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Sitting on an e-time bomb

comment Updated: Jun 30, 2014 01:34 IST

For those of you who want to buy a new gadget but your green conscience will not permit you to dump the old one, here’s some bad news. Sixteen brands, including some leading mobile phone companies, have not set up any take-back system despite the E-waste Rules, which make it mandatory for producers of electronic goods to take back e-waste directly from consumers and route them to authorised recycling centres.

This revelation has been made in a first-of-its-kind study Time to reboot by Toxics link, which examined the track record of 50 leading companies (31 multinational and 19 national). Worse, State Pollution Control Boards in India have also not set up any mechanism in their respective states to monitor the collection and recycling process.

In the absence of a collection mechanism, e-waste items end up in landfills, where they are often handled by scrap dealers, who further employ underpaid workers to process and incinerate them in an unscientific and hazardous manner. Those who work at junkyards include women and children and do not have even basic safety gear like face masks and gloves. The processes often release toxins into the air, posing environmental and health hazards.

India seems not to have learnt any lessons in this area with e-waste management and handling being unorganised as ever. For a country that generates 2.7 million tonnes of e-waste annually, besides being the recipient of tonnes more that is illegally shipped from recyclers in developed nations, the report’s evidence of non-compliance should serve as a wake-up call.

E-waste is an emerging threat not only for India but for other developing nations. As India’s middle class grows, so will its electronics consumption. Thus, India can no longer afford to ignore that it is sitting on an e-time bomb. To ensure that the electronics industry takes the responsibility of the whole-life-cycle of the products, the government has to ensure that monitoring agencies do their job and steps should be taken to make recycling far more streamlined.