E-waste: An Unattended Threat Looming Large

DQC News Bureau
Updated On
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The next time you want to throw away your old batteries or CDs, or can't

think of what to do with your used mobile phone or computer, think beyond

relegating them to an unused corner of the room. Instead, hunt around for

'special bin' or 'dropping centers', where these products will be taken from you

and will be disposed in an environmentally beneficial fashion.


Rapid change in the technology, an increase in the usage of consumer

electronic products and huge disposal of these products is contributing

immensely to a menace called e-waste. Though this may sound like yet another

attempt to hype up the need to be environment-friendly, there is more to it.

E-waste is likely to be one of the biggest menaces that humans will have to

battle in the years to come.

E-waste? What's that?

According to the WEEE Directive, electronic waste or 'e-waste' can also be

called as 'waste electrical and electronic equipment' (WEEE). This constitutes

waste material of any broken or unwanted electrical or electronic appliances.

E-waste is a huge problem on several counts. Firstly, these products are not

biodegradable, and hence, throwing them in the local garbage dump is not

recommended. Secondly, when broken these devices contain toxins that are harmful

both for human health and environment.


According to the findings of the Manufacturer's Association for Information

Technology (MAIT) and the German Technical Cooperation Agency, a total of

3,30,000 metric tones (MT) of e-waste is generated annually in India while an

additional 50,000MT is illegally imported.

A close look at these products clearly indicate that they are made of

elements like lead, beryllium, mercury, etc that if not handled properly, can

create serious problems for the nervous system besides leading to lung diseases

and blood pressure problems as well.

On the other hand, copper that is used in these products releases dangerous

gases that are harmful for the environment. Another component extensively used

in products like wires, when burnt, releases hazardous gases, raising health

issues again.


What contributes to it?

While the good news is that consumer durables products including cars,

motorcycles, refrigerators, etc are expected to grow at the rate of 10 percent

annually, the PC market is booming with the sales of PCs and notebook registered

6.34 million units in 2006-07. The mobile market created waves with the sales

figure touching the 93 million units mark in 2007; TV market in the households,

on the other hand, is expected to touch the 234 million mark by 2015 from 58

million units at the moment. The bad news is that all this will lead to

exponential rise in the amount of e-waste and add to our woes further.

Lot of these products are non-biodegradable. What is more startling is that

the government till late do not have proper guidelines in place to tackle

e-waste. The first draft as to how to treat e-waste has come out very recently.

Add to this, 94 percent of the organizations in India do not have a policy

with regard to disposal of IT products. The awareness in the household segment

is low as 30 percent.


Destination India

One of the biggest threats to India when it comes to e-waste is the fact

that the country has become a dumping ground for most of the foreign companies

and all this is being practiced in a clandestine fashion.

Pointing the same, Dr J Biscoff, Director, GTZ said, “In addition to the

e-waste generated in the domestic market, dumping from developed countries has

further increased the problem in India.” Apparently, this is because in the

developed countries, it is expensive to recycle the discarded electronics items,

and in India, these companies can hire cheap labor to get their waste material


India's E-Waste Scorecard
  • The total waste electrical and electronic

    equipment (WEEE) generation in India is approximately 1,46,000 tonnes per

  • Top states in order of contribution

    include Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West

    Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab
  • City-wise ranking of largest WEEE

    generators is Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad,

    Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur
  • Approximately 30,000 computers become

    obsolete every year from the IT industry in Bangalore alone. The reason is

    an extremely high obsolescence rate of 30 percent per year
  • Almost 50 percent of PCs sold in India are

    products from the secondary market and are re-assembled on old components

(Source: E-Waste Guide)


The absence of import regulations is yet another factor, which is why most of

these imports are done in the name of charity, scrap. In a nutshell, the

disposal practices adopted by the users that include end-users, businesses and

importers clearly suggested that the institutions dump the obsolete material in

their warehouses, home-users either throw them into a dustbin, donate, sell it

to scrap dealers or in the second-hand market, or exchange it for a new

computer, mobile, TV, etc and importers are dumping it illegally.

Another important fact highlighted by the report suggested that the recycling

process followed in India, which includes aggregation, segrega­tion, dismantling

and finally recycling is again an area of concern. 95 percent of the e-waste is

done by the informal sector based in urban slums.

Also, the number of formal recyclers in India is not enough, and the seven to

eight recyclers that are present do not have enough capacity to handle the

e-waste issue. So while Chennai has Trishyiraya, Mumbai has Infotrek Syscom and

e-Parisara that look after the waste material in their respective regions.

Surprisingly, Delhi doesn't even have a formal recycler.


What is the solution?

What the government, institutions and the end-users really need to do is

recognize their responsibilities in the first place. They need to come together

and handle e-waste collectively because the matter has to be taken care of, not

only at the generation stage but also at the disposal stage.

The government needs to come with effective regulation policies for

manufacturers to replace old products through exchange and buy-back schemes.

Again, they can bring in the concept of 'special bins' that has been successful

in other countries.

Here, an end-consumer can dispose the waste material, ie, electrical waste

that is in the form of batteries, remote controls, electronic toys, CDs,

mobiles, etc by just dropping the same in it.


An incentive can also be given to customers who use special bins and

encourage more people to dispose e-waste sensibly This apart, they need to

channelize the informal recyclers and keep a check on imports and develop

recycling capabilities in India.

Role corporates can play

Organizations can initiate an awareness process, whereby they can educate

end-consumers by distributing brochures about disposal of e-waste along with the

products sold. They can include details like the concepts behind e-waste and

elaborate on the presence of hazardous material in the product. This aside, they

can also make an offer for the buy back of the product at the time of sale.

Suggesting ways of disposal by the end-users can also be done at the selling


On the other hand, at the disposal stage, they can have tie-ups with

dealers/resellers for the buyback schemes. Collection or dropping centers, other

than the dealer's location can also help lessen the e-waste problem.

Thus, they can also mention the dealers or collection point addresses at the

time of sale itself. It may be noted that most of the companies in South are

bonded with the Software Technology Park India (STPI), whereby they cannot

dispose their IT products without the approval from STPI. Thus, a tie-up between

the formal recyclers and bodies in the lines of STPI can also solve the e-waste