While there have been some initiatives to set regulations for e-waste management, overall, these hazardous wastes are still typically dismantled and recycled by hand in India in unorganized scrapyard settings that lack safeguards and government guidelines.
Though the Indian Supreme Court banned the import of hazardous waste in 1997, 600 tons of e-waste still entered the country in the last six months under the guise of charitable or re-usable materials, all duty-free. It is estimated that the US alone exports 80 percent of its e-waste to China, India and Pakistan.Funnily enough, India's regulatory body, the Central Pollution Control Board, continues to deny that e-waste is coming into India. But regardless, it is certain that legal loopholes are being exploited by importers, traders and recyclers alike to take advantage of a profitable business with a high human and environmental impact.
Large e-waste centres exist in Delhi, Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai, with 25,000 recyclers working in Delhi alone. Workers are poorly-protected in an environment where e-waste from PC monitors, PCBs, CDs, motherboards, cables, toner cartridges, light bulbs and tube-lights are burned in the open, releasing lead, mercury toxins into the air. Metals and non-degradable materials such as gold and platinum, aluminium, cadmium, mercury, lead and brominated flame-retardants are retrieved.
"It is a means of livelihood for unorganized recyclers. Due to lack of awareness, they are risking their health and the environment as well. They use strong acids to retrieve precious metals such as gold. Working in poorly-ventilated enclosed areas without masks and technical expertise results in exposure to dangerous and slow-poisoning chemicals," says Wilma Rodrigues of Bangalore-based NGO Saahas, adding that there are no clear guidelines for the unorganized sector to handle e-waste.
"Trade in e-waste, like that in other scrap, is dominated by the 'informal' sector. Although the waste trade sector in India is known as part of the 'informal' sector, it has a system that is highly organized with extensive co-ordination in an established network," says K K Shajahan, principal consultant for Bangalore's Indian Institute of Material Management.
Though there have been efforts to organize and manage e-waste recycling from state to state — the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, for example, has set down guidelines and authorized two companies to oversee corporate e-waste recycling as per their guidelines — nevertheless, some corporations, rather than to deal with the paperwork involved with the recycling procedures, will bypass them by passing e-waste off as "donations" to the unorganized sector.
According to Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization (NGO), India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of e-waste domestically, with the booming IT sector being the largest contributor, as 30 percent of its machines reach obsolescence annually. Bangalore alone generates 8,000 tons a year. A report put out by International Resource Group (IRG) estimates that by 2012, India's domestic waste alone will amount to 1,600,000 tons.
::Express Computer Online
Image: Toxics Link