e-Waste: Biggest concern for the modern world

We are all so fond of our gadgets that our lives seem impossible without them. Despite the news of cell phones causing brain tumors doing rounds, we start our days by checking our mobile phones. But what happens when the gadgets we love so much stop working? Are we all aware of the fact that improper disposal of e-waste is dangerous for the environment?

e-Waste is different from normal waste
People generally tend to throw e-waste along with the normal waste. “Well, generally we throw the electronic waste along with the normal waste except for the expensive products like a laptop etc,” says Kiran Shobha, a resident of Panchsheel Wellington Society, Noida. All the waste then travels to the local landfill, where it is compacted, smashed and sometimes burned until every component including heavy metals leach into the air, ground, and water, killing the environment.

According to a technology website, Gizmodo, cell phones and electronic products use metals like copper, lead, nickel, antimony, zinc, and coltan among others. Some of these materials are part of the finished item while others are used heavily in their production process and remain onboard afterwards. And how can we forget to mention the glue that holds everything on the inside together. Also, they all consist of plastic shells, which alone is the greatest threat to the environment, Gizmodo says.

A global hazard
Improper treatment of e-waste not only affects the environment but also the human life adversely. According to researchers the air, that workers in e-waste dumps breath in constantly, cause inflammation and stress that can lead to heart diseases, DNA damage and even cancer. There’s a book named CTRL-X: A Topography of E-Waste here by a German author-photographer, Kai Löffelbein where he documented what happens to old phones, laptops, and other gadgets in dumps and workshops in India, Ghana, and China. As mentioned in the book, he visited a district in India dedicated to electronic waste near Delhi, where the workers dismantle and burn old products to extract materials to sell. Whatever is left is dumped into drains, and pollutants like lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium leach into soil and drinking water contaminating the environment.
India produces the most e-waste
India is one of the largest producers of e-waste in the world, which is definitely something to worry about, according to the Center for Science and Environment. The government has now formulated several laws regulating how waste should be collected and processed. The law has now created a pressure on manufacturers and producers of electronic equipment (EEE) as earlier they were having a free ride in the absence of stringent regulatory framework. They are now responsible for the collection of the e-waste generated during the manufacture of any EEE and channelising it for recycling or disposal. Nowadays, some companies started using hidden trackers to watch where electronic waste goes. According to the rules laid by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it is now mandatory for manufacturers to maintain records of the e-waste generated, handled and disposed and make such records available for scrutiny by the concerned State Pollution Control Board. It is also true that it is difficult for individual producers to fulfill all the parameters prescribed in the legislation, but they can do it easily as a collective organization.

e-Waste hazard: The impending challenge
India can take a cue from Norway which has ‘e-waste take back’ system in place for more than a decade, according to CSE. It is a remarkable example of excellent coordination between manufacturers and the government. According to CSE website, the authorities in Norway were finding it extremely difficult to enforce and follow up so many entities producing and importing electronics in the country. Then they came up with the idea of EPR which resulted in e-waste regulation. The Ministry of Environment in Norway signed an agreement to set up take back companies with the producers and importers of electronic waste. It was a voluntary agreement and was later followed by an e-waste regulation. Like the rules and laws in India, management of e-waste in Norway is also a producer responsibility and producers are defined as Norwegian manufacturers and importers of EEE.
According to reports the material recovery rate of collected e-waste in Norway was an astounding 82 per cent in 2012, and the energy recovery (waste to energy) rate was about 13 per cent. Only about five per cent of e-waste was reported to be land-filled in 2012. More than 143,790 tonnes of e-waste was collected in Norway in 2012 which reached to 146,018 tonnes in 2013. The process, however, needs to be tweaked according to Indian requirements but nonetheless it is an extremely important exercise to increase e-waste management.

Proper waste disposal is the need of the hour
At individual level the only way to prevent the damage caused by careless disposal of e-waste is through recycling and proper utilization of all its components. “We give our e waste to our local electrician. We are aware of the harmful effects it has on the environment,” said Tarun Sharma, a resident of Golden Avenue society, Noida. There are several agencies which collect e-waste and recycle its parts. You can give or sell your e-waste to a local mechanic or an electrician as well. These agencies reuse as much as they can and ensure complete personal data destruction. They recycle and reuse e-waste so as to minimize the dangers it causes to the environment, for example, Namo eWaste, SIMS Recycling Solutions India Private Limited etc.

The more we advance the more essential it becomes for us to come up with the solutions to minimize environmental degradation and contamination due to the e-waste. After all sustainable development is all we need!