Increased usage of gadgets, telecom, information and technology and appliances is collectively creating nearly 13 lakh tonnes of eWaste annually in India according to an August 2014 report by the industrial body ASSOCHAM. The report also highlighted that Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and the IT capital of India, Bengaluru collectively produce over 2 lakh tonnes of eWaste per year. Another January 2015 report from Markets and Research has forecast that the Indian eWaste market will grow at 26.22% CAGR during 2014-2019. However, with so much electronic waste being generated in the country, a major portion is handled by the informal or unorganized sector using improper processes, which leads to environmental pollution and health hazards.
Unorganized eWaste Processing in India – An Environmental Hazard
Majority of the e-waste comprises computers, while telecom, electrical gadgets and health equipment account for the remainder. Apart from various toxic substances like lead, mercury and arsenic, electronic waste also contains valuable substances like gold, silver and rare earth elements. When it comes to managing e-waste, India is relying heavily on the unorganized sector which accounts for over 90 per cent of the entire e-waste recycling industry. Unorganized setups generally employ low paid workers, including over 4.5 lakh children (ASSOCHAM report), who are not trained properly to process e-waste. Working conditions in these informal e-scrap processing setups are gravely hazardous. Dismantling or recycling of e-waste in the informal sector using crude and primitive methods with bare hands and no facemasks, like acid stripping and open air incineration releases numerous lethal components like polyvinyl chloride, chlorofluorocarbons, arsenic, nickel and barium, among others, into the environment causing medical conditions like cancer, asthma, bone diseases and brain diseases.
Majority of the global waste is produced by the developed nations. Recycling of eWaste in western countries is exponentially high as compared to developing nations like India which have abundant space to absorb any kind of waste. It is ten times cheaper to ship electronic waste to Asia than recycling for USA. United States of America (42%) tops the list of nations from which India imports eWaste followed by China (30%) and European Union (18%) as reported in the ASSOCHAM paper. Import of e-waste for recycling is prohibited in India – however, according to a MAIT-GTZ survey 50,000 tonnes of electronic scrap is imported annually through misdeclarations by companies making India one of the biggest yards of e-waste.
A Step towards Responsible eWaste Recycling – Organized eWaste Processing
Deposits of precious metals in eWaste are 40-50 times richer than ores extracted from traditional mines according to a November 2013 report by Gemina Harvey published in The Diplomat. It is also cheaper and less carbon intensive to extract precious metals from e-scrap. Abundance of electronic waste in India and diktat by government stating that the onus of safe disposal of gadgets will be on producers and bulk consumers has attracted a lot of investment into startups doing e-waste recycling. Organized sector has grown from 3 per cent to 10 per cent approximately in last six years.
The organized e-waste recycling industry is at its inflection point in India and is expected to grow at a brisk pace. However, there are many e-waste recycling firms in India which shred e-waste within the country and export the pulverized scrap for extraction of precious metals abroad. End to end and responsible recycling of eWaste in the organized sector is the need of the hour. Growth of organized e-waste recycling industry will actually allow India to manage e-waste effectively and efficiently and will also help to conserve natural resources. It will also help India save a lot of foreign exchange by cutting down gold and silver imports. In next 10 years developing nations will produce more eWaste than the developed ones.
Attero is India’s largest eWaste management and the only company powered by NASA recognized Disruptive Technology trying to make to make environment cleaner with eco-friendly end to end electronic recycling methods.
The idea of recycling of e-waste needs to be popularized more to create awareness among the general public and small businesses so that they dispose of their electronic waste responsibly to prevent uncontrolled and dangerous scrapping of e-waste for a cleaner India.