The Why and How of safe E-waste recycling


Electronic waste, or e-waste, results from the disposal of electronic and electrical devices that are no longer functional or have surpassed their intended lifespan. The accelerated pace of technological advancements and the constant release of new electronic models contribute to a surge in e-waste production. Common items include computers, monitors, printers, mobile phones, and household appliances. E-waste contains valuable materials like metals and plastics that could be reclaimed through proper processing. However, the presence of hazardous substances such as mercury, lead, Cadmium, and various toxic chemicals poses severe risks if not handled scientifically. Disassembling e-waste using rudimentary methods releases harmful elements into the environment, endangering humans, animals, and ecosystems. Efficient and safe e-waste management is crucial to mitigate environmental threats and recover valuable resources.

Why is E-waste recycling necessary?

In 2019, less than a quarter of global e-waste underwent formal recycling, despite its potential as a source of valuable resources. The improper disposal and management of electronic waste (e-waste) pose significant risks to the environment and human health. Toxic substances present in electrical and electronic items, when released during unregulated e-waste handling  practices such as scavenging, dumping, landfilling, burning, and manual disassembly, contaminate air, soil, water, and dust at recycling sites and nearby communities. 

Challenges and Risks

E-waste has become a significant income source for individuals and communities, but inadequate regulations, recycling infrastructure, and training pose risks, especially in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly for children. Burning or heating generates hazardous fumes. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable due to their involvement in activities like waste picking and dismantling, where they are exposed to injury and high levels of hazardous chemicals. Child labor in e-waste recycling is a global concern, with an estimated 16.5 million children engaged in the industrial sector, including waste processing, as of 2020, highlighting the urgent need for proper regulation and protection measures.

Further, the transboundary movement of e-waste to LMICs persists illegally, defying international regulations. E-waste is hazardous, containing toxic materials like dioxins, lead, and mercury, which, when improperly treated, pose threats to human health. Inadequate e-waste recycling is a menace to public health and safety.

Safe E-waste recycling opportunities in India

India has identified opportunities in e-waste management by implementing the E-Waste (Management) Rules in 2016, aiming to reduce e-waste production and enhance recycling. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) initiative holds producers accountable for collecting 30% to 70% of their e-waste over seven years. Integrating the informal sector into a transparent recycling system is crucial for controlling environmental and health impacts. Initiatives by organizations like GIZ focus on guiding the informal sector toward authorization and promoting city-wide collection systems and advanced technologies for dismantling. By replacing traditional processes with safer methods, such as exporting to integrated smelters, higher revenue is generated from materials like gold, silver, and copper found in e-waste. 

MAnagement of E-waste

The amended E-Waste Management Rules of 2018 aim to ensure effective and environmentally sound management through revised collection targets and improved monitoring by the Central Pollution Control Board. This approach not only addresses environmental concerns but also unlocks economic potential, providing income opportunities for individuals and enterprises involved in e-waste management.

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