In the 20th Century, the information and communication revolution has brought enormous changes in the way we organize our lives, our economies, industries and institutions.
These spectacular developments in modern times have undoubtedly enhanced the quality of our lives. At the same time, these have led to manifold problems including the problem of massive amount of hazardous waste and other wastes generated from electric products. These hazardous and other wastes pose a great threat to the human health and environment. The issue of proper management of wastes, therefore, is critical to the protection of livelihood, health and environment.
What is e-waste?:-
E-waste or electronic waste,can broadly described as loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, broken, electrical or electronic devices.
Composition of E-Waste:-
The composition of e-waste is diverse and falls under ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ categories. Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
Iron and steel constitute about 50% of the waste,followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents.The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities make e-waste hazardous in nature.
E-Waste in India:-
There are 10 States that contribute to 70 per cent of the total e-waste generated in the country, while 65 cities generate more than 60 per cent of the total e-waste in India. Among the 10 largest e-waste generating States, Maharashtra ranks first followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
Among the top ten cities generating e-waste, Mumbai ranks first followed by Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur.
Source of E-waste :-
The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 70 per cent of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 15 per cent; the rest being contributed by manufacturers.
An Indian market Research Bureau (IMRB) survey of ‘E-waste generation at Source’ in 2009 found that out of the total e-waste volume in India, televisions and desktops including servers comprised 68 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. Imports and mobile phones comprised of 2 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.
E-waste of Developed and Developing Countries:-Though , almost all contemporary report point towards USA as the major source of e-waste, in upcoming future this is going to change. The reason are simple – the developing countries like India and China are fast catching up. As their economies grow, the purchasing power parity of people grows , thus affinity to luxury and electronic has only one way out – exponential increment.China’s recent data on e-waste is evident to this .On the contrary, for the developed countries with ageing population, the demand for goods will remain almost constant or will decline relatively, being saturated markets.
Hence the major focus area should be the developing countries to tackle the e-waste.
3)India as a dumping backyard of developed countries :-
A major reason for the rapid generation of e-waste and the resulting growth of the recycling market can be found in the high rate of obsolescence in the electronics market. Most electronic goods, especially in the West, have very short lifespan. Such goods are routinely replaced at least every two years, and then either simply discarded or exported to developing countries where there is still a demand for second-hand merchandise.
Recycling facilities exist in developed countries and stringent measures have been taken by the Governments regarding disposal of e-waste. However, there are difficulties in implementing regulations and dealing with e-waste owing to increased activism by environmentalists and the high cost of recycling. Despite concerns on the issues of fraudulent traders and environmentally unsound practices, it has been easier and cheaper for these countries to ship e-wastes to the developing countries where access to and recycling of such discarded electronic goods make a good economic option. For both sides, it is profitable or a win-win situation. The only difference being that the rich country is dumping toxic waste on the poorer country.
In India, the source of e-waste is not only domestic but also international.Not only India, but many countries in South and South-East Asia are used as dumping backyards for inferior products from developed countries.
This can be further elaborated by giving an example of dismantling of ships, which involves the process by which end-of-life ships are converted into steel and other recyclable items, and the remainder is then disposed of. These operations are performed mainly in South Asia, with India, Bangladesh and Pakistan currently occupying 70-80 per cent of the market. The industry offers a valuable end-of-life solution to old ships although there are concerns about the environmental, health and safety standards employed, especially in South Asia, as the industry has historically gravitated towards low labour cost countries with weak regulations on occupational health,safety and the environment.
So far, India has been the destination of the hazardous and industrial wastes like mercury, electronic and plastic wastes from the United States; asbestos from Canada; defective steel and tin plates from the E.U., Australia and the U.S.; toxic waste oil from the United Arab Emirates,Iran and Kuwait; zinc ash, residues and skimmings, lead
waste and scrap, used batteries and waste and scrap of metals such as cadmium, chromium, cobalt, antimony, hafnium and thallium from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway.These wastes contain toxic components which are damaging to the public health and environment
Impacts of E-waste :-
There is no doubt that it has been linked to the growing incidence of several lethal or severely debilitating health conditions, including cancer, neurological and respiratory disorders, and birth defects.This impact is found to be worse in developing countries like India where people engaged in recycling e-waste are mostly in the unorganized sector, living in close proximity to dumps or landfills of untreated e-waste and working without any protection or safeguards.
