From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : E-waste applications and impacts
Mains level : E-waste problems, and scientific recycling,advantages and disadvantages
- International E-Waste Day is held on October 14 every year as an opportunity to reflect on the impacts of e-waste. This year’s slogan is ‘Recycle it all, no matter how small!
- Hoarding of small, unused, dead or broken plug-in and battery-operated products is the focus of this year’s 5th annual International E-Waste Day.
What is mean by E-Waste?
- E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful life.”Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are common electronic products. Many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled.
Why E-waste is important?
- Highly valuable metals: E-waste is a rich source of metals such as gold, silver, and copper, which can be recovered and brought back into the production cycle. There is significant economic potential in the efficient recovery of valuable materials in e-waste and can provide income-generating opportunities for both individuals and enterprises.
- No harm if stored safely: It is said that the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) after their useful life does not cause any harm to health and the environment if it is stored safely in households/stores. If the end of life EEE (e-waste) is opened-up and unscientific methods are used for extraction of precious and semi-precious material from it, then it causes health risks and damage to the environment.
Why E-waste is hazardous to environment and health?
- Highly toxic in nature: E-waste can be toxic, is not biodegradable and accumulates in the environment, in the soil, air, water and living things.
- Adverse effects on health: High levels of contaminants such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which can lead to irreversible health effects, including cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage and diminished IQs.etc.
- Adverse effects on environment: There are problems with toxic materials leaching into the environment. For example, open-air burning and acid baths being used to recover valuable materials from electronic components release toxic materials leaching into the environment.
- Plastic used in electronics highly Hazardous: Hazardous chemicals such as bromine, antimony and lead are applied to electronics like laptops and music systems as flame retardants. They find their way into food-contact items and other everyday products as the demand for black plastics in consumer products is met partly by sourcing from e-waste.
According to the study conducted by Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum
- Non-profit Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum is an international association of 46 e-waste producer responsibility organizations which started the day in 2018.
- According WEEE studies: Roughly 5.3 billion mobile/smartphones will drop out of use this year.The electronics would reach a height of around 50,000 km if stacked flat and on top of each other. That’s an eighth of the distance to the moon.
- WEEE Survey:The forum surveys conducted to reveal why so many households and businesses fail to bring in for repair or recycling. The results were consolidated by the United Nations’ Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Sustainable Cycles Programme.
- Results of WEEE surveys: Of 8,775 European households in six countries, the average household contains 74 e-products. Of 74 average total e-products, 13 are being hoarded. This is the story almost everywhere.The top five hoarded small electronic products were (in order): small electronics and accessories (eg, headphones, remotes), small equipment, small IT equipment (eg, hard drives, routers, keyboards, mice), mobile and smartphones, small food preparation appliances .LED lamps ranked the top of the list of products most likely to be trashed.
What is the present status of E-waste in India?
- Statistics: Approximately 8 lakh tonnes per annum of plastic waste is recycled and 1.67 lakh tonnes per annum is co-processed in Cement Kilns, said the government. There are 468 authorised dismantlers/recyclers in 22 states having a processing capacity of 13.85 lakh tonnes of e-waste in the country.
- The e-waste management rules: The e-Waste (Management) Rules were notified in 2016 which got amended from time to time. So far, the Environment Ministry has notified 21 types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) as e-waste
- No recent studies on the pollution caused by e-waste: In the recent Parliament session, Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey in his reply to Kerala Rajya Sabha member V Sivadasan (CPM) said no study has been carried out by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to assess the damage caused to the environment by e-waste.
Current scenario and issues in E-waste recycling
- Crude and Scrappage: As of today, some 95% of e-waste is managed by the informal sector which operates under inferior working conditions and relies on crude techniques for dismantling and recycling.
- Infrastructure lacunae: Another important issue is the lack of sufficient metal processing infrastructure which is why recyclers have to export materials to global smelters.
- Price competencies: As aggregators are mostly informal, they demand up-front cash payments.
- Bloomed informal network: The informal network is well-established and rests on social capital ties that PROs have yet to establish and are hence insulated from reaching the viable number of aggregators.
- Policy failure: Policy changes have tried repeatedly to formalize the sector, but issues of implementation persist on the ground.
- Effective design: Since India is highly deficient in precious mineral resources, there is a need for a well-designed, robust and regulated e-waste recovery regime that would generate jobs and wealth.
- Consumer responsibility: The consumers must responsibly consume the product for its useful life and then weigh between the chances of repair or disposal with utmost consciousness towards the environment.
- Recyclable products: On the supply side, e-waste can be reduced when producers design electronic products that are safer, and more durable, repairable and recyclable.
- Reuse: Manufacturers must reuse the recyclable materials and not mine rare elements unnecessarily to meet new production.
- Commercial recycling: Rather than hoping that informal recyclers become formal it would be more feasible for companies and the state to design programs ensure e-waste easily makes its way to proper recyclers.
- Concerted efforts are important to generate a momentum of sustained efforts towards increasing disposal through formal and scientific channels and catalyzing sustainable consumption patterns is the need of the hour.
Q.The size and complexity of the e-waste problem are growing at a much quicker rate than the efficacy of strategies to contain it. Discuss the impact of unscientific recycling of E-waste on Environment and human health.