Last year, on the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with the aim to clean the entire country of its filth by 2019 citing it as a fitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary.
As of now the mission has not only managed to sensitize millions of people about the importance of cleanliness and sanitation but also encouraged them to actively participate in the process.
While people today are aware about the importance of cleanliness and the proper disposal of garbage as a result of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, electronic waste or eWaste is still an alien word for the majority of people. A recent survey done by students of Saint Xavier’s College, Mumbai highlighted this grim fact – over 60 per cent of the people surveyed had no clue about what eWaste or electronic waste is, and had no idea about its environmental and health hazards.
Melancholic State Of eWaste In India
With 2.7 million tons of electronic waste generated annually in the country, with metro cities being the major contributor, India now stands as the fifth largest electronic waste generator in the world. eWaste is poisoning our soil, water and air due to its improper dumping and processing and has become a lethal threat to health and the environment because of the toxins present in it.
A recent report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that Moradabad gets over 50 per cent of India’s total discarded printed circuit board eWaste; and over 50,000 people are involved in the business of informal/illegal recycling. CSE also found out that, as a result of informal eWaste recycling, the soil in the area has been contaminated with Zinc and Copper by up to 5 to 15 times more than the prescribed safety limits. Even the water from the nearby Ram Ganga river was found contaminated with Chromium and Cadmium by up to 1.3 to 2 times higher than normal limits along with traces of cancer causing elements like mercury and arsenic.
The sad fact is that 76 per cent workers in these informal recycling operations in India suffer from respiratory ailments like asthma, bronchitis, choking, coughing, irritation, breathing difficulties and tremors among others. This is primarily due to primitive and polluting methods of processing eWaste, lack of safety measures, awareness and negligence.
With the Prime Minister spearheading Swachh Bharat and Digital India himself, it is important to explore solutions for the problem of electronic waste. It is even more important because of the ever growing consumption of electronics, which is going to be catalyzed by the push from Digital India, creating a gargantuan amount of eWaste in the near future.
Although the government has devised certain guidelines for the safe and proper disposal of electronic waste for municipalities and corporates, the situation on the ground is no less than ironic. According to a recent ASSOCHAM report, only 1.5 per cent of total eWaste is recycled by formal recycling sector in an environmentally friendly way and the rest is either dumped in landfills or is processed in hazardous ways by the informal recycling sector.
Boosting eWaste Awareness: A large scale awareness campaign is required to sensitize consumers about what electronic waste is and how it can impact health and environment.
Take Back Program: The government should ensure that every electronic manufacturer in the country has an eWaste take back program for proper and safe disposal of discarded gadgets.
Bring Informal And Formal Recyclers Together: The majority of the eWaste in India is handled by informal recyclers. Formal sector should see it as an opportunity to harness their vast and complex collection channels for more effective eWaste collection and redirect it towards proper disposal units.
Refurbish And Reuse: Discarding old or defective gadget is simply not the solution. We should inculcate the habit of repairing and reusing old electronic products. If not, we should at least give them to re-commerce websites where the gadgets are refurbished and sold at discounted prices, making the same gadgets affordable for others.
Electronic waste is one of the most toxic and fastest growing waste streams in the world. A robust and effective eWaste management system is required for a real toxins-free Swachh Bharat. With the presence of toxins like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lithium among others in it, the risk we are taking by not disposing it properly is simply not worth it. After all, we must answer to our children for the planet we leave behind for them.