E-waste, electronic waste: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


The extent of the problem


Global e-waste generation, 2010-14; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, August 12, 2016

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Global e-waste generation, 2010-14

2014: India 5th biggest generator

The Times of India, Apr 20 2015

India 5th biggest generator of e-waste in 2014: UN report

India is the fifth biggest producer of ewaste in the world, discarding 1.7 million tonnes (Mt) of electronic and electrical equipment in 2014, a UN report has said warning that the volume of global e-waste is likely to rise sharply by 21% in next three years.

The `Global E-Waste Monitor 2014', compiled by UN think tank United Nations University (UNU), said at 32%, the US and China produced the most e-waste overall in 2014. India came in fifth, behind the US, China, Japan and Germany , the report said. Most e-waste in the world in 2014 was generated in Asia at 16 Mt or 3.7kg per inhabitant. The top three Asian nations with the highest e-waste generation in absolute quantities are China (6.0Mt), Japan (2.2Mt) and India (1.7Mt).

The top per capita producers by far are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway , Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the UK. The lowest amount of ewaste per inhabitant was generated in Africa (1.7kg inhabitant). The continent generated 1.9Mt of e-waste in total. In 2014, people worldwide discarded all but a small fraction of an estimated 41.8Mt of electrical and electronic equipment -mostly end-of-life kitchen, laundry and bathroom equipment like microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers.

The volume of e-waste is expected to rise by 21% to 50Mt in 2018, said the report, which details the location and composition of the world's fast-growing e-waste problem.


The Times of India, May 11 2016

Major cities in generating electronic waste; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, May 11 2016

See graphic  : Electronic waste, a menace, India and the world, 2015-18 (projected)

Electronic waste, a menace, India and the world, 2015-18 (projected); The Times of India, September 22, 2017

E-waste poses heavy metal threat

Jasjeev Gandhiok  The ministry of environment, forest and climate change recently redesignated the electronic waste disposal business as a red-category industry . According to the ministry , red-category industries pose the biggest threat to the environment because they generate the highest pollution load in the sector.

This re-categorisation, however, has not stopped the illegal e-waste disposal sites in Delhi from operating without licenses or proper protection.TOI visited two such sites in Seelampur and Shastri Park and the conditions at both locations were appalling. In Seelampur, for example, tonnes of discarded electronics are manually dismantled each day .Not only does the extraction process here pose a health risk to the workers and the environment, but no safety measures are taken while disposing of the e-waste either.

The waste was handled on open grounds and broken down manually to extract recyclable metals to be resold, leaving both the workers and soil exposed to toxic materials like lead, cadmium, mercury and the acid fumes generated in the process. According to experts, prolonged exposure to these can cause nausea, irritability, headaches, and li ver and kidney problems in the long run.

“There is no disposal system at these places, and the waste is eventually dumped into the Yamuna,“ said Piyush Mohapatra of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.With the business being slotted in the red category and with new rules to be implemented soon, Mohapatra hopes that the safer, formal ewaste processing sector will begin to dominate.

Child labourers are a common sight at the illegal extraction sites. A report released by Assocham-Frost & Sullivan on World Earth Day pointed out that five lakh children between the ages of 10 and 14 were engaged in e-waste processing activities.

Discarded electronic items are procured illegally through unofficial channels by these operators since they aren't authorised to collect or dispose of e-waste. “The waste comes from distance places, even from outside Delhi,“ admitted a labourer who did not wished to be named. “We have been trying to get a licence for long time, but with that not happening we get e-garbage from local dumps too.“

These labourers also claim the Delhi Pollution Control Committee knows about their existence. “We tried getting a licence from them but were told to acquire land first,“ the labourer added.“Since it is difficult for many of us to set things up properly , we continue on a small scale like this.“

2017: India generated 2m. out of world’s 44.7m. tonnes e- waste

Vishwa Mohan, Each of us generate 6kg of e-waste a year: UN agencies, January 26, 2019: The Times of India

If the per capita generation of e-waste is taken into account individually, every person on the planet at present is responsible for generating 6kg of e-waste annually. About 80% (4.8kg) of this either ends up in landfills or is informally recycled, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances and contaminating soil, ground water and food supply system.

This alarming fact was flagged by seven UN agencies on the sidelines of World Economic Forum at Davos on Thursday, urging the world for an overhaul of the current system of disposing and recycling of such waste so that it can minimise environmental impacts and create decent, sustainable jobs.

