Mumbai: E-waste not, want not

  • Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Dec 26, 2014 19:59 IST

Scenario 1: The batteries in your remote control are dead. Mobile phone chargers and CDs lie unused around the house and the compact florescent lamp (CFL) is not working. Not sure what to do, you throw the toxic items into the dustbin.

Scenario 2: Workers at one of the many scrap shops at Saki Naka or Dharavi dismantle computers, rip apart keyboards – all of these bought from your local scrap dealer. What follows is acid baths to clean components made of toxic metals or blowlamps to remove chips from circuit boards.

These two techniques of handling end-of-life electronic and electrical waste – called e-waste – are different. However, what is common between these methods of disposal and recycling in Mumbai — that is generating nine times more e-waste than it did only five years ago — is their ability to pollute air, land and water.

In April, a study ‘Electronic Waste Management in India’ by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and Frost & Sullivan revealed Mumbai generates 96,000 tonnes of the total 12.5 lakh tonnes of e-waste generated in the country every year. That works out to 263 tonnes of e-waste that Mumbaiites generate every day, but not even a fraction goes to one of the three recyclers certified by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).

Only 5% ends up at recycling centres.In the absence of collection centres, citizens sell their household e-waste to the local scrap dealer. When it reaches the landfill along with other domestic waste, it can penetrate the soil contaminating lakes and rivers.

Likewise, illegal scrap dealers burning computer wires to recover copper or chemically stripping gold-plated components embedded in circuit boards pollutes surface and groundwater as well the air. E-waste that is of no use is then dumped along with common waste polluting soil and water. “Household e-waste is hazardous. Since it goes to the landfill, it contaminates the compost since the organic waste contains metals from the e-waste,” said Prasad Modak, director, Environmental Management Centre.

With the mounting e-junk menace, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rule, formulated by the Union environment ministry, was implemented on May 1, 2012, throughout the country. The rule brings producers, consumers, dismantlers and recyclers of e-waste under its ambit. Under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) the producer is responsible for the entire life cycle of a product.

Experts, however, said the developed world must stop dumping their e-waste in India, and that while companies adhere to the EPR clause overseas, in India they don’t. “The law is a toothless tiger,” said BK Soni, chairman, Eco Recycling Limited, an MPCB certified recycler who has his facility at Vasai.

“There’s no change in the attitude of individuals, corporate houses or government offices, who prefer to sell their e-waste to the local scrap dealer for a good price,” Soni said, adding that while the number of corporates sending their e-waste for recycling has increased from 50 in 2005 to 300 in 2014, the quantum has remained stagnant at 4000 tonnes a year.

“Household e-waste must be segregated at source and the civic body must deposit it in recycling centres,” said PK Mirashe, joint director, MPCB.

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