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Issue 33
, 2011
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Streamlined e-waste policy is need of the hour

Vasudha Venugopal
Source: The Hindu, Chennai, June 19, 2011, Date: , 2011

For the past three years, the month of June has been the only time when Jai Krishna and his 13 friends, all employees of TCS, travel by public transport to office as part of their extended support to Environment Day celebrations. And this is not all –“no tissue paper, no paper napkins, and movies on environment. Sapling plantation drives have also been planned,” he says.

Their firm is not alone. With steps like using recycled paper and scanners, printing double-sided documents, ‘follow-me printing,' (where a user has to confirm the print job at the device), recycling old cartridges, monitoring air conditioning and lighting, various companies are on an overdrive to display their green affiliation. “We have special green food - salads and sandwiches in the canteen to keep up the spirit,” says Raveena Shastri, an IT-HR personnel.

But many of these steps, bordering on lines of cost-cutting, do not significantly address core concerns, say activists.

One such concern pertains to inadequate management of e-waste. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Chennai ranks fourth among the top 10 e-waste generators in the country. “Nearly five tonnes of e-waste is generated every day in the Chennai Metropolitan Area alone,” says Dharmesh Shah, India coordinator of global NGO Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

The major e-waste recycling and recovery hubs in the city are New Moore Market, Puzhal, MEPZ-SEZ (Tambaram Sanatorium), Urapakkam, Puzhal and Ritchie Street, but in the absence of any collection system, most of the trash is handled by the informal sector, he adds. Crude methods of retrieval like open burning of PVC wires for retrieving copper, dismantling of monitors and hard disks with bare hands and recovery of gold through acid treatment are some of the most harmful and prevalent techniques used.

“What is needed now is awareness of these dangerous ways of recycling, and also information about how various companies handle their e-waste,” says N. S. Venkata Murugan, convener, Environment & Energy Panel, CII, Chennai Zone, that conducts regular seminars on awareness seminars on e waste. At present, 95 per cent of the e waste generated goes to the unorganised sector, which gives a huge business opportunity for players in the organised sector for recycled products, he adds.

A study by Toxic Link recently revealed that Tamil Nadu emits around 28,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, a figure that is likely to increase to 35,000 tonnes in the next two years. “A streamlined e-waste policy is missing in the State. It is better in Chennai compared to Coimbatore, Tiruchi and Madurai, but what we need is an integrated e-waste disposal mechanism and collection points,” says Priti Mahesh, Project Manager, Toxic Link.

There is also a huge amount of imported e waste here, primarily from the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, says Mr. Shah. “Sixty per cent of the e-waste in Chennai comprises desktop computers. The life span of most desktop computers in companies here is four years, which is less than the average. We have a lot of e-waste from the manufacturing units too,” says Ms Mahesh.

The e-Waste (Management and Handling) Rule, 2011 on Extended Producer Responsibility principle was notified by the Ministry of Environment & Forest early this month, which when implemented, would bring in some respite, say activists. “It will set accountability on the manufacturer and bulk receiver, and regulate recycling procedures,” says Abhishek Pratap, senior campaigner, Green Peace.

IT companies plan to handle the issue by implementing Big Bridge , a project announced by NASSCOM recently, that aims to collect and transport old computers to designated warehouses. Cognizant, HSBC, Nucleus Software, Bank of America, Microsoft, Societe Generale, Corelogic, Fidelity and recently Thomson Reuters have joined hands with it.

However, activists say that sustained efforts are necessary. “Employees and employers should realise that doing their bit on certain days is not a way to free themselves of guilt environmentalism,” says Mr. Shah.