E-Waste or WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment), as it is termed by the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests), is the fastest growing and one of the most hazardous forms of solid waste. India generates about 2.7 million tonnes of e-waste every year and increasing with a growth of 5-7% annually. The frequent technology changes and the desire for being up to date with the new tools and gadgets for a better lifestyle, are the major causes for this increasing rate of generation of e-waste. Akshay Jain, MDNamoeWaste Management Ltd gives an account on increasing e-waste threats…
65% of e-waste comes from 70% of the major cities in the country, e-waste can also be termed as ‘Urban’ waste. As per the national data, 90% of this waste is being illegally recycled through unorganized channels present throughout the country. These workers involved in the illegal trade practices are not even aware about the hazards caused by the harmful emissions in the form of heavy metals, toxic flames and gases while improper recycling of e-waste. Due to this lack of awareness and greed for making quick money, they are not only harming themselves and their families but posing a huge threat to the society. Awareness about the hazards of informal recycling and its impact on human health and surroundings is the only way out to create a sustainable collection channel for proper recycling of e-waste.
The presence of heavy metals in the e-waste and the methods used for their extraction are posing a huge threat to the human health. Regular exposure to these hazardous substances causes serious health problems in humans and some diseases cannot be even cured as an irreversible damage is caused to the body parts. The below mentioned table shows the data about presence of hazardous elements in e-waste and its effects on human health.
- Lead is the primary substance of concern because of all the analog TVs that will be replaced due to digital TV. It’s found primarily in cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs, which typically contain anywhere from two to 4 kg of lead, which is mostly found in the tube. Lead is very toxic to humans, especially children. A child exposed to lead “may develop anaemia, severe stomach ache, muscle weakness, and brain damage. Low levels of lead can also affect a child’s mental and physical growth.
- Mercury is not exclusive to thermometers as it‘s also found in flat panels TVs. This is because some of the lighting used contains mercury, which is toxic in very low doses, and causes brain and kidney damage. Lighting in flat panels has improved in recent years with the development of cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFLs) and light-emitting diode (LED), which don‘t use mercury.
- Cadmium is found in the phosphor coating that lines the inside of many CRT screens. It‘s a potentially serious substance to long-term health. Cadmium causes kidney, liver, bone and blood damage if exposed to high levels over a long period of time. Cadmium can penetrate our food source by moving through soil layers and being absorbed by leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals and grains.
- Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are known to cause damage to hormone and reproductive systems. They’re found in plastics, like protective cases, circuit boards, and cables with a purpose of providing fire protection. BFRs have been discovered in marine mammals, fish and bird eggs as well as human milk, serum and adipose tissue.
These harmful substances are released into the surroundings during informal recycling of e-waste. There are many formal recyclers and dismantling units in the country who are processing this waste in an environment friendly manner. There is a need for a more organized collection channel for this waste which starts from consumers, local scrap dealers and the recycler.