The Wastes of the 21st Century
In modern times, every household owns a computer, i-pad, television, cell phones. In short ‘screens’ of myriad sizes, are in front of our eyes all the time. Today, three out of four Indians possess mobile phones. One out of every five people has access to computers. The unavoidable consequence is that the nation of more than a billion individuals is generating tonnes of dangerous ‘electronic waste’. E- waste or electronic waste refers to discarded electronic products ranging from computers, equipment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), home appliances and peripherals of these devices.
The rapid boom in the IT industry has led to a surge in the usage of electronic gadgets. The latter get out-of-fashion and redundant at a fast pace, as a result of which they are discarded more frequently. This generates large amounts of toxic e-wastes.
E-wastes comprise a witch’s mix of hazardous chemicals like cadmium, lead, mercury, poly-chlorinated biphenyls, besides plastics and glass. These contents leach into the soil from landfills and contaminate water bodies. E-wastes when burnt, also release poisonous gases in air.
E-wastes if not handled properly, can cause serious health hazards. According to National Centre for Biotechnology Information, these risks include silicosis, cuts from Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) glass, inhalation of mercury, tin and lead Compounds from circuit boards, acid contact with eyes and skin, and circulatory failure.
E-waste has woven a large informal sector in Indian cities that is involved in segregation and dismantling electronic items. Lamington road or Crawford market in Mumbai, SP market in Bengaluru and Nehru Place, Seelampur or Seemapuri in Delhi, all are hubs of e-waste disposal sites. Mumbai tops the list of e-waste generating cities, followed by Delhi and Bengaluru.
Ten states in India generate 70% of the total e-waste. Among developing nations, India is one of the largest producers of e-waste. Also, India is the destination for many developed nations to ship out their own e-wastes. However, it has been found
that dismantling units in India are poorly equipped, as a result of which less than 5% of the e-waste gets recycled. Also, workers here work in dangerous conditions, without any protection or safety measures.
In 2012, Government passed the E-waste Management and Handling Rules Law, which states that agencies must have licenses and comply with pollution standards, and labour laws. A fine of upto 1 lakh and jail of upto 7 years would be announced on the violators. The consumers must also take responsibility for their own old electronic goods. They must ensure that their e-waste is deposited at authorised collection centres, or recyclers certified by Central Pollution Control Board and Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Education, awareness and safety gears must be provided to the poor workers, who earn their livelihood in this sector. E-wastes is one of the most harmful of all wastes that we generate. It is the inevitable and unwelcome gift of modern technology. Let us pledge to dispose them in the most environment friendly way, so as to cause least damage to Mother Earth.
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