LED lamps — continues to be broken down, at huge health and environmental cost, by the informal sector.
The related rules:
- In 2016, the E-Waste (Management) Rules placed responsibility on electronic goods manufacturing companies and bulk consumers to collect and channel e-waste from consumers to authorised re-processing units.
- It is mandated that only authorised dismantlers and recyclers collect electronic waste and firms are required to set yearly collection targets linked to their production numbers.
- Producers of electronic equipment must limit their use of hazardous heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium etc.
Despite the Rules, electronic companies don’t seem to have taken the government very seriously. 200 companies that manufacture electronic goods — from smart phones to laptops — got served notices in October by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for not complying with e-waste procurement norms.
When electronic goods that are past their shelf life are broken down manually for precious metals or burnt or discarded in landfills, they contaminate land and water.
The vast majority of electronic waste processing happens in the unorganised sector, which fills a glaring lacuna in the processing cycle, and collects waste from households and establishments. Many of the workers are children who work with their bare hands, dealing with enormous quantities of toxic metals. The heavy metals present in e-waste are known to cause neurological and skin diseases, genetic defects and cancer in workers who handle them. The GST imposed a huge 12% tax on electronic recyclers, which has been an added blow.
Steps taken by the government to increase awareness about the hazards of e-waste:
- Under the Swachh Bharat Mission the environment ministry in association with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has initiated a nationwide capacity building programme on the implementation of six waste management rules, including E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016.
- The environment ministry is also implementing a scheme called the ‘Creation of Management Structure for Hazardous Substances’, which includes an awareness programme about the new Rules and its implementation.
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has initiated a pilot project ‘Awareness Program on Environmental Hazards of Electronic Waste’ that aims to provide training, tools and films aimed at creating awareness and reducing the impact of e-waste on the environment and health.
However, unless there is better enforcement and reigning in of the unorganised sector, there can be no real change.