Considering how every user of a mobile phone switches from one model to another every few years, it is easy to imagine how much electronic waste is generated by a single person in India which has more than 900 million users of a gadget which is no longer a fancy item. Add to this the number of desktops and laptops which are discarded, it is easy to imagine the mountain of garbage that is created as a result. The pile-up would not have posed a problem to anyone other than the municipalities if it did not contain highly toxic material like lead, cadmium, mercury, barium and arsenic.
India is still a minor contributor to the problem, generating a mere 0.8 million tonnes of e-waste in a year out of the 40-50 million tonnes produced globally. Of these, the European Union’s contribution is 7 million and China’s 2.5 million. However, the situation can only get worse unless effective waste management rules are put in place. Otherwise, homo sapiens will be in danger, as telecom minister Kapil Sibal has warned. Considering that the rules putting the onus for safe disposal of the wastes on the producers and bulk consumers are not always complied with, there is cause for serious concern.
There are 23 recycling facilities in India that are supposed to be authorised by pollution control boards. But, they are ill-equipped to act against the millions of e-waste collectors and processors in the unorganised sector. The government has to step in to collect waste from bulk and individual consumers and safely dispose of them. There is also the need for more research to develop new technologies to meet the negative fallout from the exponential growth of information technology. The problem is compounded by the import of used computers from “developed” countries, which use the loopholes in the regulations to help NGOs and educational institutions.