India’s e-waste growing at 30% annually

Virendra Pandit Ahmedabad | Updated on January 20, 2018

It noted that about two-thirds of e-waste workers in India are suffering from respiratory ailments.   -  Shanker Chakravarty

The main sources of e-waste are the government, public and private sectors

While the world observes Environment Day on Sunday (June 5), India is emerging as one of the world's major electronic waste generators, posing grave concerns to public health and environment alike.

Industry body Assocham, on Friday, said India’s ‘production’ of e-waste is likely to increase by nearly three times, from the existing 18 lakh metric tons (MT) to 52 lakh MT) per annum by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 30%.

An Assocham-cKinetics study pointed out that global volume of e-waste generated is expected to reach from 93.5 MT in 2016 to 130 MT in 2018 at a CAGR of 17.6 percent during the period.

The study on ‘Electronic Waste Management in India,’ conducted to mark World Environment Day, said as Indians become richer and spend more on electronic items and appliances, computer equipment accounts for almost 70% of e-waste material, followed by telecommunication equipment (12%), electrical equipment (8%) and medical equipment (7%). Other equipment, including household e-crap account for the remaining 4%.

A mere 1.5% of India's total e-waste gets recycled due to poor infrastructure, legislation and framework which leads to a waste of diminishing natural resources, irreparable damage of environment and health of the people working in industry. Over 95% of e-waste generated is managed by the unorganised sector and scrap dealers in this market, dismantle the disposed products instead of recycling it.

In India, about 4-5 lakh child labourers in the age group of 10-15 years are observed to be engaged in various e-waste activities, without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops, said D S Rawat, Secretary-General Assocham. The chamber advocated the need for effective legislation to prevent entry of child labourers into the e-waste collection, segregation and distribution.

E-waste typically includes discarded computer monitors, motherboards, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), printed circuit board (PCB), mobile phones and chargers, compact discs, headphones, white goods such as liquid crystal displays (LCD)/ plasma televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators etc.

E-waste workers in India suffer from breathing problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. Many workers are children, who are unaware of the hazards and by the time they reach 35 to 40 years of age, they are incapable of working, points out the study.

About 2/3s of e-waste workers in India suffer from respiratory ailments like breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing, choking, and tremors problems due to improper safeguards and dismantling workshops. The recovery of metals like gold, platinum, copper and lead uses caustic soda and concentrated acids.

Computers, televisions and mobile phones are most dangerous because they have high levels of lead, mercury and cadmium and they have short life-spans, so are discarded more.

The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 75% of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 16 per cent; the rest being contributed by manufacturers. Though individual households are not large contributors to waste generated by computers, they consume large quantities of consumer durables and are, therefore, potential creators of waste.

E-waste accounts for approximately 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of heavy metals found in landfills. These pollutants lead to ground water and air pollution and soil acidification. High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of nervous systems, blood systems, kidneys and brain development, respiratory disorders, skin disorders, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage, the study added.

Published on June 03, 2016

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