E-waste is becoming a serious environmental concern in India. Toxics Link, an environmental research and advocacy organization recently published a report titled “Looking Through Glass-CRT Glass Recycling in India”. The report has found that ‘Massive CRT imports coupled with lack of proper recycling policies and inadequate implementation processes have made India its dumping ground.’
Found in old televisions and computer monitors, CRT or Cathode Ray Tube contain toxins that end up causing environmental pollution and health hazards. CRT–based televisions and computer monitors were considered to be one of the most mature technologies earlier – but now it has reached a dead end. In spite of all the benefits of quality and durability, CRT technology has stayed relatively bulky and heavy as compared to new display technologies like Liquid Crystal Display and Light Emitting Diode screens. As LCDs and LEDs rapidly replace CRT monitors, more of them are discarded as e-waste. Also, since more consumers opt for LCDs and LEDs, the potential of reusing CRT glass to produce new CRTs is low. And this has led to increased environmental pollution from CRT e-waste.
Why CRTs are being imported in India?
The decline of the CRT market, availability of cheap labor, and lax environmental controls are three primary reasons for increasing CRTs import in India. With growing market of LEDs and LCDs, CRTs are being discarded as electronic waste all around the world. Indian environmental laws are not aptly stringent which allows easy import of e-waste and stimulates informal recycling.
The report mentioned that according to figures from the Ministry of Commerce, 64 lakh CRTs were imported to India during 2010-2011 – the figure dropped to 47 lakh CRTs during 2012-2013. These CRTs are shipped to India primarily from Asian countries like China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Apart from India, nations that continue to import CRTs also include some European countries as well as the USA. One fact that stands out here is these countries don’t have any domestic CRT production or market. Coupled with the huge amounts of CRTs being discarded by consumers who are opting for newer technology, it translates into huge amounts of CRTs piling up for disposal.
The report also highlighted an unusual trend – prices of CRTs imported from Indonesia and China were much cheaper than CRTs imported from various other countries. And this raises doubts on the legality of imported picture tubes from these countries.
The study also mentions Basel Network’s statement from 2004 that says due to environmental and health risks involved in the process of CRT disposal, non-working picture tubes are being dumped in developing nations. The report highlighted that a large portion of CRT shipments exported from developed countries still ends up in India. This is against international laws and existing Indian regulations. Recently the UN had warned that future US exports of e-waste including CRTs will end up in India. This claim was backed by the fact that glass-to-glass furnaces existed only in India, China and Malaysia. However, the glass-to-glass furnaces in China and Malaysia were scheduled to close by 2013. As a result, the burden of leaded glass from CRTs falls on India, leading to CRT dumping in the country.
Here are a few more important facts and figures related to picture tubes:
• Out of the total e-waste generated 80% by weight constitutes CRTs
• 47 lakh CRTs were imported during 2012-13
• Average lead quantity in a Picture Tube lies between 1.5 and 4 Kgs
• CRTs are primarily handled by the informal recycling sector
• CRT recycling hubs in India’s capital New Delhi are Yamuna Vihar, Seelampur and Mustafabad
What makes Cathode Ray Tube hazardous?
A regular CRT display contains 7% metals, 19% funnel glass (leaded), 30% non-CRT components like wood, plastic, circuit board & wiring and 44% panel glass (non-leaded). It also contains phosphorus and mercury along with barium oxide, strontium oxide, and lead oxide. All these chemicals are harmful for the environment and any person being exposed to them directly. Due to the presence of good quality copper and other metals, CRT stays in high demand by local scrap dealers. However, the major concern with CRTs is the lead content, which is highly toxic in nature. The lead is enclosed in glass and can be released only when the glass is broken. Let’s take a look at the various threats posed by dumping and improper disposal of CRTs:
Environmental hazards – Research studies suggest that improper procedures adopted for CRT disposal, such as landﬁlling, incineration, or scrapping activities like crushing and weathering of CRT glass could result in the release of contaminants into the soil, water and air. In landfills, CRT glass can break due to compression or compaction, thereby releasing toxins and polluting the eco-system. When hazardous substances present in CRTs leach into the soil and groundwater, it makes them highly acidic. If rainwater comes in contact with these broken and dumped CRTs, lead and strontium may leach out into groundwater.
Health Hazards – Informal recycling, glass crushing or high temperature processes like melting in furnaces may release lead from CRT as lead oxide dust or lead fumes. Lead has a relatively long residence time in comparison to most pollutants, which makes it more hazardous in the long term. Lead along with other chemicals in CRTs have menacing health effects on the labourers involved in recycling or anyone coming in continuous contact with these pollutants. Here is the list of some serious health impacts of exposure to lead -
• Delayed mental and physical development,
• Learning difficulties, hearing problems
• Kidney damage, and
• Reduced IQ.
These effects are severe among children between the ages of 0-6 years.
What can be done to prevent the hazards?
The trans-boundary movement of e-waste including CRT is controlled by Basel Convention. Under this convention exporting CRT is illegal. According to the Director of Toxics Link, Ravi Agarwal, the Indian e-waste policy categorizes glass cullet from CRTs as hazardous. The director also added that while the existing policies do stress on approval regarding the importing and recycling of such products, the implementation of these policies was quite lopsided.
Speaking about a solution to this issue, he further added that the country needed well-defined, detailed and specific guidelines with regard to e-waste import, recycling and disposal. Implementation of these guidelines and policies is equally important, which require capacity development by all stakeholders involved.
The government has set up the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, which has well-defined Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies. The EPR holds producers/manufacturers of electronic equipment responsible for managing the waste from their products. However, a large fraction of CRT waste may still fall under the category of orphaned e-waste. The government needs to come up with a policy to address this category too.
Apart from that as consumers, we can also play a vital role in restricting the menace of rising mountains of e-waste. We should make use of our electronic equipment until it reaches its end-of-life stage. After end-of-life, it must be handed over to a certified, ethical and eco-friendly recycler for environmentally safe and responsible disposal. This will help us to limit the increasing amount of e-waste and also reduce the hazardous after-effects of improper disposal.