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India’s two-million-tonne e-waste problem has deadly consequences

India is the fifth largest e-waste producer, globally. This article takes a look at how bad the situation currently is in India.

Electronic waste or e-waste as it is commonly referred to is generated from electrical and electronic equipment, technology and devices when they go beyond their expiry date or become unfit for further use. Everything from computers, monitors, servers, printers, scanners, and cellular phones to mainframes, copiers, fax machines, transceivers, CDs, TVs, washing machines, ACs, and other such equipment when doesn’t remain useful anymore, falls in the category of e-waste. As soon as they aren’t useful anymore, we start looking for replacements. Newer equipment is produced in thousands every day. So, we have new electronic and electrical equipment with the potential of becoming e-waste in a few months or weeks down the line, being added into the mix. This has resulted in an exponential increase in the generation of e-waste over the years. It’s a vicious cycle that continues to trouble the world.

What do the global e-waste stats say about the situation?

The US and China occupy the first two positions in the list of the world’s largest generators of e-waste. India is not too far behind – it fills the fifth position in this unwanted list. India produced close to 2 million tonnes of e-waste every year. Globally, the number has crossed the 40 million tonnes mark – an astounding figure that continues to grow with every passing day. If we calculate, India produces close to 4 percent of the total e-waste generated across the world.

How big-of-a-problem is the e-waste situation in India?

In a study named “Electronic Waste Management in India”, collaboratively done by ASSOCHAM and KPMG, it was found that mobile phones and computer waste contribute the most to e-waste generation in India. Computers and related equipment account for 70 percent of the total e-waste in India. On the other hand, mobile phones and other telecommunication equipment contribute 12 percent to this waste. If we talk about the cities that generate the maximum e-waste, Mumbai tops the list with 1,20,000 tonnes. Delhi and Bengaluru come next on the list with 98,000 and 92,000 tonnes respectively. This study also reveals that e-waste is the biggest contributor of heavy metals in landfills.

How do e-waste disposal, recycling, and management work in India?

This sector is primarily unorganized and consists of e-waste management companies that employ contract laborers. The unorganized or unregulated sector is responsible for handling more than 95 percent of e-waste in India. Most of this e-waste is disposed of in rivers, canals, or lakes. This damages the environment and these water bodies to an irreparable limit. Some of the e-waste is also sold to scrap dealers. They dismantle it, which results in the emission of toxic substances, leading to further degradation of the environment.

E-waste management companies, especially ones that perform recycling are ill-equipped, to say the least. Laborers don’t have access to helmets, gloves, and other protective gear. The worst thing is that neither these companies nor their workers have adequate information about how all this works. Certain important changes have started taking shape in the last couple of years. But, there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to do to deal with this problem that is worsening by the day.

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