When profit and industry are pitted against human health, we have a consistent winner – and it isn’t your, mine or anyone else’s wellbeing. For example, it has been estimated that emissions from out-dated diesel freight ships contributes to 60,000 deaths per year.
Pollution from coal in developing countries and ground level ozone in rich economies could cause millions of premature deaths in the coming decades.
Yet despite this knowledge, companies use their billions to push for less regulation while governments choose industrial development over human health.
But there is an even more insidious culprit, which can’t be seen curling out from factory smokestacks or gathering on frothy lakeshores. And it’s part and parcel of the communications revolution. As more and more computers and mobile phones fill up landfills, their toxic and carcinogenic chemicals leak into the earth and groundwater, jeopardizing the safety of human food and drinking water. This happens mostly in developing countries in Asia and Africa, which have become repositories of the world’s e-waste.
The problem is not a crisis of information, but of action. Scientists and governments know about pollutants, but policies choose short-term profit motives over health. I say short-term because in the long run an unhealthy, non-working, dead population is less productive than a healthy one.
The problem, it seems, is competing interests: short-term vs. long-term benefits, industry (including pharmaceuticals) vs. national health insurance programs. In most countries it is the former that wins out and this is a largely systematic problem.
In other words, capitalism by its nature does not encourage public welfare or even long-term economic plans.
Wһаt іѕ e-waste?
Electronic waste (e-waste) comprises waste electronics/electrical goods tһаt аrе חοt fit fοr tһеіr originally intended υѕе οr һаνе reached tһеіr еחԁ οf life. Tһіѕ mау include items such аѕ computers, servers, mainframes, monitors, CDs, printers, scanners, copiers, calculators, fax machines, battery cells, cellular phones, transceivers, TVs, medical apparatus аחԁ electronic components besides white goods such аѕ refrigerators аחԁ air-conditioners. E-waste contains valuable materials such аѕ copper, silver, gold аחԁ platinum wһісһ сουƖԁ bе processed fοr tһеіr recovery.
Iѕ e-waste hazardous?
- E-waste іѕ חοt hazardous per se. Hοwеνеr, tһе hazardous constituents present іח tһе e-waste render іt hazardous wһеח such wastes аrе dismantled аחԁ processed, ѕіחсе іt іѕ οחƖу аt tһіѕ stage tһаt tһеу pose hazard tο health аחԁ environment.
- Electronics аחԁ electrical equipment seem efficient аחԁ environmentally friendly, bυt tһеrе аrе hidden dangers associated wіtһ tһеm once tһеѕе become e-waste. Tһе harmful materials contained іח electronics products, coupled wіtһ tһе fаѕt rate аt wһісһ wе′re replacing outdated units, pose a real danger tο human health іf electronics products аrе חοt properly processed prior tο disposal.
- Electronics products Ɩіkе computers аחԁ cellphones contain a lot οf different toxins. Fοr example, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) οf computer monitors contain heavy metals such аѕ lead, barium аחԁ cadmium, wһісһ саח bе very harmful tο health іf tһеу enter tһе water system. Tһеѕе materials саח cause ԁаmаɡе tο tһе human nervous аחԁ respiratory systems. Flame-retardant plastics, used іח electronics casings, release particles tһаt саח ԁаmаɡе human endocrine functions. Tһеѕе аrе tһе types οf things tһаt саח happen wһеח unprocessed e-waste іѕ рυt directly іח landfill.
- They are biologically non-degradable. Some of the highly toxic substances found in E-waste and their ill effects on human beings are as follows –
- Lead – Lead is found in television and computer monitors on the glass panels. Exposure to high levels of lead can result in vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma or even death. Other symptoms are appetite loss, abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, and headaches. Lead damages the central and the peripheral nervous system, the circulatory system, the reproductive system and mental development of young children.
- Cadmium – It is used in making semiconductor chips and cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Inhalation of cadmium can cause severe damage to the lungs, kidneys and can even cause death.
- Mercury – The electronic goods industry consumes about 22 per cent of all the mercury produced in the world. Mercury is used in the manufacturing of circuit boards, cell phones, and batteries. Mercury is also used in flat screen displays in television and computer monitors. Mercury causes severe damage to organs such like the brain and the kidneys.
