By Raghav Sharma:
Being brought up in one of the fastest developing economies of the 21st century, we all have noticed the skies turn blue to slightly grey, and the landfills mount up year by year. We have also noticed humans evolve into cyborgs, with their eyes constantly fixed to their smartphone or laptop screens, wired from top to bottom with charging, audio and performance devices. Technology has become an indispensable way of life, without which functioning will be difficult. The development in technology, however, is so rapid that gadgets and devices reach obsolescence in very little time, consequently increasing the need to discard old gadgets and adopt new ones. Majority of us, however, are not aware of the problems caused by mindlessly discarding old gadgets without any scientific treatment, leaving us with mounts of untreated and potentially toxic E-Waste.
While I was interning at Chintan, my seniors at the organisation sent me a documentary about the improper disposal of E-Waste and the far-reaching implications it had on us. The documentary was called “E-Waste – Citizens at Risk”, and watching it brought about in me a heartfelt urge to take a stand on this issue. An emotion curled up inside my conscience, making me realise how we humans, unknowingly through our actions and developments, are punishing our own selves. Motivated by the urge to cure the E-Waste problem, I spent a few days trying to absorb all the information about E-Waste, its improper disposal and how harmful it is for us.
For years, we have been observing the brutality with which we humans have treated the environment, and at the same time, we have been busy upgrading our smartphones and discarding DVD layers, unaware of the fact that we are leaving a toxic footprint on the face of the earth. Moved by the immense stress we are unknowingly putting on the planet, a sense of motivation drove me to take a stand against the improper E-Waste disposal in our country and sensitize people towards it. Inspired by Chintan’s initiative of an app called Pick My Trash, for picking e-waste, I started an E-Waste collection drive in my locality wherein we spread awareness amongst the citizens about the threats of E-Waste and collected waste from their homes and offices for their proper disposal and recycling. Through the initiative, I was able to invoke a sense of responsibility in the residents of my colony, while at the same time develop a community of like-minded people ready to take action and work towards a sustainable future. Overall, I succeeded in diverting over 150kg of E-Waste from ending up in landfills to getting properly treated. Carrying out a constructive social campaign has created a very positive state of mind for me and has acted as a source of motivation to work more towards environmental issues. Sometimes, a few things have a long lasting impact on our minds, and the growing problem of Electronic Waste disposal has taken over mine.
E-Waste contains a plethora of detrimental toxic compounds and due to improper disposal of such toxic substances, chemicals like Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Polybrominated Flame Retardants, Barium and Lithium get accumulated in the biosphere, posing a threat to the environment. All these toxins are persistent and bio-accumulative and pose serious health risks when computers are incinerated or disposed in landfills. We can’t even imagine the fact that upgrading to the latest iPhone and discarding the older one can cause such toxins to seep into nature, and open doors for fatal diseases. The current scenario of E-Waste disposal in India narrates a story of utter mess and mismanagement. Most of the E-Waste in India is recycled by the informal sector through unscientific methods. A large chunk of the E-Waste ends up being burnt and treated using improper procedures leading to accumulation of toxins in the air, water, and soil.
An astounding fact is that though E-Waste comprises only 2-5% of the total waste, it makes up about 70% of the total toxic waste. We definitely don’t want our blood to be overflowing with hazardous toxins; and it is time to ensure that every step we take, reduces the stress on the future generations to come.
The author interned with Chintan over the Summer of 2018. He is currently pursuing Environmental Engineering from Delhi Technological University.