Mahatma Gandhi had always emphasised that we all should limit our want of natural resources in order to preserve our environment. However, new industrial and technological patterns enhanced commercialisation, thereby increasing our wants. It isn’t a sin to wish for something and attain it, but there must be wisdom among all of us to ponder upon a broader goal, ‘equity and sustainability’. It is due to this loss of distinction between need and greed that e-waste, among various other kinds of waste, is creating many problems for the environment. The decision to phase out single-use plastic by the Modi-led government is great, but the government needs to work on other aspects of waste management that involves e-waste.
Electronic Waste (e-waste) is generated by disposing of electronic products such as wires, laptops, cell phones, televisions, and more. India is the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world. Apart from production, India imports electronic waste from various countries too. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, India generates about 2 million tonnes of e-waste annually. Why is this a problem? Because, according to a United Nations report in World Economic Forum in 2019, nearly 95% of e-waste is recycled in India in the informal sector through unscientific methods. Not only this, apart from filling landfills with solid and liquid wastes, e-waste is also disposed of in landfills surrounding villages. One might see one such landfill enroute Murthal from Delhi.
E-waste collection drives have been started at a local and regional level, but there is next to no awareness among people to not discard the waste in open spaces. Also, there is a lack of proper implementation from the administration. Another issue is that every district does not have active collection centers.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the traditional method of burning of cables to extract copper “exposes both adult and child workers as well as their families to a range of hazardous substances.” Informal workers are vulnerable as they come in direct contact with various metals like lead, chromium among others, or end up inhaling toxic fumes while burning the waste. Children are especially susceptible to ailments emanating from such practices. Also, if one throws out e-waste in just about any place, hazardous substances from the waste get dissolved in the groundwater, which then is detrimental to our health and wellbeing. As groundwater gets polluted, and toxic metals are left exposed in the open, it leads to the pollution of the air, water, and land.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) proposed some solutions for e-waste management in a report titled ‘A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot’. The UNEP report suggests producers “make durable products, buy-back and return systems for used electronics, ‘urban mining’ to extract metals and minerals from e-waste, and the ‘dematerialisation’ of electronics by replacing outright device ownership with rental and leasing models in order to maximise product reuse and recycling opportunities.”
From the consumer side, e-waste can be managed by applying some simple steps, or what can also be called Gandhian values. Firstly, we need to evaluate the purpose and definite use for electronic devices before them. We should donate extra gadgets and electronic items to those in need rather than discarding them. One can also consider exchange them via online portals which allow the sale of second-hand products. Moreover, we could extend the life of the products we are using through appropriate use and care.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.