At 22, Dhwani Bafna, a student, has already accumulated an old DVD player, two mobile phones, a MP3 player and several CDs that she wants to throw away. While she junks the CDs in a dustbin, the electronic gadgets are just lying around.
The average Mumbaiite with several TVs, computers, mobile phones, iPods and tonnes of plastic bags and bottles accumulated over several shopping trips generates far more hazardous waste (See box: Know your hazardous waste) than he did a decade ago.
But safe disposal methods of this waste have not yet been evolved by the government. According to a 2010 survey by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Mumbai generates 11,000 tonnes of hazardous electronic-waste (e-waste) annually, the highest in the country.
“I don’t know where to throw them. Nobody has really told us what to do with the waste we generate. So, we just throw it in the dustbin figuring that it will be taken care of eventually. There is no awareness about its harmful effects,” said Bafna.
Hazardous waste that cannot be recycled is dumped with solid waste and it can contaminate both soil and water (SEE BOX: Know your hazardous waste). While rules are in place, there is no implementation at the ground level.
In a run-up to Earth Hour 2012 on March 31, HT looks at the city’s environment awareness quotient. Earth Hour is a global event organised by the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature. During Earth Hour, people are requested to switch off all electronics to conserve energy.
“The government, the consumer and the manufacturers have not understood how to effectively manage e-waste. Effective management of e-waste has to be driven by the consumer since it will not be initiated by the manufacturers,” said Shyam Asolekar, professor, department of environment science and engineering, Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay.
Some Mumbaiites, such as Dinesh Gajria, 45, are attempting to be environment-friendly. Six months ago, Gajria installed more than 50 energy-efficient Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) in his Bhiwandi printing press.
However, when he wanted to discard some of the CFLs, he found that he did not know how to safely dispose them. Although energy-efficient, CFLs turn toxic when broken because of their high mercury content. Gajria sold the CFLs to a scrap dealer hoping he would know how to handle them.
“Disposal is the biggest problem with CFLs because there are no instructions on precautions and safe handling practices. I asked the scrap dealer to handle them carefully, but I don’t know if he has the know-how,” said Gajria, whose effort has been wasted because of lack of infrastructure and no government policy on disposal of CFLs.
From May, things might change when the E-Waste (Handling & Management) Rules 2010 come into effect. “The government will face an uphill task of linking scrap dealers and manufacturing giants to collect the e-waste generated,” said Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link, Delhi, a not-for-profit.
However, the central government has not yet drafted a law to regulate disposal of CFLs. Last year, Toxics Link found mercury content of up to 21.2 mg per CFL (the average estimate of mercury content is 7.5 mg per CFL) in 22 samples of four leading manufacturing brands of CFLs in the country.
Manufacturers, too, need to take responsibility. “Manufacturers should call back products that can be re-used and separate harmful parts. If producers can place drop boxes to collect cheques, they should also place collection boxes for hazardous waste that can be recycled,” added Asolekar.