E-Waste - Information Technology Scourge - India bearing the brunt

Ali, the local scrap dealer ( raddiwala ) had come home. He was on his routine weekly visit to collect the old newspapers, plastic items meant for recycle and any other waste items that he felt could fetch him money if given to the recycling units. I noticed that he had 2 HP Laser Jet toners and a old broken computer with him. Curious, I asked him if they fetch him any money. He told me that it was his lucky day that he got hold of them that day and that they would fetch him anywhere between Rs. 150-200 ( Approx. USD 3.33 to 4.44 ). My curiosity was further heightened. Is e-waste* so precious?
A quick search on the Net revealed startling facts. Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, says India generates $1.5bn worth of e-waste annually, with 1,050 tons of electronic scrap dumped by manufacturers and assemblers. Developed nations too find it cheaper to use developing nations as dumping grounds.

E-waste could comprise of all the following
Home Appliances, IT equipment, entertainment equipment, telecommunications equipment, data, audio and video media, CDs, DVDs, tapes, printer consumables, ink cartridges, toner, cartridges, laser printer drums, laser printer developer units, printed circuit boards, batteries, Mobile phones

E-Waste is precious to recyclers because of two factors
  • They are used to extract the re-usable parts and these make their ways to the second hand computer flea markets spread out in every Indian city.
  • Extraction of Gold and silver metal used in minute quantities in chips, motherboards.

But at what cost ?

A glance at the media reports reveals shocking and spine chilling reports of India turning into a e-wasteland.

  • Thirty million computers are thrown out every year in the US alone, and many are dumped in India
  • About 80 percent of the e-Waste generated in the US is exported to India, China and Pakistan
  • Home to more than 1,200 foreign and domestic technology firms, Bangalore figures at the top in the danger list of cities faced with e-waste hazard. As many as 1,000 tons of plastics, 300 tons of lead, 0.23 tons of mercury, 43 tons of nickel and 350 tons of copper are annually generated in Bangalore
  • Domestic e-waste including computers, refrigerators, televisions and mobiles contain more than 1,000 different toxic materials**.
  • Other e-Waste scrap-yards exist in Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.

The Result
  • The process of extraction uses all kinds of chemicals, like acids - which then get dumped into the soil and go into the groundwater.When you burn things like PVC-covered copper wire, you have emissions of very toxic chemicals like dioxins, which get released into the local environment.
  • The people actually doing the brunt of the recycling are people on less than half a dollar a day - women and children working in very shanty-like, disastrous, inhuman conditions
  • Chemicals such as beryllium, found in computer motherboards, and cadmium in chip resistors and semiconductors are poisonous and can lead to cancer
  • Chromium in floppy disks, lead in batteries and computer monitors and mercury in alkaline batteries and fluorescent lamps also pose severe health risks

However, we can take heart that the authorities responsible in Bangalore are waking up to this new threat.

  • Bangalore authorities have cleared the establishment of a 120-acre e-waste disposal facility at Dobbspet, 45km from the city.
  • Alarmed by the electronic pile up, a consortium of corporations have set up Asia's first e-waste crematorium, the Indian Computer Crematorium, in India's technology hub, Bangalore. Here e-waste is neither buried nor burnt. Disposal is done through a mechanical dry recycling process.
  • Recently, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board has given authorisation for two commercial enterprises to handle e-Trash in Bangalore-E-Parisaraa Pvt Ltd and Ash Recyclers.

I asked Ali, "Don't these people who break apart these items aware of the poisonous substances present in them?". He replied,"This job is their bread earner. Neither they nor I am aware of the health risks".

Foot Notes

*e-Waste - The term e-waste is applied to all waste from or caused by electronics, which is often toxic waste. It is a major concern with respect to wireless technology and computers, which are readily discarded due to rapid technological change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence. Various solutions including recycling, re-use and the standardization of technologies for less rapid obsolescence are applied.

**Sample metal elements
Heavy metals : lead, zinc, chromium, cadmium, mercury
Elements in trace amounts : germanium, gallium, barium, nickel, tantalum, indium, vanadium, terbium, beryllium, gold, europium, titanium, ruthenium, cobalt, palladium, manganese, silver, antinomy, bismuth, selenium, niobium, yttrium, rhodium, platinum, arsenic
Other : silicon, carbon, iron, aluminum, tin, copper

Useful Links

Electronic Wasteland
E-Waste - India Case Study
A wiser approach to e-Waste


You blog sure gets quite a few comments. I'm going to read thru your posts and see why you are generating so much interest. Bye. Ms. Epson stylus cartridges
Anonymous said…
It’s truly sickening how much e-waste is out there, and I found that one great way to combat this problem is look for help through a greener PC company called Userful. What’s great about them is they actually re-use a single existing PC to power up to 10 workstations at once saving energy and reducing e-waste. I’m incredibly satisfied with what they offer, and I think it’s something everybody should check out to help combat this problem of e-waste – http://www.userful.com