11 March 2009

e-waste in india

Computers sure are handy when they are working but once they've chewed their last byte, things can get a little messy. Toxic chemicals, carcinogens and heavy metals are all part of what makes their clocks tick and improper disposal can bring them all a little too close for human comfort.

Computer recycling is nothing new, but getting your old electronics to the great motherboard in the sky can be tricky to do responsibly. For years, developed countries have been exporting tons of electronic waste for inexpensive, labor-intensive recycling and disposal. Though the Indian Supreme Court banned the import of hazardous waste in 1997, e-waste still enters the country under the guise of charitable or re-usable materials, all duty-free.

It is estimated that the US alone exports 80% of its e-waste to China, India and Pakistan. Funnily enough, India’s regulatory body, the Central Pollution Control Board, continues to deny that e-waste is coming into India. But regardless, it is certain that legal loopholes are being exploited by importers, traders and recyclers alike to take advantage of a profitable business with a high human and environmental impact. Large e-waste centres exist in Delhi, Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai, with 25,000 recyclers working in Delhi alone.

A report by India's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research shows that e-waste heading into India is increasing by 10% a year, with nearly all of it heading into urban slums for disassembly - which means a huge amount of toxins hitting a huge number of people. The total amount of India's e-waste imports is projected to reach 434,000 metric tons this year, and about 25,000 people in the country's slums will make up the bulk of the recycling industry there. The report notes that there is almost no oversight or regulation for dismantling used electronics there, which contain toxic substances like lead, mercury and cadmium, and are often disassembled in environmentally and toxic ways.

e-Waste is no small issue. Because it provides a form of income for those people working as dismantlers, their health is risked for survival - not a recipe for thriving. As stated above, the report estimates that 25,000 people in India's slums are working in this 'recycling' industry, where 95% of the e-waste imported will be dismantled. But that's just the people working in a way that can be reported - that's not all the people living in the area, breathing the air, drinking the water, walking past workshops. There is no really strong, wide-spread system for responsibly recycling e-waste.

Workers are poorly-protected in an environment where e-waste from PC monitors, PCBs, CDs, motherboards, cables, toner cartridges, light bulbs and tube-lights are burned in the open, releasing lead, mercury toxins into the air. Metals and non-degradable materials such as gold and platinum, aluminium, cadmium, mercury, lead and brominated flame-retardants are retrieved. “It is a means of livelihood for unorganized recyclers. Due to lack of awareness, they are risking their health and the environment as well. They use strong acids to retrieve precious metals such as gold. Working in poorly-ventilated enclosed areas without masks and technical expertise results in exposure to dangerous and slow-poisoning chemicals,” says Wilma Rodrigues of Bangalore-based NGO Saahas, adding that there are no clear guidelines for the unorganized sector to handle e-waste.

“Trade in e-waste, like that in other scrap, is dominated by the ‘informal’ sector. Although the waste trade sector in India is known as part of the ‘informal’ sector, it has a system that is highly organized with extensive co-ordination in an established network,” says K K Shajahan, principal consultant for Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Material Management. Though there have been efforts to organize and manage e-waste recycling from state to state – the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, for example, has set down guidelines and authorized two companies to oversee corporate e-waste recycling as per their guidelines – nevertheless, some corporations, rather than to deal with the paperwork involved with the recycling procedures, will bypass them by passing e-waste off as “donations” to the unorganized sector.


According to Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO, India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of e-waste domestically, with the booming IT sector being the largest contributor, as 30% of its machines reach obsolescence annually. Bangalore alone generates 8,000 tons a year. A report put out by International Resource Group (IRG) estimates that by 2012, India’s domestic waste alone will amount to 1,600,000 tons.

Although the largely informal e-waste disposal industry and corresponding environmental threat is nothing new in India, it may now be changing as one of India’s largest metropolises is now boasting its very own professional e-waste pick-up service. Based in Mumbai, the privately owned and operated Eco Reco is the first of its kind in the state of Maharashtra and fourth in the country. Firms such as Eco Reco are taking advantage of a booming but hazardous industry, where e-waste is usually dismantled by workers with little protection in recycling plants that have even fewer safety and environmental contamination guidelines.

(Sourced from: www.treehugger.com)

5 comments:

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