In a grim reminder of the increasing environmental and health hazards in India's urban centres, a new study by Toxics Link, an environmental group, has revealed that Mumbai is not just the leading generator of electronic waste in the country, but also that the rate at which the commercial capital is throwing away electronic goods is far higher than believed so far.
The pioneering study shows that besides a total generation of electronic waste to the tune of 19,000 tonnes annually - inclusive of computers, televisions, refrigerator and washing machines - the city receives a good amount of it through clandestine imports from the developed world. The report, thus hints that even this shocking figure is at best modest.
The study indicates that the National Capital and its adjoining areas are receiving a substantial part of Mumbai's electronic discards, both internal as well as imported, particularly computer printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are too dangerous to be handled in congested areas of Mumbai. Delhi has been tipped as the largest e-waste recycler in the country. In an earlier study by Toxics Link, it was revealed that the slack enforcement of laws banning hazardous waste processing in residential areas of Delhi was cited as the added 'attraction' for recyclers. Further, Delhi and some of its satellite urban areas seem to have acquired specialisation in dealing with this environmentally hazards activity.
Releasing the report, titled Mumbai: Choking on E-Waste, Ravi Agwarwal, Director, Toxics link, said, "This study is a part of our ongoing efforts to create a body of research that, we hope, will help to fill the void of information on the issue and, eventually, facilitate a strong legislative action in the country."
He added, "Since the release of 'Scrapping the High-tech Myth: Computer Waste in India', in 2003, we have seen the menace of e-waste grow consistently. On the good side, with it have grown the calls for action, both internationally and nationally. Carrying out these assessments guides our campaign for installing proper and adequate e-waste management systems in India."
Also, we hope to prevent the import of e waste, which is growing in India. The waste comes in both misclassified as 'metal scrap' as well as end of life products as 'second hand goods'. Currently, customs are not able to screen or monitor the import of hazardous waste, and this needs to be stopped.
India generates about 150,000 tons of WEEE annually and almost all of it finds its way into the informal sector, as there is no organised alternative available at present. The trend is likely to increase manifold in proportion to the growth in the consumption of electronic products," the report asserts.
# Mumbai generates roughly 19,000 tonnes of WEEE annually, which is substantially higher than the existing approximation. This figure includes not just computers, but also televisions, refrigerators and washing machines. The actual WEEE quantity is expected to be much higher, as several other electronic products, which have not been used in the study, are being dumped into the city's waste stream, and also because there are no figures available on imports from developed nations.
# A substantial part of Mumbai's WEEE, both imported and locally generated, is sent to recycling markets located in other parts of the country. The National Capital Region of Delhi is a preferred recycling destination for printed circuit boards (PCBs) originating from the city.
# Being the hub of India's commercial and financial activities, the banks and financial institutions in Mumbai generate huge amounts of WEEE, but they do not have any method for its safe handling contributing to disastrous health and environmental impacts of WEEE. The issue of security of data on discarded computers is adequately addressed when such waste is auctioned to waste dealers as scrap.
# Mumbai has a large network of scrap traders. The hotspots that handle WEEE in and around Mumbai are - Kurla, Saki Naka, Kamthipura-Grant Road, Jogeshwari and Malad. Recycling in these shops and rooftops not only exposes those involved in the activity to serious health hazards, but also pollutes the surrounding environment. The rate of WEEE generation and the current methods of disposal in Mumbai pose grave environmental and health risks to the city at large due to its dense population and spatial character.
# The current handling practices suffer from use of crude methods for dismantling and storage, minimal capital input and zero health and environmental safeguards.
# Lack of a legislative framework to address the issue of WEEE management by taking on-board all stakeholders is hampering solution implementation.
# Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) approach, which broadly implies that producers be made responsible for their product even after the consumer has bought and used it, is emerging as popular alternative for e-waste management in various countries of the world. India needs to take steps in this direction.