Such harmful substances leach into the surrounding soil, water and air during waste treatment or when they are dumped in landfills or left to lie around near it.Sooner or later they would adversely affect human health and ecology.
However, since e-waste also contains significant concentration of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment, even a small amount of e-waste entering the residual waste will introduce relatively high amount of heavy metals and halogenated substances.
E-waste typically contains complex combinations of materials and components down to microscopic levels. The wastes are broken down in not just for recycling but for the recoverable materials such as plastic, aluminium, copper and gold.
It was found that a river water sample from the Lianjiang river near a Chinese “recycling village” had lead levels that were 2400 times higher than the World Health Organization Drinking Water Guidelines thereby involving a serious health hazard.
E-Waste management :-
The principles of e-waste management are as any – REDUCE,REUSE,RECYCLE ,strictly in that order, which means reduce is the primary goal. To reduce , excessive consumerism has to be addressed.Those who can afford have been negligent in their use of e-products.Just because one can buy, that should not be translated to that one should buy. For a country like India, e-products are looked upon as social status symbol- which is rather odd and misconceived .It is not the illiterate rural folk , but broadly the educated , urban mass , who has long been ignorant of the repercussion of their obsessive consumerism of e-products.This needs awareness. Luxury and necessity can not be defined broadly and varies from person to person, hence awareness campaign can be brought in to inculcate self-restraint .
The next is reuse. Though reuse is a viable concept for all other kinds of waste management, it not viable for e-products. The reasons , as explained above ,are the limited life of e-products.Also , degraded or inferior product poses more threat from reuse.
Recycle , is a holistic concept, but it needs a elaborate plan to tackle the menace of e-waste. The plan starts with the waste segregation at source, but to our dismay we have not been able to implement it. Hence no wonder, if one finds a discarded computer along with the stale curry . To enhance the recycling capabilities , it is necessary to segregate the waste at source and to do that a comprehensive municipal solid waste management and work out is need of the hour(e.g.- Different dustbins for different waste)
While we can deal with the above mentioned concepts for domestic waste, to reduce the imported e-waste needs legislation.Waste processing is looked upon as industry and developing and under developed nations are used as landfills. This has to stop. It might look as a good economic option ( e.g.- India leads in ship breaking industry) ,but these are neither industrious nor economic in the long run . The serious public health and irreversible environmental damage , makes no sense to promote or to be proud of this kind of industry.In fact multiple conventions has came in to being in this regard .
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes. It was signed by 173 countries on 22 March 1989 and entered into force on 5 May 1992. It was basically created to prevent the economically motivated dumping of hazardous wastes from richer to poorer countries, which had resulted from a tightening of environmental regulations and a steep rise in the cost of hazardous waste disposal in industrialized countries.However the compliance of this convention is questioned many a time.
The Bamako Convention, on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes was adopted by the twelve nations of the Organization of African Unity at Bamako, Mali in January, 1991, and came into force in March, 1999.The need to sign the Bamako Convention arose from the failure of the Basel Convention to prohibit trade of hazardous waste to the less developed countries, and from the realization that many developed nations were exporting toxic wastes to Africa.
It is evident from the two examples that international conventions (Basel ) might not be as effective hence regional (Bamako) conventions are necessary. Moreover, if India develops it’s resistance through stringent law and punitive measures , it would act as the necessary deterrence against India as a dumping ground.In this regard the “e-waste (Management and Handling) Amendment Rules, 2015” is a welcome step.
While law and awareness can go along a way to safeguard public health from the vagaries of e-waste, it would be imprudent not to consider the technological or scientific aspects.For e.g. – there exists alternative to lead , however just because lead makes more economic sense , hence it is used disproportionately in the industries and to tackle this, not only law but also alternative yet cost -effective solutions are necessary , and for this to work, science has to come to the rescue of environment .
If the citizens are made aware , the scientists are made aware , the policy makers are made aware , the agents of economics are made aware and work together ,then we can achieve best e-waste management practices that inflict zero damage to the environment and public health.