Yes, India Has An E-Waste Problem. But, Is Making New Models The Only Answer?

While India generates about 2 million tonnes of electronic waste or e-waste, every year, only 1.5% of the generated e-waste gets recycled creating a growing burden on the environment. Ranked 5th globally, India is already among the world’s top e-waste producing countries, and its ranking on this ominous ladder is expected to rise.

As technology keeps advancing, we upgrade our devices, whether we need to or not; driven by the desire to use the latest available product. With 1.1 billion mobile phone subscribers, 4 times that of the US, and over 57 million computers in use it’s hardly surprising that the generation of e-waste generation in India is on the rise.

As technology penetrates rural India, the demand for electronics will increase at an even more rapid pace. Reports project that the electronics sector is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 24% to $400 billion by 2020. Consequently, experts foresee a 17% increase in e-waste, making it the fastest-growing domestic waste stream.

What makes e-waste so dangerous is that it contains lithium, a poisonous substance present in batteries which creates severe environmental issues and serious health hazards, including damage to the nervous system, respiratory disorders as well as skin diseases, bronchitis, and even lung cancer among workers who handle such waste manually.

However, most solutions have been focused on driving producer responsibility towards recycling, which on its own won’t be sufficient to solve this dire problem. Such solutions place the producer at the centre, making them responsible for the dismantling and recycling of used products.

In such cases, the consumer simply deposits the used product with the producer who is then committed to using the safest possible means to recycle it. But even in the US, less than a quarter of all e-waste is recycled, according to a United Nations estimate. The rest is incinerated or ends up in landfills.

Why is that? With the hassle and cost of recycling, many consumers simply throw their devices into the trash or stash them in a drawer.

What we need instead is a product redesign, wherein producers adopt a modular approach. In the past, companies have released ‘modular smartphones’ like the Moto Z with its Moto Mods or the LG G5, or even the Essential Phone, however, none of them have been truly modular.

In my opinion, they are just using the badge of modularity to sell accessories like cases and speakers. Even though they weren’t successful, we must acknowledge that they at least attempted, to move towards a modular solution.

To create modular solutions, manufacturers will need to find a way to implement the idea proposed by Dave Hakkens and his PhoneBloks in 2013. So revolutionary was his idea, that a video made by him explaining the concept went viral in the tech-community at the time.

This concept involves producing ‘bloks’ or ‘modules’ of individual components of a product and connecting them to a mainframe. Often analogized with LEGO, this approach allows consumers to simply replace the part of the product which is damaged or obsolete. Not only would this save consumers money, but it would also allow them to customize the product to fit their own personal needs.

For example, a salesperson, who is always on the road might need a larger battery, while young families might prefer a great camera to be able to capture moments that can be treasured forever.

While Google and Motorola co-developed Project Ara in 2014, as a prototype of a phone based on the concept of modularity and ‘phonebloks,’ in 2016, the project was cancelled as part of a broader streamlining of the company’s hardware products.

In the short term, modularity is expensive and time-consuming to implement, however, its long-term benefits can significantly outweigh the short-term expenses. Concerns regarding the wearing down of components due to constant plugging and replacing of new components, seem exaggerated as upgrades will not be a daily process.

Manufacturers need to follow Dave Hakkens’ idea and not give up on it, while governments need to provide them incentives to do so. We could borrow ideas from other industries such as plug-in electric vehicles.

Grants, low-interest loans and favourable tax treatment for manufacturers, have been used for a wide variety of industries from electric vehicles to agriculture across the world and it’s high time that governments devise them to drive modularity.

Created by Vidur Jain

Would you buy a modular phone?
Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: MaxPixel.
Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below