Technology is ever changing. Every day, new products are being launched that are being lapped up by millions around the world. But what happens to the gadgets that get outdated and replaced by a new one? Abandoned electronics and other e-waste are being carelessly dumped, causing landfills. This not only adversely impacts the environment, but it also creates health hazards.
A report published by the United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations University estimates a 500 percent growth in e-waste over the next 10 years in India alone, with mobile phones being a significant component. According to the report, the United States is the biggest producer of e-waste by generating around 3 million metric tons a year, closely followed by China, which produces around 2.3 million metric tons. Apart from the rising local e-waste, countries like China, India and South Africa also have to deal with e-waste that is dumped in from around the world, and this calls for stringent measures in handling e-waste as it not only impacts the environment, but also has several health hazards. It contains toxic substances such as lead, phosphor, mercury, cadmium, gallium arsenide, etc. that are injurious to health. Out of these, lead is particularly hazardous and prolonged exposure can affect the nervous system.
E-waste is being carelessly dumped in the open. Typically, you will find rag pickers rummaging through the piles of e-waste and using strong acids to retrieve precious metals such as gold, etc. They do so without wearing gloves or masks, thus exposing themselves to health hazards. This also holds true for the booming illegal informal e-waste recycling plants that have mushroomed everywhere. The workers work in poor conditions with absolute disregard for their own safety and after the precious metals have been recovered from the scrap, the rest is carelessly dumped.
Rohan Gupta, COO, Attero Recycling, points out the implications of such unchecked activities, “Most scrap dealers resort to crude and highly unsafe methods for recycling of e-waste, resulting in severe environmental and health hazards. Some of the processes involve soaking of circuit boards in acid, followed by manual scrapping to extract metals, with the residue thrown into open drains. Such unchecked activities without proper protection to workers are hazardous not only to labor involved, but also to the environment. Organized recycling of this hazardous waste is the only answer to the problem. Hopefully, with corporate governance and corporate social responsibility gaining momentum, various public and private sector units will start partnering with integrated e-waste solutions providers to manage their e-waste.”
Get in line
Attero Recycling runs India’s first and only end-to-end, integrated e-waste recycling plant that deals with all kinds of e-waste that includes a range of obsolete electronic devices or end-of-life electrical and electronic devices. They collect e-waste, transport it to their processing plant in Roorkee, extend the life of usable components and recycle all other e-waste and sell the pure metals for reuse. Gupta says, “We have the unique capability to extract pure metals from e-waste, which is available with a few companies worldwide, and we are proud to say that the state of art technology has been developed indigenously by us. We remove hazardous substances and then dispose of the hazardous waste in a government-approved TSDF. The pure metals produced, like copper, iron, aluminum, etc. are put back into the market. We also have the strictest environmental practices in place. We undergo regular environmental audits and are ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certified. We have ensured that we undergo audits by international organizations so as to set international benchmarks. This ensures that our recycling uses one of the cleanest processes.”
Gupta laments the lack of awareness amongst the people with regards to e-waste. “People still feel that used electronics are not hazardous and it would fetch them good money. It is important that we start realizing that electronic goods contain lots of hazardous material and they should be recycled in a controlled environment. If not recycled properly, the e-waste would wreak havoc with our environment right from polluting our water with heavy metals like mercury, lead, etc, to releasing carcinogenic air pollutants. E-waste should never be disposed off with solid and other household wastes and should not be given to scrap dealers or unauthorized recyclers. It should be segregated at the site and the e-waste should be given to only Central Pollution Controlled Board-authorized recyclers like Attero. There are also many environmentally responsible companies, who take back their used products for recycling, and such channels should be used by everyone to dispose off their e-junk.”
What can you do?
Though e-waste is a huge problem, it begins with each one of us. So think twice before discarding your old PC or mobile phone. There are many uses for your PC. For starters, if your PC or laptop is in a reasonably good condition, you can always give it to those in need. You can even donate it to local municipal schools or NGOs. Alternatively, you can also use the hard drive form your old PC as a server to back up your data. If peripherals like keyboard, mouse, speakers, printers, scanners, etc. are in fairly good condition, you can sell them on eBay. You can sell your old mobile phone, MP3 player, DVD player, digital camera, TV, etc. online or give them away.
Leading brands like HCL, HP, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Wipro, Dell and IBM have taken up recycling initiatives. You can contact them or drop off your computers/handsets at their authorized collection centers from where they will be transported to be recycled. For instance, you can walk into any Nokia Gallery and drop off your Nokia mobile, charger or even battery in the dedicated collection box, and rest assured that it will be taken care off. To encourage people to opt for recycling, many of these brands also offer discounts on their next purchase.