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What happens to e-waste: Your junked gadgets come back to you as toxic fumes

90% Delhiites don’t know how to dispose of their trash, according to a study. Experts say most people don’t realise the consequence of discarding e-waste, or any trash, in an improper manner.
Discarded gadgets often land up in makeshift workshops, where metal is extracted of them using the crudest methods releasing a range of toxic elements.(HT FILE)
Updated on Nov 02, 2017 11:32 AM IST
Hindustan Times | By

Ever wondered where does all your old and worn-out gadgets go after you chuck them in the bin or sell them to the junk dealer? Experts say they come back to you in the form of toxic fumes and polluted water.

These gadgets often land up in makeshift workshops, where metal is extracted of them using the crudest methods releasing a range of toxic elements.

According to the experts most people don’t realise the consequence of discarding e-waste, or any trash, in an improper manner. A report released by Toxics Link in 2016 had stated that 90% Delhiites don’t know how the trash must be disposed.

If they reach the dump yards, they are collected by rag pickers, who in turn, sell them to junk dealers after keeping the parts they can reuse. Even the junk dealer sells them to scrap aggregators. From the dealers, they reach the illegal dismantlers, who sell them to extractors.

“Once the gadgets reach the unauthorised extractors they are broken, burnt and bathed in acid to extract metals. This crude process emits toxic fumes and chemicals that make way into the drains, and then to rivers and water bodies. Chemicals from e-waste can also pass through the ground and contaminate the soil and groundwater. It all comes back to us in the form of polluted air and water,” said Swati Singh Sambyal of Centre for Science and Environment.

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An analysis by CSE of soil samples collected from the banks of the Ramganga in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad — known for its dismantling industries — showed very high levels of heavy metals. The water samples also showed the presence of heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury above permissible limits.

Apart from recoverable materials such as plastic, iron, aluminium, copper and gold, e-waste also contains significant concentration of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment. “The metal has several impurities as they are extracted in the crudest form. To put it back into the formal chain, the metal is sold to smelters who purify the metals before selling it to the formal metal market,” said Preeti Mahesh of Toxics Link.

At present more than 90% of e-waste recycling activities are done by the unorganised sector. In Delhi, areas such as Mustafabad and Seelampur are known for their illegal dismantling units.

“It is very important that safety measures are in place during treatment of this waste. Otherwise these pollutants might seriously affect the health of the recyclers who treat the waste by entering their body through respiratory tracts, skin, or the mucous membrane of the mouth and the digestive tract,” said Chitra Mukherjee of Chintan.

It is here that the extended producer responsibility (EPR), which forms the core of the E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 comes into play. The EPR intends to break this informal chain of recycling, which is polluting the environment and make the recycling process more eco-friendly.

“The EPR makes it mandatory for the producers to take responsibility of the product after their life ends. Once it is strictly implemented, it can formalise the recycling industry,” said Mahesh.

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