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Issue 7
November , 2007
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Kolkata emerging as a major hazardous electronic waste recycling hub

Source: Toxics Link, Date: November , 2007

Delhi-based Toxics Link has released a pioneering study on the e-waste scenario in Kolkata, revealing that not only is the city fast joining other metros in e-waste generation, but is also emerging as a major centre for hazardous e-waste recycling in its residential areas that is being imported from other parts of India and overseas.

The study titled: ‘E-waste: Flooding the city of joy’, places the figure of e-waste generation in Kolkata at 9,000 tonnes annually. This only includes the waste generated from computers, television sets and refrigerators, implying that the figure is much higher if washing machines, cellphones, music players, compact disc/DVD players etc are also added.

“From environmental and health hazard perspective the study makes a shocking disclosure about the extent of un-organised recycling of electronic waste. It places the number of such bare-hand units, mostly located in the city congested underbelly, at 400 to 500,” said Professor Sadhan K. Ghosh, Mechanical Engineering, Jadavpur University, which partnered this study.

“This clearly indicates that a large social group of unskilled workers and the residents of low-income group are being exposed to deadly heavy metals and dioxins released from burning of this waste,” asserted Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link.

“The quantity of E-waste being traded and recycled in the city might be much more than the domestic generation of 9,000 tonnes as the city traders also brings in waste from other states like Maharashtra, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh etc through tenders and auctions. Unofficial sources also claim that E-waste is being imported and lands up in the Khidderpur dock,” Mr Sinha added.

Besides establishing estimates of e-waste generation, the study, conducted jointly by Toxics Link and the Centre for Quality Management System, Jadavpur University, also reflects at the low level of awareness of the health impact that unorganised recycling has on health and environment.

“The scrap dealers themselves lack information about the environmental and health impacts of hazardous e-waste recycling. They employ women and children for manual and rudimentary process of recovery of material. The segregate the parts of the discarded electronic instruments with bare hands and use harmful methods like acid bath stripping and open burning,” said Priti Mahesh, Senior Programme Officer, Toxics Link.

 

“We have been espousing a multi-stakeholder model for management of e-waste that not only integrates each step of e-waste generation, but will also allow its sustainable management with involvement of public and private institutions. This study completes the national mapping of e-waste, earlier studies were done on Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi, for a more informant policy intervention,” added Mr. Sinha.

Key Findings:

• Kolkata generates roughly 9,000 tonnes of WEEE annually. This figure includes computers and its peripherals, television and refrigerators. This is a conservative estimate as several other electronic and electronic equipments like mobile phones; washing machine, DVD players, MP3 players and air conditioners etc have not been included in this estimation. Around 3000 tonnes of waste is generated only from computer and its peripherals.

• Kolkata is the hub of commercial activities in the eastern part of the country and hence almost all major companies; banks have their presence in the city. This is one of the main reasons for the substantial E-waste generation.

• There is very little awareness among the consumers in the city regarding the hazards of improper disposal of electronic waste.

• Kolkata has a thriving informal E-waste recycling trade. The existing large network of mixed metal scrap dealers are now finding E- waste as another major source of scrap.

• The quantity of E-waste being traded and recycled in the city might be much more than the domestic generation of 9,000 tonnes as the city traders also brings in waste from other states like Maharashtra, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh etc through tenders and auctions. Unofficial sources also claim that E-waste is being imported and lands up in the Khidderpur dock.

• The major hotspots for E-waste trade and recycling in and around Kolkata are Chandni Chowk, Princep Street, Maniktala, Phoolbagan, Kadapara, Rajabazar and Howrah.

• Components like Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are sent to Delhi for recycling, mainly for copper extraction.

• The methods used for dismantling and recycling E-waste are very crude and have no norms for occupational or environmental safety. Eg: Open burning of wires.

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