Why is it important to understand e-waste and how can we tackle it?
Did you know that India produced 1,014,961 tonne of electronic waste (e-waste) in 2019-2020? Just to put the figure in perspective, the 2017-18 e-waste production number was 708,445 tonne, according to a report published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Also, it could only collect 10% of that e-waste in 2018-19. Collections in 2017-18 stood at only 3.5%.
This waste included 21 kinds of electrical and electronic equipment, mostly discarded computer monitors, mobile phones, chargers, motherboards, headphones, television sets, among other appliances.
But why is this alarming and why should we be concerned? To understand that, we need to understand what e-waste is, why it is bad for us, and what are the government guidelines regarding environmentally safe management of e-waste.
Let us understand all of these in the article below.
What is e-waste?
E-waste or electronic waste is a term used for the waste material that household appliances and electronic devices produce when they are no longer suited for their original intended use and need to be recovered, recycled or disposed. Examples of appliances and devices that generate e-waste include air conditioners, refrigerators, computers, televisions, mobile phones, stereos etc. Since e-waste contains many substances that can contaminate the soil and groundwater and be dangerous for human wellbeing and the environment, it needs to be managed properly.
What is e-waste made up of?
E-waste can be made up of diverse elements (more than 1000, in fact), depending on the type of electronic product in question. Primarily, e-waste consists of:
- Ferrous metals
- Non-ferrous metals (silver, gold, aluminium, copper, platinum etc.)
- Wood and plywood
- Concrete and ceramics
- Printed circuit boards
- Elements like mercury, lead, cadmium, selenium, arsenic – which can be hazardous beyond threshold amount.
Why should we be concerned about e-waste and why is it dangerous?
The reason why e-waste is such a major concern is because it often contains substances that can harm the human body as well as the planet in different ways.
Here is a look at the various elements that make up e-waste and their harmful effects.
- Short chain chloro paraffins and alkanes – harmful for aquatic organisms
- Antimony trioxide – might have carcinogenic effect
- Beryllium metal – inhalation may cause cancer
- Beryllium oxide – cancerous if inhaled
- Cadmium – inhalation may cause cancer and harmful for aquatic life
- Cadmium oxide – toxic if inhaled or swallowed
- Cadmium sulphide – carcinogenic if inhaled or swallowed and toxic to aquatic life
- Chromium VI – can cause long term damage to aquatic environment, cancer and genetic problems in humans
- Copper beryllium alloys – toxic if inhaled
- DBDE or Decabromodiphenylether or flame retardants – harmful for marine life
- Lead – both lead and lead compounds are harmful for humans and animals
- Lead oxide – may affect foetal development
- Liquid crystals – may be carcinogenic
- Mercury – extremely harmful for marine organisms as well as the human brain and kidneys
- Mineral wool – can cause skin irritation
- OBDE or Octabromodiphenylether or flame retardants – may harm the foetus
- Refractory Ceramic Fibers – may cause skin irritation and cancer if inhaled
- TBBPA or Tetrabromobisphenol-A – may be a hormone disruptor
So, unless e-waste is managed (reused, recycled or disposed) eco-consciously, it can hurt all living beings by leaching harmful chemicals into the soil, entering our food chain, or if it comes in contact with our skin. Simple inhalation of certain chemicals can have toxic effects too.
India and e-waste management
The E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, which explained how e-waste should be stored, moved, and disposed in an environment-friendly manner, came into effect in 2011. In 2017, the global best practice of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) clause was added, making producers responsible for taking back end-of-life equipment. This was further strengthened by the Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO), which set waste collection targets for producers and made sure that proper recycling was being undertaken.
However, despite the legal framework being in place, most of such e-waste ends up being handled by the informal sector, which recycles it in a primitive manner, thus posing enormous risks to the planet.
Save the planet by recycling e-waste: Here is why
Before we dive into the benefits of recycling e-waste, here’s why you should not discard your electronics unless they cannot be repaired in any way. Often, a simple repair job or replacement of a minor component can give your electronic item new life.
And if repairs don’t work or your electronic item is dying, here’s why e-waste recycling should be adopted:
- From a standard personal computer, decent amounts of plastic (23%), aluminium (14%), silica (25%), copper (7%), iron (20%) and lead (6%) can be recovered.
- From a typical television, large quantities of glass (53%), plastic (26%), and iron (12%) can be recovered.
- In case of a refrigerator, recycling can help recover ferrous metals (46.61%), compressors (23.80%), Spent PurFoam (7.60%) and non-ferrous metals (4.97%).
- Recycling can recover a variety of metals, glass and plastic from disposed electronic products, which can be used to create brand new products. This can help preserve natural resources and reduce the need for mining.
- Recycling can prevent harmful chemicals like mercury, lead, chromium and cadmium from leaching into the environment or harming human beings. This can improve the soil quality and prevent the poisoning of water bodies.
- The incineration of certain e-waste components like CFC, oil or plastic mixture can produce energy, thereby reducing the need to exhaust non-renewable fossil fuels.
- Electronic recycling will also require people with special skills or those who are trained for it, thereby generating more jobs.
- Recycled or refurbished electronics can help economically challenged people by providing the comfort or technology they can’t enjoy otherwise.
