Forced to live with e-waste

Forced to live with e-waste
E-waste! What is e-waste? I have not heard of e-waste and its concept of recycling. I do not even know if any collection center exists in our market,” said Ankit Chhabra (name changed) who has been running a laptop store in Asia’s largest electronic market Nehru Place for last 15 years says when asked about the disposal of old laptops and desktops.

This is the extent to which Delhi Pollution Control Board (DPCC) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have managed to reach in creating awareness about e-waste and its adverse impact on environment and people who deal with it under minimum safeguards in not only Delhi but also in most other cities of India.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), one of the apex trade associations of India, has put out a study saying Delhi-NCR is emerging as the world’s dumping ground for e-waste and may generate about 95,000 metric tonnes (MT) per annum by 2017 from the current level of 55,000 metric tonnes per annum growing at a compound annual growth rate of about 25 per cent.

Electronic waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. 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. It can be considered to cover TVs, computers, laptops, mobile phones, fridges, washing machines, dryers, stereo systems, toys, toasters and kettles – almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply.

Domestic e-waste including computer, TV, mobiles and refrigerators contain over 1,000 toxic material, which contaminate soil and ground water. Exposure can cause headache, irritability, nausea, vomiting and eyes pain. Recyclers with minimum infrastructure and safeguards may suffer liver, kidney and neurological disorders.

“These electronic products have components that contain toxic substances like lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, plastic, PVC, BFRs, barium, beryllium, and carcinogens like carbon black and heavy metals. This deadly mix can cause severe health problems for those handling the waste. Printed circuit boards, for instance, contain heavy metals like antimony, gold, silver, chromium, zinc, lead, tin and copper. The method of extracting these materials from circuit boards is highly hazardous and involves heating the metals in the open,” says Manju Negi, Director Assocham.

The Assocham official further says that almost 90 per cent of total e-waste in Delhi go to unorganised sectors and only 10 per cent reaches organised sectors. Government needs to create a balance between organised and unorganised sectors. There are multiple factors on ground that have created this imbalance.

As per DPCC record there are only four recyclers operating in north India and those are registered with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

“The general problem with corporate and other institutions, which generate e-waste in bulk, is that they seek high value for their discarded products which registered recyclers find hard to negotiate. Recyclers claim that proper re-cycling of e-waste requires efficient technology and infrastructure that involves high cost. It makes the whole process of re-cycling very expensive due to which they can’t offer much. As a result of the failed negotiation with registered recyclers, institutions/ corporate sell it to unorganised scrap dealers at higher cost,” says Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of CSE.     

Back in 2010, Delhi University had sold some radioactive materials to the Mayapuri scrap market which ended up killing one person and injuring seven others. The physics and chemistry departments, both had radioactive substance in their labs, held some auctions to dispose of their waste to make more space for conducting classes. Later on it was found that the sold materials contained Cobalt-60, which was bought in 1968 from Canada and was not in use since 1985.

“You cannot blame the scrap dealers. They are not experts and there was nothing to tell them that the equipment they bought was dangerous if mishandled. The onus was on the university,” the official, who was investigating the case, had said then. Delhi University’s then vice-chancellor Deepak Pental admitted ‘negligence’ on the varsity’s part.

“That tragic incident was a wakeup call for the authorities to provide enough safeguards and have a conducive environment in which e-waste, which contains toxic chemicals, should be handled. Last year, National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to install scanners at the gates of the market.  Almost four years have gone by since that tragic incident happened but nothing has been done so far,” said Neeraj Sehgal, General Secretary of Mayapuri Market Association.

In a bid to prevent incidents of radiation leaks, NGT had asked scrap dealers to get license from DPCC and buy radiation detectors immediately. However, only eight scrap dealers applied for the license. DPCC did not take any action to ensure that radiation detectors are installed, Sehgal further added.

We still have people dealing with e-waste in Mayapuri with almost no safety net. It is the responsibility of three authorities which have failed miserably in controlling the illegal activities. Scrap dealers in Mayapuri have been using the Municipal Corporation Department (MCD) land and openly doing their business which falls under the land owning agency MCD, then we have local Police department which has conveniently overlooked this problem and then its DPCC which is yet to enforce the e-waste-2011 guidelines, General Secretary said.

DPCC has set up total 17 e-waste collection centers throughout Delhi of which two centers are operating in Mayapuri. But the tragedy is that no one in the market even knows about these collection centers.

“According to a study conducted by Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore, it was revealed that only 3.8 per cent people are environmentally educated. This is really an alarming figure. About 96.2 per cent people in Bangalore are not even aware of the concept of e-waste and the consequences of the toxic chemicals it carries,” says TV Ramachandra, research faculty at Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore.

“There is an urgent need to make environmental study mandatory to understand our nature and cause of its vulnerability. Putting legislation is one thing and educating people is another. Creating awareness about e-waste and its deadly impact on health is a serious challenge. “Government should also put a ban on second hand imported computers under the guise of institutional gift. Assocham study suggests that Delhi alone gets about 86 per cent electronic waste generated in the developed world.’ says Ramachandra.   

Ramchandra further says major information technology (IT) companies are the biggest e-waste contributors. Every year or two they make some changes in one form or the other. IT companies are very habitual to discarding their systems as they have to upgrade their technology.

Dismantling of the electronic equipment is a responsibility of manufacturers. Major electronic and electrical equipment firms — both Indian and global have failed grossly in fulfilling their responsibilities under extended producer responsibility (EPR) as defined under the e-waste management rules 2011.

 “Leading multi-national electronic and electrical equipment manufacturing companies are among the worst offenders when it comes to generation and disposal of electronic waste. And with the huge amount of e-waste that Delhi produces, compounded by the abysmal management the Capital is at a high risk,” says Priti Mahesh, programme coordinator, Toxics Link.

A recent study, conducted by Toxic Links, revealed that 16 major electronic brands, including some leading mobile phone companies, fared very poorly in the ratings and have not set up any take-back system even after two years of the rules coming into effect.

The irony is the new E-waste management law- 2011 does not have any provision of penalty to punish these offenders for violating the rules.

Danish, who has been working for last 10 years in Seelampur, another famous scrap spot in Delhi, tells how he extracts gold and copper from circuit boards of dismantled computers with bare hands. He dismantles fans found in the CPUs of computers to extract gold. Almost every night one can see famous Kabade wali gali no – 4 packed with 60 to 70 trucks.  

Shahid, a local scrap dealer, denies the report of dismantling. He claims he takes out the important parts of the computer and re-uses it. Computer’s monitor can be used in TV sets. No one does recycling or dismantling in this market anymore, he adds.

Sorting e-waste

‘The role of law-making bodies is to formulate stringent, practical and effective laws. That can address the challenges on the ground, however, the e-waste management 2011 laws doesn’t seem to be serving its purpose. There are some serious amendments needed to make this law even more effective in the best interest of environment and people who deal with e-waste,” says Dr. Ashish Thomas, Assistant Professor at Hindu College.

If Assocham data is anything to go by then the impact is going to be disastrous within the next decade and it is going to affect both the environment and the people. Both DPCC and CPCB have to own-up the responsibility of creating awareness through various channels.

Government should take some of these things in to account while making its plan to fight the unorganised e-waste spreading sectors.

Sensitising and educating people about e-waste and its adverse impact.

Ensuring people friendly means of disposing e-waste to organised sectors.

Strict implementation of laws and rules both at public and private industries.

Regular monitoring to check on defaulters.

Heavy penalty and punishment on defaulters.
Saurabh Sharma

Saurabh Sharma

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