CHENNAI: The magnitude of e-waste generated today is phenomenal. The magnitude that can be extracted from and reused is also surprising. There is more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in an ore of gold.
India with its embracement of technology has become a huge generator of e-waste. “We have come from 150,000 tonnes of e-waste in India in 2006 to 800,000 in 2012-13, growing at more than 100 per cent a year,” says Rathinam T, vice-president of Tes-Amm India, a prominent e-waste recycling company.
Young Indians, a not-for-profit organisation, an initiative of the Confederation of Indian Industries, along with Tes-Amm and Industrial Waste Management Association (IWMA) is working on a campaign to spread awareness about e-waste with schools as the starting point. “Through this campaign, every school can become a collection point, with an e-waste drop box,” says Ravi Senthilkumar, who is on the environment chair of Young Indians.
S Mani, chairman of IWMA, says, “The backend of chemistry is waste management. No part that goes into the making of electronics can be ‘grown’. They are all materials that are scarce. So it’s better to recover it before it goes into the dustbin,” he says.
“Take good care of products, and they do not have to be repaired often. If we rush to get a new phone every time the old one shows problems, we are generating more and more e-waste,” says Mani, adding that everyone is part of this cycle, right from the cell phone salesman who advises you to buy a new phone as the repair will cost almost as much.
“We can minimise the usage of electronics, progressively. For instance, we can set aside a few hours to not use our cellphones,” he says, citing an instance where he was talking to students to see who had the oldest phone. “One boy had a seven-year-old phone and I congratulated him. That was probably the first time he was proud of owning that phone!”
The e-waste campaign began its pilot project last year with four Chennai schools, and plans to expand this year to 100 schools.“The general public may not take things seriously, but people listen when children talk,” he says.
Students are encouraged to spread the message to their neighbours and parents, and collect e-waste. “Last year, we received around 500 kg of e-waste from one school alone,” Ravi says.
Although there is an existing law on e-waste (management and handing) that came into force in 2012, the implementation is yet to catch on. “Government collection centres in every area should be introduced to make people drop off their waste every month,” says Rathinam.
“Around 30-40 metals, rare earth, plastic and steel are present in one cellphone.” says Mani, “Once dumped, they are lost forever.”