India fifth largest producer of e-waste in world: Study

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India, which is has emerged as world's second largest mobile market with 1.03 billion subscribers, is also the fifth largest producer of e-waste, discarding roughly 18.5 lakh metric tonnes of electronic waste each year, with telecom equipment alone accounting for 12 per cent of the e-waste, says a study conducted by Assocham-KPMG.

The rising levels of e-waste generation in India has been a matter of extreme concern in recent years. In India we have atleast 100 crore mobile phones in circulation,of which nearly 25 per cent end up in e-waste annually.

Electronic waste

Discarded electrical or electronic devices are described as the Electronic waste or e-waste.  Used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal also comes under the category of e-waste.

Informal processing of e-waste in developing countries can lead to adverse human health effects and environmental pollution. Electronic scrap components, such as CPUs, contain potentially harmful components such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants.

Amount of electronic waste world-wide

Society today revolves around technology and by the constant need for the newest and most high tech products we are contributing to mass amount of e-waste.

An estimated 50 million tons of E-waste are produced each year world-wide. The USA discards 30 million computers each year and 100 million phones are disposed of in Europe each year.

The United States which produces about 3 million tons of waste each year is the world leader in producing electronic waste while China that produces about 2.3 million tons of waste domestically comes second.China is also a major e-waste dumping ground for developed countries. 

Global trade issues

Remove residues from electronic waste like bad cathode ray tubes prior to export is very expensive and difficult so mature economies export them without any processing to developing countries, such as China, India and parts of Africa, where brokers calling themselves recyclers repair and reuse these material. 

The developing countries have become toxic dump yards of e-waste.The lower environmental and labor standards, cheap labor, and the relatively high value of recovered raw materials leads to a transfer of pollution-generating activities, such as smelting of copper wire.

Environmental impact

  • The open burning e-waste can release hydrocarbons into the air, while the chemical stripping of gold-plated computer chips leads to emissions of brominated dioxins and heavy metals.
  • Lead, barium and other heavy metals released by breaking of cathode ray tubes could leach through the soil and into the ground water of local communities which endangers the entire food chain.
  • In the areas where processing of e-waste is done the level of carcinogens exceeds international standards for agricultural areas. The soil and crops are one of the most common ways that heavy metals enter the human body.

Rules in India regarding E-waste

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has notified e-waste management rules, 2016, in which producers are for the first time covered under extended producers’ responsibility (EPR). The rules prescribe stringent financial penalties for non-compliance.

The rules prescribe a waste collection target of 30 per cent waste generated under EPR for the first two years, progressively going up to 70 per cent in the seventh year of the rule.

The unorganised sector in India is estimated to handle around 95 per cent of the e-waste produced in the country. Considering huge user base and vast reach of telecom in India, it is practically difficult and expensive for the handset manufacturers to achieve the targets prescribed in the rules from first year.

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