Where is Mumbai's e-waste going?

Where is Mumbai’s e-waste going? Why is the city’s electronic garbage – ranging from discarded phones, electronic home appliances, to computer parts – not making its way to the seven existing recycling plants in the city, and instead polluting our already sullied environment? On the occasion of World Environment Day, MiD DAY’s investigations revealed that while only 20 per cent of the city’s seven recycling plants are being used, and 14 more plants are being planned, the actual e-waste lies dumped across the city, owing to apathy and lack of proper awareness about the hazards they expose the citizens to.

Science rules: According to the central government’s e-waste rules, which came into effect from May 1, consumers will now have to route their e-waste to recycling units for scientific dismantling and recycling. File pic

At present, Mumbai generates around three-lakh tonnes of e-waste every year. Yeshwant Sontakke, regional officer of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), said, “We have seven plants in place, which have a capacity of approximately 10,000 tonnes. But the waste that we receive only accounts for 20 per cent of the capacity of these plants. We have 14 more recycling units in the pipeline. With the new law in place, we are expecting matters to improve in the next few months.”

According to the central government’s e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, which came into effect from May 1, consumers will now have to route their e-waste to recycling units for scientific dismantling and recycling. This is to be executed through collection centres established by the product manufacturers.

“We have already instructed product manufacturers to set up collection centres where people can deposit electronic gadgets, the lifecycle of which have ended. MPCB has also directed these manufacturers to recycle unbranded electronic gadgets that may be brought in by consumers. This will be accomplished in phases. We will be conducting regular reviews of the same,” said Sontakke.

BK Soni, chairman of the Eco Recycling Ltd (Ecoreco), said, “A strict implementation of the law is necessary to prevent this toxic waste from causing pollution. At present, e-waste recycling in Maharashtra is almost negligible. We are hardly getting any e-waste. Though the units are mushrooming in Mumbai, the e-waste is not reaching the units. The few units in the state are just doing the work of dismantling the products.” Satish Sinha, associate director of the organisation Toxic Links, attributed the situation to poor awareness among the masses.

“Though the law was framed in 2011, it was implemented only in 2012. Unfortunately, not much work was done to educate the public. The first thing that needs to be done is clear a channel between the manufactures and the consumers, so that the consumers can easily reach there nearest store to drop their e-waste. A helpline needs to be opened for the same. About 80 per cent of our e-waste is passing through informal channels,” said Sinha.

E-waste scare ‘Recycling –from e-waste to resources’, a report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme, predicts that by 2020, India’s e-waste from old computers will jump 500 per cent from what it was in 2007. In the same period, e-waste from mobile phones is forecasted to rise 18 times in India. Old pen drives, outdated TVs, refrigerators, music systems – name any electronic device, and you’ll find that the hazardous substances they contain find their way back into your system. According to Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, India may also face rising environmental damage and health problems if e-waste recycling is left to the vagaries of the unorganised sector. Worse still, most of these workers are children and women, who are exposed to deadly toxins.

Did you know?
Mumbai generates around 3 lakh tonnes of e-waste every year

How e-waste affects your health
>> Lead: Widely used in lead-acid batteries, cable sheathing, printed circuit boards, it can cause loss of appetite, diarrhoea, even comatose conditions after short-term exposure. Long-term exposure can affect kidneys, damage nerves and cause blood and brain disorders.
>> Mercury: Used in the production of electrical equipment and found concentrated in batteries, switches, thermostats and fluorescent lamps, it can cause brain and liver damage.
>> Arsenic: Used in circuit boards, LCDs and computer chips, it can cause skin diseases, digestive problems and decrease nerve conduction velocity. 

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