E-waste in the 21st Century: Case for India

Bangalore Capstone Environment

Much is to be lost when an unusable gadget doesn’t fall into the right hands.

E-waste in the 21st Century: Case for India

India suffers a loss of ₹6,400 crores in gold, annually. This gets traced back to mismanagement of electronic waste in the country. Every piece of an electronic gadget or item contains some amount of rare metals for its functionality. When the shelf life of these items comes to an end, not everyone is aware of the proper disposal and tends to either toss them away or give it out to an informal worker for a meagre amount of money in return.

This move, followed by many Indians even today, begins the process of the wrongful treatment of e-waste in the country. Over 90% of the e-waste in the country is unaccounted for due to the prevailing existence of the informal sector or, more commonly known as, the kabadiwalas. People find themselves to be unaware of the harmful effects of this simple act that they blindly follow.

Process of mistreatment

Kabadiwalas collect e-waste from you, dismantle them and extract the valuable parts of the device or item. Once they possess what they seek, the remnants of the device face a fate of being burned up. The burning up of the device involves a huge amount of plastic exposing the atmosphere to hazardous fumes. Hence, the e-waste workers who carry this process out suffer several respiratory ailments while giving their time to recycling the waste. According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, an e-waste worker is prone to breathing issues, bronchitis, asthma and even cancer.

On the other hand, the e-waste that gets sent to the formal sectors which is either the government or the private sector, gets treated in a manner where not much pollution is emitted. It also focuses on making sure the waste doesn’t increase and gets reused, however possible. Authorized resellers take e-waste off your hands and relocate them by extracting usable parts of the device and fitting them into other devices that need those parts. Instead of burning the remnant, they recycle the bits of plastic and repurpose it for other items.

Unaccountability of e-waste

Out of the 3.2 million tonnes of e-waste generated in India, 90% of it went unaccounted for and unregulated by the Government in 2019. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board only knows a fraction of the total data of e-waste that is generated in the state. Mr. Yatish, Senior Environmental Officer at KSPCB, says, “The e-waste that gets generated is one that is information technology e-waste and the other that is the consumer electronics. In the previous year of 2019-20 about 3,234 metric tonnes were collected in Karnataka. On a national level, 5-6% of the waste is recovered and the rest is going to the informal sector. It needs to be tackled.”

Saahas Zero Waste is an organization that tries to battle this issue by collecting e-waste from one’s doorstep and delivering it responsibly to authorized recyclers and resellers. They have begun initiatives such as bE-responsible to help the situation in Bangalore get better. Ankita Kunwar, Project Coordinator at Saahas, says, “The first important thing in every waste management is source segregation. Every individual should go for source segregation because till the time you don’t segregate your waste, you will not be able to understand what e-waste is and what is dry waste. When you buy a product, think that when it ends its life, where will it go? It should go in a proper way. Everyone should believe in a circular economy.”

Eat Raja, a zero-waste juice bar in Bangalore

Their initiative also loops in certain shops and hotspots that stand for raising the environmental conscience of the population in Bangalore. For example, Eat Raja is a juice stand that does not use cups to serve their juices. They use the peels of fruits and vegetables that are carved out to hold juices which can then be recycled with zero pollution as compared to a plastic cup. Mr. Raja, owner of Eat Raja, says, “The biggest problem with most of us is that we do not know how to dispose of e-waste. Eat Raja has now become a point where a lot of people not only come to dispose of their e-waste but also get educated.”

E-waste on the global scale

In 2019, 53.6 million tonnes of waste was generated globally. Only 17.4% of this waste was recycled sustainably while 80% of it remained unaccounted for. India stands as one of the frontrunners in this section. It accounts for being the third largest e-waste generator in the world. Within India, Bangalore holds the responsibility for being the third largest city to generate e-waste.

Data Source: Statista.com

The need for e-waste management is increasing day by day. Especially now, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to move online to conduct everyday businesses, the need for devices has increased. However, one of the most responsible sectors for the generation of e-waste are the corporations or industries. Their output remains significantly higher than that of citizens. There’s only so much an average family of four can generate in a year compared to an organization of over a thousand employees.

Aftermath and measures that can be implemented

The environment gets severely affected because of e-waste that either lies around or gets burned at the end of the day. We are already seeing a major change in the climate due to an increase in heat. The air in India is slowly becoming poisonous and will soon become fatal if not taken care of sooner.

For the issue to be taken care of on an individual scale, one needs to jog their memories back to school when we were taught about the four R’s. Reduce, reuse, repair and recycle.

Every year, new tech will show up with features that overshadow the gadgets of the past; however, none of these bring anything new to the way you use your gadgets to work. Reduce the temptation to give in to this cycle of upgrading regularly. In case of accidents where a device may get damaged, invest in the idea of reparation. Or simply pass it on to those who need it, if it is in working conditions. It may just live a longer shelf life than you assumed it would. Reuse the repaired devices instead of tossing them out or giving it to your kabadiwala. All that does is deplete the quality of not only your device, but also your environment. If none of the steps work out or apply to your device then one must focus on recycling, given that it is through an authorized or formal sector.

Lastly, understand the crucial processes of recycling. Upgrade your environmental and social conscience through some valuable research time on how your e-waste can be less of a burden on the planet.


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