E-waste is short form for electronic waste. It includes the discarded electronic items which are nearing the end of their useful life. It covers every electronic item such as refrigerators, calculators, mobile phones, computers, television sets etc. E-waste has emerged as a major challenge in the digital age. Since the use of electronic items is increasing day by day, so is the electronic waste which is piling up day by day. Most of the electronic items are made up of hazardous materials like brominated flame retardants, cadmium, beryllium, mercury etc which can cause life threatening problems like cancer. Thus, electronic scrap lying outside our homes is not desirable as these disease causing elements find their way into our food and drinking water. In addition to this, handling e-waste is a major challenge. It cannot be disposed off using regular waste disposing methods of municipality or other rag pickers. It needs special treatment for proper disposal.
In India, e-waste poses multiple challenges. Firstly, the amount of e-waste generated in India is huge and is increasing day by day. It is estimated that Mumbai alone produces more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste per year followed by Delhi and Bengaluru with 40,000 and 35,000 tonnes respectively. Apart from this huge quantity, around 90% of the e-waste generated in the developed countries worth $19 Billion illegally lands in developing nations like India, China, Malaysia and Pakistan. The reason behind it is the low costs of shipment and the high costs of treatment in the developed world.The vast majority of illegal e-waste ends up in landfills, incinerators, and in poorly equipped recycling facilities. Firstly what is reusable is separated from the waste and traded in second hand market. Leftover is simply dumped in the ground without realising that it is a “toxic time bomb”.
Second major challenge is the law on e-waste. In 2011 Ministry of Environment issued rules on Handling and Management of e-waste which came into force in 2012. It introduced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility i.e. once the products life span is over, it is the responsibility of the producer to collect the item from the consumer and safely dispose it. The producer can also hire a private body for the job. But hardly we see any electronic item manufacturer performing its e-waste handling responsibility. The major challenge is that there are not enough collection centres throughout the country and it is extremely difficult for the producer to reach out to every individual consumer and not miss even one. Government has notified new rules on e-waste management in 2015. These are more comprehensive and inclusive as more items are covered. Also the producer now will be liable for a penalty if he does not discharge his duty. The law also incentivises the consumer who voluntarily adopt waste management system through twin concepts of E-waste exchange and Deposit Fund Scheme. Under the `deposit refund scheme’, the manufacturer or producer will charge an additional amount as deposit at the time of sale of electronic or electrical equipment. It will be returned to the consumers along with interest when the end-of-life equipment is returned. Under E-waste exchange scheme It means, if a consumer deposits his/her end-of-life equipment to such service providers, he/she will get specified amount for the scrap. It needs to be seen how effective the new rules turn out to be.
Third challenge is unawareness among public. People simply do not know how dangerous e-waste is. As compared to the developed countries, there is scant information available with the public. Neither do people pay attention to the amount of hazardous material in their electronic items as printed on the packaging. This was mandated by the rules of 2011. Each and every manufacturer has to print on the packaging the amount of hazardous materials and also ensure that they do not cross the safe limit. There needs to be a digital campaign or online advertising of the harmful effects and proper disposal methods of the e-waste.
On our part there are few small things which we can do at our individual level. If we have an electronic item which is in working condition but we are replacing it, we might consider donating it to some needy organisation e.g. donating an old computer to a school. Secondly, we can dispose of our e-waste with municipality. The rules mandate municipality to get e-waste disposed off properly. Following incentive schemes under 2015 rules is another useful option for us. Thirdly, we should raise such issues in residential welfare association meetings whereby we ensure no dumping of e-waste takes place in our colonies or residential areas.
These small small steps can lead to big changes. Once there is awareness among public and e-waste is recognised as a serious challenge, it will put pressure on manufacturers to respect the public opinion. SWIPE (download the app from Google Play Store https://goo.gl/oIXioK) is one important and meaningful way of voicing our opinion on this issue followed by sharing and spreading the message. Let’s SWIPE out the menace of e-waste from our lives.