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Issue 32
, 2011
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Ignorance is a deterrent to safe e-waste disposal

S Shyamala
Source: Financial Chronicle my, New Delhi, May 3, 2011, Date: , 2011

Picture this: The market for desktops and laptops in India grew by about 16.2 per cent to nearly 27 lakh units in the fourth quarter of 2010. According to Gartner, this growth rate was more than five times the worldwide PC market’s growth average in the quarter.

This is only bound to grow. Added to this is the expected 25 per cent increase in the mobile phone market in 2011 to over 21-crore units. Similar growth numbers expected in the consumer durable segment including TVs, washing machines, air conditioners and refrigerators.

With the burgeoning demand for electrical and electronic goods, manufacturers increase their portfolio of products and refurbish their lines at regular intervals. We also replace our products within three to four years of buying. This vicious cycle leads to only one question: “What happens to all the old products we replaced?”

“They mostly end up in landfills as only three per cent of the junk we discard goes to authorised recyclers,” says Lloyd Sanford, advisor and head – supply chain, Attero Recycling.

The startup is the only end-to-end fully integrated electronic waste recycler in India certified by the Central Pollution Control Board under the ministry of environment and forests.

“An even more appalling fact is that e-waste is generally broken and metals are recovered through crude processes. The rest is simply dumped.”

However, over 97 per cent of all the old goods we discard can either be refurbished or recycled. Only about three per cent is pure junk.

“About 40 elements are used in making an electronic equipment. One tonne of cell phones contain close to 100kg metals including copper and gold. Retrieving these elements from electronic goods costs lesser than mining them, especially when reserves are scarce. For example, researches show that naturally available copper will last only for the next 60 years,” he adds.

Beyond the economic aspects of the problem, electronic waste obviously causes a lot of health hazards including liver and respiratory ailments.

Some elements released while breaking up the components are known carcinogens (causing cancer).

“However, the issue is that there is no simple, effective and efficient solution for safe disposal of e-waste in India. Ignorance of the hazards involved is the main deterrent. Beyond that, unlike other countries where consumers pay to dispose used electronic and other waste items, Indians demand money for the same. They look for value in junk,” says Sanford.

The company set up in 2008 now has a pan-India presence and is trying to solve the problem. Getting rid of e-waste is just one call away, he adds. Attero collects electronic waste, does assessments as to what goods can be refurbished and what should be recycled.

The products are then processed at Attero’s facility at Roorkee. They do it for a fee and are also willing to pay depending on the situations. The company’s clientele includes TCS, Wipro, Google, Epson, Philips, Xerox and Tata Teleservices.