- Barium – Barium is used to protect people from radiation from the cathode ray tube (CRT) screen panels. It can cause the brain to swell, weaken muscles and cause severe damage to the heart, liver and spleen.
- Beryllium – Beryllium is used in the electronics industry because it is light, strong, a good conductor of electricity and non-magnetic . However it is extremely harmful if inhaled and can cause lung cancer.
- Hexavalent chromium – Chromium is used to prevent corrosion in steel and in steel housing. Chromium can enter the body and is absorbed by human cells. Once in the body it has toxic effects on the body. It can also damage DNA.
- Poly-vinyl-chloride (PVC) – Poly-vinyl-chloride or PVC makes up for the largest percentage of plastic used in electronic equipment. An average computer contains about 13.8 pound of plastic, including PVC. The burning of PVC generates dioxins, a class of super-toxic chemicals that can damage the immune system and cause birth defects in children. PVC can also cause diseases such as brain and liver cancer.
Electronic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011
- Dumping of e-waste, comprising electronic items like television sets, mobile phones and computers is illegal from now on.
- It is also illegal to sell e-waste to local scrap dealers.
- Under the Electronic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011 such waste must be routed to one of 73 authorized recyclers in India.
- As per the law, non-compliance can entail imprisonment or a fine.
- As of now, these penalties are only for manufactures and bulk consumers.
- India's e-waste had hit an all-time high estimated at around eight lakh metric tonnes in 2012.
The Ministry of Environment & Forests is implementing a Scheme to provide financial assistance for setting up of treatment, disposal and storage facility for hazardous and integrated recycling facilities for E-waste on public private partnership mode.
- The concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been enshrined in these rules. As per these Rules the producers are required to collect e-waste generated from the end of life of their products by setting up collections centers or take back systems either individually or collectively. E-waste recycling can be undertaken only in facilities authorized and registered with State Pollution Control Boards/Pollution Control Committees. Waste generated is required to be sent or sold to a registered or authorized recycler or re-processor having environmentally sound facilities.
What ails EPR in India
- “One of the major bottlenecks from the producers' viewpoint is lack of capacity and clarity in the directives given by the regulatory bodies which has made it difficult to implement EPR in India.
- But more than the obstacles, it is lack of effort from producers which has resulted in limited implementation of EPR. In the absence of accountability, the producers have chosen the easy way out.”
- The E-waste Rules simply talk about financing and organising a system for environmentally sound management of e-waste without any mechanism to check how this system would be put into practice.
- Nowhere in the Rules is it mentioned what kind of penalty will be imposed if EPR is not followed.
E-waste management: Nokia sets example
- Nokia began its e-waste management campaign in 2008 when e-waste disposal was given little attention.
- In the first phase of its campaign, Nokia set up drop boxes across the country to take back used phones, chargers and accessories, irrespective of the brand, at Nokia Care Centres or Priority Dealers.
- After the necessary infrastructure was set up, Nokia entered into the second phase of the campaign, which involved the public.
- Nokia’s mass campaign was implemented on January 1, 2009 in four cities of the country: Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Ludhiana. The campaign was advertised on the front pages of all the major newspapers in the pilot cities and around 600 articles relating to it were published in different newspapers across the country.
- “The response to the 'Take-back' campaign has been extremely positive since the beginning. The total quantity of mobile phones and accessories collected from this campaign since its launch in 2009 is 160 tonnes. The e-waste collection has grown from three tonnes in 2009 to 65 tonnes in 2012,” says Pranshu Singhal, head of sustainability operations with Nokia
- The campaign was followed by a programme to involve small repair shops in e-waste recycling. “In the course of our dealings with multiple stakeholders for management of e-waste, we realized that a very significant number of old mobile phones, after getting transferred through multiple ownerships, end up in small repair stores that have very little knowledge of e-waste,” says Singhal. Nokia then started a programme in 2011 in partnership with Humana People to People India (HPPI), a New Delhi based non-profit, to reach out to such stores, educate them on e-waste and provide them access to responsible recycling. Since then Nokia has enrolled over 6,000 stores in 25 cities and towns. Each of these stores takes responsibility of engaging with their neighbourhood network of mobile phone stores and channels their e-waste to a responsible recycler via Nokia.