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Issue 18
, 2009
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Tackling e-waste-------This growing problem demands urgent

Source: Business Standard ,New Delhi, Date: , 2009

The New Delhi Municipal Committee’s reported plan to tie up with a private company to get electronic waste (e-waste) recycled and disposed of safely seems a well-conceived move aimed at tackling the health and environmental hazards posed by discarded modern gadgets. Almost unheard of till a couple of decades back, e-waste now constitutes a sizeable chunk of urban waste. In the absence of appropriate arrangements for its safe disposal, much of this hazardous junk either lands in the usual garbage landfills or is recycled in a crude and highly unsafe manner by the unorganised sector. The electronic and electrical equipment commonly used in homes, offices and factories, including computers, mobile phones, TVs, refrigerators and air-conditioners, contain highly toxic substances like lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic and others which can cause nervous and respiratory ailments, muscular weakness and dreaded diseases like cancer. Worse still, some of these substances are capable of damaging the DNA and causing genetic disorders. When dumped in landfills along with other garbage, these can spew environment-damaging fumes and leach down to pollute underground water, rendering it unfit for drinking and other purposes. It is, therefore, imperative that these items, when discarded, are handled separately from other solid waste and disposed of in a safe manner. Only technically competent bodies can do this, and many countries have put in place mandatory systems and stringent norms for the purpose. In India, unfortunately, the guidelines issued by the environment ministry seek voluntary compliance and, hence, are not enforceable. The system of making it obligatory for manufacturers to take back life-expired items for safe disposal, which is working quite well in quite a few countries, does not seem practical in Indian conditions though some companies have voluntarily opted to do so. A sizable part of the electrical and electronic items, including computers and TVs which constitute the largest chunk of e-waste, are assembled in the unorganised sector where no single entity can be held responsible for taking back the discards. Besides, collecting junked items is a formidable problem for companies and unless such collections are sizeable enough it is uneconomic for them to set up recycling and disposal plants. However, exclusive e-waste handling units, capable of scientific processing of electronic gadgets regardless of their make, can be viable as they can source their supplies from the kabadiwalas (junk dealers).Considering the rapid growth in the use of electronic items, the country’s e-waste generation, estimated by the industry at about 3.8 million tonnes in 2008, seems set to rise several-fold in the years to come. What is worse, some of the e-waste produced abroad also lands up in India under the guise of charity items for re-use. Such imports are believed to constitute about 15 per cent of the country’s total e-waste. While, on the one hand, such a vast quantity of e-waste poses a challenge, on the other it offers an opportunity for entrepreneurs to capitalise by investing in e-waste disposal plants. The government, on its part, needs to come out, without delay, with a clear-cut e-waste management policy and a strictly-enforceable set of rules and guidelines for e-waste disposal.

Source: Business Standard ,New Delhi, Sep 11, 2009