E-waste management – A challenge for India

E-waste management in India is faced with ample hurdles, posing a threat to the environment and subsequent generations.

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E-waste, in plain words, refers to the unwanted, damaged, and exhausted electronic devices. These typically include mobile phones, motherboard, fans, DVD players, television, video game systems, printers, heaters, headphones, chargers, refrigerators, etc. E-waste management refers to tackling and managing electronic waste materials that are disposed of. E-waste materials are digital rubbish that is accumulated.

E-waste management has been a challenge for the country. India has been wrestling against the adversities to uplift the downtrodden condition of sanitation in the country.

Following are some of the challenges faced in the e-waste management:

Lack of awareness and sensitization : 

Often the unwanted and exhausted electronic items are disposed of unethically, hereby causing chaos and contributing to the failure of e-waste recycling. With a notion that e-wastes too belong to the trash, almost all of it goes to the dumping yard instead of reaching to an e-waste recycler. The toxic materials in e-waste contaminate the non-toxic domestic garbage that could have been used as fertilizers, hereby increasing a total load of toxic materials. 

According to a study conducted by ASSOCHAM, an authorized government body, India produces about 1.8 MT of e-waste annually. It was assumed that this would increase by 500 per cent in 2020.

E-waste generated v/s e-waste recycled:

According to the UN University’s Global E-waste Monitor, India produced about 2 million tons of the total e-waste in 2017, out of which only 1.5% is ethically recycled.

About 95% of the total e-waste end up in unorganized sectors leading to manhandling and eventually dumping. India is the 5th most e-waste generating country in the world. With the rapid growth of the IT sector, about 70 per cent of the total e-waste was said to be computers and mobile phones in the year 2017.

Leftover new technology:

The world has been witnessing a growing amount of in-condition and usable e-waste due to extreme modernization. Equipment and gadgets are discarded every time a new version is introduced in the market. With the humongous hunger of modernization and acquiring updated and latest versions of gadgets, comes the desire of discarding the newly old ones. The telecom industries have rigorously indulged in coming up with an updated version of its NEWLY released versions, making India the 2nd country with the greatest number of mobile phone users. The innovators come up with technologies that are meant to make our lives easier, and we tend to use them no matter how efficient the older versions are.

Mining raw materials: 

The growing demand for updated technologies and the declining rates of recycled e-waste materials have compelled the industries to come up with the tactic of mining for new metals. Even though recycling metals increases their efficiency, the companies indulge in mining for the new ones leading to an increased amount of groundwater pollution. 

Unorganized e-waste management: 

As mentioned earlier, about 95 percent of the produced e-wastes ends up reaching the unorganized sectors of e-waste management, which mostly consist of the local scrap dealers. Most of the unorganized sectors lack the knowledge of effectively recycling e-wastes. They end up manhandling them and disposing of the e-waste instead of recycling them, causing the least harm to the environment.

Environmental degradation:  

Electronic gadgets are the amalgamation of toxic materials and metals like gold, silver and copper. These hide poisonous materials like lead, hexavalent chromium, nickel, cadmium, mercury polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). While these are not safe to be around, they can cause even more peril when exposed to the environment. E-waste buried in the landfills gets dissolved in a sludgy, and it pollutes the soil and air. These sludgy substances penetrate deep into the ground, consequently, contaminate the groundwater. Mining metals contribute to the groundwater leaching as well

Health hazard:

It isn’t safe to surround ourselves with these electronic gadgets since they cause more harm when handled and dismantled by naive hands. Lack of awareness can also cause health hazards. Most of the unorganized sectors of e-waste management are unaware of the safest methods of recycling toxic e-wastes. Most of the e-wastes are processed in urban slums and are handled by the untrained workers who lack proper knowledge, posing a threat to human and environmental health. Lead and cadmium in the printed circuit board can damage the central and peripheral nervous system and the kidneys. Beryllium present in the motherboards can damage the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Exposure to harmful chemicals like lead oxide can damage the heart, liver and muscles and can even cause skin diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and the list goes on.

Child labour: 

About 4.5 lakh children labourers between the age group of 10-14 are forced to get engaged in E-waste activities in India, neglecting the adequate protection and safety norms, in various yards and recycling workshops. Direct occupational exposure can cause underdevelopment of the brain in children. Prolonged exposure to such toxic chemicals can even result in the retarded brains of child labourers and even death in some cases.

Costly recycling equipment:

Advanced recycling of e-waste requires an advanced type of machinery. Most of the e-waste activities of formal sectors in India are limited to the pre-processing of the e-waste materials due to lack of investment in recycling machinery.

 Cyber theft: 

India suffers from illegal trading of electronic wastes every moment. As most of the e-waste comprises of laptops, mobile phones, and computers, cyber crimes have become more common than it is thought to have. Exporting is way more economical than processing the accumulated e-waste. More than 80 % of the e-waste include personal devices. According to the statistics, about 30 % of discarded electronic items contain sensitive personal information. The data that is deleted, which was once saved, can be easily retraced by the hackers. The serial numbers on the discarded devices can access your data stored in the discarded electronic device. A mere change of device can give access to all the information once stored in the hard drive. Therefore, the physical destruction of the devices by certified recyclers is the only way out.  

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