E-Waste Management & The Existing Practices; An Industry Overview

Dr. Abhijit Sarkar, Country Head - Corporate Real Estate, Administration & Infrastructure, SharekhanA doctorate degree holder in Management Studies, Abhijit has worked with leading corporate like ICICI Securities, TNT India, Bombay Dyeing, Piramals, in leadership positions. He is also a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors London,(MRICS)

Electronic waste(e-waste)comprises of waste electronics/electrical goods that are not fit for their originally intended use or have reached their end of life. This may include items such as computers, servers, mainframes, monitors, CDs, printers, scanners, copiers, calculators, fax machines,battery cells, cellular phones, transceivers, TVs, medical apparatus and electronic components besides white goods such as refrigerators and air conditioners. E-waste contains valuable materials such as copper, silver, gold and platinum which could be processed for their recovery.

The electronics industry is the world's largest and fastest growing manufacturing industry. We have seen leading multinational companies have setup electronics manufacturing facilities and R&D centers for hardware and software in India. This has no doubt helped the Indian economy to grow faster and fueled increase in the consumption rate of electronics products. Along with the economic growth and availability of electronics goods in the market has increased temptation of consumers to replace their household electronics items with newer models for various reasons.

The net effectis a higher rate of obsolescence, which is leading to growing
piles of e-waste. Despite legislation in place, there is still a gap in knowledge and awareness of the communities on the issues of e-waste handling and management. It is important to understand the knowledge and awareness levels of the consumers of electronic products who ultimately become the generators of e-waste in a community.

"The harmful materials contained in electronics products, coupled with the fast rate at which we’re replacing outdated units, pose a real danger to human health"

Creating awareness at juncture on e-waste management is very important. The more consumers know about e-waste the better, are the chance to make more informed decisions about e-waste disposal. E-waste is not hazardous though, however, the hazardous constituents present in the e-waste render it hazardous when such wastes are dismantled and processed, since it is only at this stage that they pose hazard to health and environment.

Electronics & electrical equipment seem efficient and environmentally friendly, but there are hidden dangers associated with them once these become e-waste. The harmful materials contained in electronics products, coupled with the fast rate at which we’re replacing outdated units,pose a real danger to human health if electronics products are not properly processed prior to disposal.

Electronics products like computers and cellphones contain a lot of different toxins.For example, cathode ray tubes(CRTs)of computer monitors contain heavy metals such as lead, barium and cadmium, which can be very harmful to health if they enter the water system. These materials can cause damage to the human nervous and respiratory systems. Flame-retardant plastics, used in electronics casings, release particles that can damage human endocrine functions. These are the types of things that can happen when unprocessed e-waste is put directly in landfill.

The existing practices of e-waste management in India suffer from quite a few disadvantages like appropriate inventory,unhealthy conditions of informal recycling, poor awareness and reluctance on part of the corporate to address the critical issues involved. As such, these lead to toxic materials entering the waste stream with no special precautions to avoid the known adverse effects on the environment and human health and recoverable bye products are wasted when economically valuable materials are dumped or unhealthy conditions are developed during the informal recycling.

In India, recycling of e-waste is almost entirely left to the informal sector, which does not have adequate means to handle either the increasing quantities or certain processes, leading to intolerable risk for human health and the environment.