A growing problem of electronic waste management

With the spread of urbanisation and easy availability of modern conveniences, civic authorities in the city are faced with a growing problem of electronic waste management.

Many residents in Tiruchi continue to dispose of, among other things, broken or outmoded computers, televisions, mixer-grinders, refrigerators, vehicle batteries, and insulated wires, along with the regular domestic waste, say environmentalists.

“People are unaware, or do not seem to care, about the safe way to dispose e-waste. They simply discard old gadgets in the neighbourhood bins when they are unable to store them or are shifting home. Unauthorised recyclers buy e-waste in bulk, dismantle the gadgets, and pour hazardous liquids like battery fluid directly on the ground. This kind of negligence can damage the environment in the long run,” a Senthanneerpuram-based e-waste recycler told The Hindu.

Approximately two to three tonnes of e-waste is generated in Tiruchi district per month, said the recycler. “Most government and corporate companies follow the standard operating procedures in e-waste management. But domestic e-waste still gets thrown out or destroyed in a haphazard manner. For example, many people burn insulated wires and cables not realising that they release toxic gases into the atmosphere when the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) gets burned,” he said.

According to the official website of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, 36 units (31 dismantlers, four recyclers and one refurbisher) have been authorised to deal with e-waste in the State. As per government norms, a certified recycling facility should have dry land, a covered shed, and safety gear for all staff, besides following SOPs for disposal.

There are no processing facilities in the district to recycle disused smartphones that contain metals like gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium. “An old gadget like an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) apparatus can yield up to 10 items when dismantled correctly. There are wires, iron casings, copper coils, and so on, that can be recovered. We use both machinery and manual labour to process the goods,” said the recycler.

A senior Corporation official said that in the absence of a dedicated recycling facility in Tiruchi, e-waste is being segregated at the city’s existing waste collection centres. “We have asked commercial establishments to store their e-waste and wait for us to pick it up in bulk. Besides this, we have tied up with some materials recovery facilities (MRFs), who will be helping us to deal with e-waste in a more comprehensive manner. Our ‘animators’ are raising public awareness about safe disposal through various programmes. A new policy to establish zone-wise e-waste management centres will be ready soon,” he said.

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