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Dealing with e-waste

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

The recent report on the state of management in India makes some appalling, though perhaps predictable, revelations. As many as 94 per cent of all organisations surveyed for the study, including corporate houses, do not have any policy on the disposal, leave alone safe discarding, of obsolete electrical and electronic appliances that contain metals and other elements highly hazardous to human health and to the environment. Where individual users of these information technology (IT) tools are concerned, the situation is equally bad, as might be expected. In fact, about 30 per cent of such users do not even know of the e-waste menace. This, in a country that is reckoned to have generated nearly 330,000 tonnes of e-waste in 2007 alone, besides unlawfully importing 50,000 tonnes of such hazardous material. The problem can only grow, as annual waste generation is set to swell to 470,000 tonnes by 2011, as pointed out in the pioneering study released jointly by the and the
It could be argued that e-waste is something that was unheard of in India till as late as the 1980s and, therefore, public awareness about its real dimensions cannot be expected to be high. Such a plea may be made on behalf of individuals but certainly not corporate houses or, for that matter, the manufacturers, dealers and others involved in the IT hardware business. Globally, this issue has been in focus for quite some time though much of the concrete action, especially the legal framework for ensuring safe disposal of e-wastes, has come about in some countries only in recent years. Some countries, notably those in the European Union, have already made it mandatory for manufacturers to recover and recycle their used electrical and electronic equipment. The United States too has enacted a law, establishing a funding system for the collection and recycling of specific categories of e-waste. Even China, which does not have a great record on pollution control, has provided for compulsory retrieval of used electronic products.
In India, by way of contrast, there is as yet no specific legislation to deal with e-waste. The subject is governed by the rules framed under the Environment Protection Act for handling hazardous wastes of different kinds, and of course these rules are not being enforced effectively. As a result, much of the e-waste that is generated continues to be handled and treated along with other waste materials. This is completely inappropriate because the usual waste disposal procedures "" like incineration, open burning and land-filling "" only end up releasing toxic contaminants from metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, barium, beryllium, and the plastics used in electronic equipment. These toxins, be they in the atmosphere or in groundwater due to leaching, can affect the human nervous and respiratory systems, kidney, liver and skin, besides being potentially carcinogenic. It is, therefore, imperative that a statutory mechanism is put in place, and the law properly enforced by (among other things) assigning specific roles to every stakeholder in the IT sector for retrieval and then safe recycling or disposal of e-waste. It is also equally important to plug the import of such e-waste by adhering to the global Basel Convention on the trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes.


First Published: Fri, January 04 2008. 00:00 IST