- Recycling e-waste also reduces business costs for manufacturers as it involves recovering and reusing valuable components from old electronics rather than mining for days for virgin resources, which can be way more expensive.
- There will be fewer landfills if more individuals and businesses start recycling e-waste. This way, toxic substances won’t end up in the hands of unorganised waste collectors or harm the environment.
What does the latest government guidelines on e-waste management say?
Knowing about the latest “E-Waste (Management) Rules” can help both businesses and consumers become more responsible about disposing electronic waste.
The rules are applicable for – Producer, manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher, consumer, collection centre, dismantler, recycler and PRO or Producer Responsibility Organisation. Applicability also holds for consumables, components parts and spares of electrical and electronic equipment, apart from the equipment itself, as stated in Schedule I. The rules are applicable for compact fluorescent lamp and any other lamp containing mercury.
Who are exempted – Micro enterprises, according to the definition provided in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act of 2006.
Collection mechanism for e-waste – Producers are exclusively responsible for collection. They can arrange a buy back mechanism or set up a collection centre. No separate authorisation from SPCBs is necessary. This will prevent unauthorised players from getting their hands on the waste.
EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility – For fast and efficient implementation of EPR across India, CPCB is now in charge of single EPR authorisation for producers. The process for seeking EPR authorisation and implementing the same is now more flexible.
Flexibility for ease of implementation of EPR – There is an option to set up an e-waste exchange, e-retailer, PRO, and Deposit Refund Scheme, which can act as additional channels for EPR implementation by producers.
Manufacturer responsibilities – After collecting e-waste generated during the production of electrical or electronic equipment, they should channel it for disposal or recycling after getting authorisation from SPCB.
Dealer responsibilities – Dealers should collect the e-waste from consumers in a specific box, if they are assigned the responsibility by producers. Dealers or retailers should follow the Deposit Refund Scheme or take back system to refund the amount to the e-waste depositor.
Refurbisher responsibilities – After collecting the e-waste while refurbishing an electrical or electronic item, they should send it to an authorised recycler or dismantler through its collection centre after getting one-time approval from SPCB.
E-waste transportation and liability – The transportation should happen according to the manifest system, which means the transporter needs to have three copies of a document that the sender has prepared. The details in it will be as per Form 6. Any damage done to a third party or the environment or flouting of e-waste management rules can invite financial penalty.
Bulk consumer obligations – Consumers like banks, multinational organisations, educational institutions, government departments, and public, private or partnership companies registered under Factories Act, 1948 and the Companies Act, 2013, were previously considered as bulk consumers. Now, healthcare facilities with a turnover of more than INR 1 crore or with more than 20 employees have been added to the list. They all are required to file annual returns.
Play your role in reducing e-waste: Pledge to Reduce, Repair, and Reuse
Today, computes, laptops, mobiles, and other electronic devices are contributing to the fastest trash stream on our earth. Hence, the need of the hour is to ask ourselves –do we really need to upgrade to that latest electronic device, or can you repair and reuse?
Here are 3 ways in which you can contribute to reducing e-waste.
- Always, think 3 times before buying a new electronic device. The best shot we have, to reduce e-waste and its impact on our planet, is to keep our gadgets with us as long as we can. Reduce the urge to buy new gadgets till you really need it.
- If your electronic items are giving you problems, do not think of tossing them into the bin or replacing them. Try to repair them first. For example, a simple battery replacement of your phone can breathe new life into it. Remember, if you are repairing your gadgets, you are keeping those hazardous chemicals (in your electronic devices) out of the earth’s waste stream.
It’s equally important to make sure you are repairing your gadgets from a place that cares about the environment and will not just dump your iPhone’s battery in the bin, but actually hand it over to a certified e-waste recycler.
- If repairing is not an option at all, then make sure you are recycling your electronic device properly. Do not just sell them to the local kabaddiwala, since they will not know how to recycle the e-waste properly.
To know about e-waste collection centres, read here.
Rapid Repair is committed to the environment and recycling e-waste
As one of the top brands in India trusted for repairing iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iWatch as well as OnePlus phones, we, Rapid Repair, deal with electronics every day. That is why we also make sure that none of the electronic waste that we collect ends up in a landfill, polluting the environment. Our e-waste management sets us apart from local repair shops, who are mostly not EPR certified, owing to the costs involved.
How Rapid Repair is different from any local electronic repair shop –
- We have our EPR (Extended Producer’s Responsibility) authorization number from CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board). We dispose the e-waste as per CPCB guidelines issued under “E-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2011”.
- As per “E-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules” of the government, we dispose the e-waste through CPCB authorised e-waste processing facilities around our location, so you can be rest assured that all your discarded electronics will be collected and recycled properly.
At Rapid Repair, we don’t just fix your Apple or OnePlus devices, but also give you the satisfaction of being a responsible consumer.
E-waste is a problem, but only if we let it be. When collected, assessed, sorted, recycled and reused correctly, it can provide a lot of value to the environment, human lives and economies. Knowing about the hazards of carelessly disposed e-waste, the benefits of recycling, and the government rules to follow, will surely make you more conscious from now on. Also, if you are looking to nip the problem in the bud, instead of throwing away your malfunctioning Apple or OnePlus devices when they get damaged or act up, get in touch with Rapid Repair.