The New-Age Problem of E-Waste

– By Bharath Thampi


Riaz, a technician at Infinity Service Centre for laptops in Ritchie Street, Chintradipet is working on a mother board with almost surgical precision.

And when speaks, Riaz keeps his hands still. On the E-waste at the store, he says that display screens, batteries, mother boards and keyboards are the main discards and the scrap dealers or Kabbadiwallahs don’t pay them anything for collecting such waste.

At the store he works, they usually dump the e-waste along with all the other garbage, says Mazir, a mobile sales and service shop employee.

“Kuppail tha podum.”





According to a report published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India on mobile user ratesin September 2019, Chennai projected a participation of 54 lakh population, fifth to – Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata.

Titled India Internet 2019, the same report also said that India had reached 45.1 crore monthly users, with only China ahead of us.

A report published earlier this month by Invest India – National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency predicts India’s electronic consumer market to become the fifth largest in the world by 2025.

But what happens when we’ve had enough of a product – be it a mobile, a computer or a Television. Where does all the e-waste go?

Surveys suggest that this is what almost all households in Chennai, or across our country, practise when it comes to electronic waste disposal.

The thousands of apartment complexes or homes in Chennai have no clue “how” they’re supposed to throw out the e-waste. It gets thrown in with the plastic waste generally where there’s waste segregation.

Right from the end user to the companies that manufacture and sell these products, India’s at a loss on how to collect, assemble and recycle our e-waste.

Ravi Shastri, the CEO of Ecosible Recyclers Private Ltd., a government authorised e-waste recycling firm, puts the blame mainly on the absence of a proper supply chain management process in the country.

Having lived in the United States and worked in the organic products sector there for 25 years, he found the chaotic waste management structure in India the most problematic when he decided to enter the industry here on return.





According to the revised E-Waste Management Rules structure by the Ministry of  Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India, in October 2016 –

“The producer of the electrical and electronic equipment shall be responsible for collection and channelization of e-waste generated from the ‘end-of-life’ of their products under Extended Producers Responsibility. State Pollution Control Board shall grant and renew authorization to the manufacturers, dismantlers, recyclers and refurbishers.”

This means that every single electronic product manufacturer in the country is primarily responsible to take care of the effective recycling of their products from the consumers. The government is supposed to monitor them, and take necessary actions as well.

But Shastri feels that not only does most of these companies still neglect the rules, even those who try to follow them are barely doing it the right way.

His own company, which mainly deals with collection of discarded products from offices across Chennai, a great deal of them IT companies, has witnessed this over the years.

Ecosible, which is more of a “dismantler” than a recycler, collects the electronic “products” from these companies, and dissemble and segregate in their factory in Ambattur. This is the most essential step in the recycling process he says, which he also doubts if every recycler follows.

For computers, they put them through various levels of testing to figure out its reusability factor. Any functional equipment is then sold to vendors, but without using the product name (Dell or HP for example) – sinceit’s legally not allowed according to the market rules.

The data is always erased before they sell off a computer, which Shastri complains that many recycling units don’t botherdoing. Finally, the plastic, metal and electronic components are segregated into separate sections, before selling them off to their respective vendors.

According to a mait-gitz report, more than 90 percent of the e-waste collected in India go through the unorganised market. A majority of the end recycling process across the country takes place at 2 places – Moradabad (in U.P) and Seelampur (in New Delhi).

Most of the electronic scrap will be picked clean for the metal that can be reused in it. But the remains are either plastic or non-reusable compounds. A proper recycling or disintegration of such waste can only be done using specially designed machines. But the current system means that a lot of it is dumped away in garbage lands, adding to India’s never-ending waste accumulation issue.

Despite the last decade seeing the introduction of several new rules, and tightening the existing ones – like a strict government authorisation of the recycling industry – India still lacks the infrastructure, systemicityand the public awareness required to tackle its e-waste headache.