Global e-waste poised to surge from 47.8 MT to 49.8 MT by 2018: study

New Delhi: The global quantity of e-waste is expected to touch 49.8 Mt (million tonnes) by 2018 from the current level of 47.8 million tonnes, with an annual growth rate of 4 to 5 per cent, according to an ASSOCHAM-Sofies-Toxics Link joint study.

The study predicts that the total amount of e-waste that will be expected to increase from 47.8 million tonnes to 49.8 million tonnes in the year 2018. The top three Asian countries with the highest e-waste generation in absolute quantities are China (6.0 Mt), Japan (2.2 Mt) and India (1.7 Mt), reveals the joint study on ‘Rethinking Waste- Scaling Opportunity in India’ released today at New Delhi.

In India, approximately 1.5% of the total e-waste generated is recycled by formal recyclers or institutional processing and recycling, and another 8% of the e-waste generated is rendered useless and goes to landfills.

The biggest e-waste recycling market in India is in Delhi followed by Bengaluru and Chennai. While the informal sector’s efficiency in collecting e-waste and its contribution towards resource recovery are laudable, various health and environmental issues are related to informal recycling activities.

E-waste contains various toxic substances such as mercury, lead, or brominated flame-retardants to name but a few. Upon prolonged exposure during unsafe e-waste recycling activities, these substances lead to damage of almost all major body systems (nervous systems, blood systems, brain development, skin disorders, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage). This is particularly relevant in the informal sector, as a considerable number of informal e-waste workers do not take any health preventive measures.

As per the report, about 80% of e-waste workers in India suffer from respiratory ailments like breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing and choking due to improper safeguards. With bare hands and no protective facemasks, workers, children are usually among the most exposed to toxic fumes on a daily-basis. Tube-lights, motherboards and toner cartridges are burnt on open flames, spewing lead, mercury and cadmium into the air.

Hazardous substances contained in the electronic products, such as mercury, may be lost if not recovered properly, and lead to air contamination, groundwater and soil contamination. There is thus a dire need to reach out to the workers of the informal sector, to raise awareness about the consequence of improper e-waste management, and to include them as part of the solution to e-waste related issues. It is essential that informal recyclers be included in any long term e-waste management policy. The legislation today covers the role of formal recyclers but lacks a definite framework on the role and inclusion of informal recyclers.

Due to inadequate transport facilities and lacking workforce, collection efficiency in the Indian cities has been in the range of 70-73%. In some cities of Kerala, it goes down to 10% and in some cities like Mumbai and Ludhiana it reaches a near perfect 100% level. Thus on an average, one-third of the total waste remains uncollected, despite municipal bodies allocate 85-90% of their total budget on collection and transportation. The uncollected waste is often dumped indiscriminately resulting in choked drains and sewerage that serve as a breeding ground for public health epidemics.

Over 160,000 Metric Tons (MT) of municipal solid waste is generated daily in the country. Per capita waste generation in cities varies from 0.2 kg to 0.6 kg per day depending upon the size of population. This is estimated to increase at 1.33% annually. The total waste quantity generated by the year 2047 is estimated to be about 260 million tons per year. It is estimated that if the waste is not disposed off in a more systematic manner, more than 1,400 km2 of land, which is equivalent to the size of city of Delhi, would be required in the country by the year 2047 for its disposal.

The Indian industrial sector generates an estimated 100 million tons/year of non-hazardous solid wastes, with coal ash from thermal power stations accounting for more than 70 million tons/year. Over 8 million tons/year of hazardous waste is generated in India. About 60% of these wastes, i.e., 4.8 million tons/year is estimated to be recyclable and the remaining 3.2 million tons/ year is non-recyclable.

Major challenges of waste management in India are:

● Urbanization directly contributes to waste generation, and unscientific waste handling causes health hazards and urban environment degradation
● Waste is scattered widely in every part of the country, making it difficult to collect it from every corner
● Lack of workforce needed for waste collection and processing
● Industries dump their waste in rivers for petty profits which get back into homes of people via water they use
● Financial constraints, institutional weaknesses, improper choice of technology and public apathy towards municipal solid waste
● No polluter pays principle invoked rather we give incentives to treat, NGT and judicial activism adds confusion to legislative and executive decisions
● Rag pickers not properly integrated in the waste management cycle. Rag pickers have to face occupational hazards while collecting, no social security for them
● Corruption leads to not proper installation of dustbins
● No proper implementation of punishment provision in India

Challenges to policy makers are

 Lack of resources at civic bodies, old equipment and technology and societal apathy
 Laws for waste management are very old which need to be aligned with present requirements
 No separate department for waste management in Urban Local Bodies
 To cultivate the feeling of cleanliness in children through education as well in citizens

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