Calling the quantum, being generated globally, a “tsunami of e-waste”, the UN entities said the world produced as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made.

Noting that only 20% of the total e-waste is formally recycled, their report warned that the global ewaste production was on track to reach 120 million tonnes per year by 2050 if the current trends continued.

Figures from 2016, compiled as the ‘Global E-Waste Monitor 2017’ by the United Nations University, show that India generated 2 million (20 lakh) tonnes of e-waste out of total 44.7 million tonnes of e- waste globally that year.

India has a capacity to dismantle and recycle only 20% (over 4 lakh tonnes) of its total e-waste. Though there is no comprehensive state-wise inventorisation of e-waste generation in India, the country has a total 178 dismantler and recycling units with highest number of such units (57) being in Karnataka followed by Maharashtra (32), UP (22), Haryana (16) and Tamil Nadu (14).

Asked about India, Gopal Krishna of the Toxic Watch Alliance, said, “The threat to public health from e-waste is enormous as environmental and occupational health infrastructure is almost nonexistent in the country.”

The rules on e-waste management in India mandates producers to be responsible for the collection and financing of systems through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) concept. Krishna said, “Although e-waste management rules introduced EPR, it remains inadequate.”

2018: South Asia in Bottom 5, per capita

In 2018, India, Afghanistan and Nepal were among the Bottom 5 countries that generated E-waste in per capita terms
From: February 7, 2019: The Times of India

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In 2018, India, Afghanistan and Nepal were among the Bottom 5 countries that generated E-waste in per capita terms


January 26, 2019: The Times of India

E-waste, as in 2018-19.
From: January 26, 2019: The Times of India

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E-waste, as in 2018-19.

Have you wondered what happens to your old smartphone when you upgrade? Chances are it will eventually end up in a landfill, part of the mounting mass of e-waste that is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. Discarded electronics also contain precious metals and rare materials. As it keeps piling up, UN warns of a “tsunami of e-waste” that humans ignore to their own loss and at their own peril.

Illegal recycling

The Times of India, May 11 2016

95% of e-garbage heads to illegal dealers

Jasjeev Gandhiok  India generates 18.5 lakh metric tonnes of electronic waste each year, with Delhi (98,000 MT) second on the list after Mumbai (1.2 lakh MT) as the biggest contributor. Proper disposal of e-waste is important because of hazards posed to health by the materials used in electronics, but almost a third of the disused electronic items are not reaching the authorised ewaste collectors in the capital.

“Most consumers give away their e-waste to a scrap dealer, who sends it to illegal processing centres,“ said Lalan Shah, owner of Krishna Trading, an authorised e-waste collector in Mayapuri. Because improper disposal of ewaste can release lead, mercury, heavy metals, carcinogens and dioxins into the environment, Delhi Pollution Control Committee issues a licence to collectors who have the wherewithal to deal with these. Legal processors recycle or retrieve valuables from the waste while getting rid of the residue in a safe manner.

Household electronics account for 75% of all e-waste generated, but most people are unaware of whom to approach to discard the old mobile phones, computers, laptops and other electronic devices.So a few collection companies are now looking at means to attract such households. Pom Pom Recycling Ltd, for instance, has released an app and also takes orders to help people get rid of unwanted electronics, while paying them for providing recyclable materials.

“At Pom Pom, we are try ing to create a solution for people to ensure their e-waste goes to government-approved recyclers. An app makes things more convenient,“ said Deepak Sethi, founder of Pom Pom Recycling. But it is a tough battle, fi nancially and operationally , for legal processors because of the unscrupulous tactics adopted by unauthorised ewaste sites. “We collect e-waste only from Delhi, but many illegal centres are bringing them in from neighbouring states. This has affected our business to an extent,“ admitted the supervisor at an Okhla authorised e-waste centre.

Illegal e-waste firms channel 95% of all e-waste processed in the country , according to a recent study conducted by Assocham-Frost and Sullivan. They , thus, deprive the authorised firms of not only revenues, but also the chance to break down electronics without endangering the health of citizens.

Owners of the legal cent res hope for better times under the new rules on e-waste management coming into effect from October this year.Under them, electronics manufacturers will be made responsible for the collection of discarded devices. CFL bulbs and other mercury-containing devices will fall under the ambit.

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