Here’s how you can dispose of e-waste sustainably

The number of gadgets that people have been buying since the pandemic hit us has shot up, thanks to an upsurge in the number of people working from home and attending online classes in the last two years. While this has meant efficiency in the WFH mode, it has also led to accumulation of gadgets that have outlived their utility, got damaged or become outdated. Such electronic waste or e-waste is hazardous to our health when stored in our homes and harmful for the environment when it is disposed of improperly. So, how should e-waste be cleared in a manner that is safe, sustainable, and with minimal detrimental impact on the environment? Experts have the answers…

How community-level e-waste collection drives help

Many of us have a pile of electronic products languishing and rusting in some forgotten corner of our cupboards or lofts because we have no idea how to clear this electronic junk. Janani Venkitesh, secretary of residents’ association of Kasturba Nagar, Chennai, says, “E-waste can even be small items which people do not know where to drop and end up binning it with their regular household and everyday garbage disposal. This is not right, and that is how the idea of a community e-waste collection drive first popped up.” The idea of collecting e-waste at a community level led to their first drive, in 2017, during which they mopped up 750kg of e-waste.

How and where to find e-waste collectors
An online search will throw up a plethora of options. How can we find the right option? “Firstly, look for recyclers authorised by the Pollution Control Board (PCB). If such recyclers are not in your city, then municipal corporations, panchayats or PCB can be approached,” says Prasanth Omanakuttan, founder of a recycling company based in Coimbatore.

The PCBs have a list of authorised recyclers or dismantlers with their contact details. Jagdish, who works with a Bengaluru-based recycler, explains, “Once consumers find the collection centre or dismantler, they can call them to find out how and when the waste can be dropped off. The cost of going and dropping waste is the next problem. In such cases, one can reach out to the Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) or collection centres, who offer pick-up services, too.”

How recycling helps

“The whole purpose of e-waste aggregation and recycling is to create a circular economy. When a product we use reaches the end of its lifecycle, it should be recycled and returned to the consumer as the same or different product,” says Pravin Shanmugam, who works in a PRO.

“The products can also be reused by donating or selling, and it can also be refurbished. At least a few parts of it can be recycled. For example, a laptop may not work, but its screen may still be reused,” adds Prashanth Omanakuttan.

The students of College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) in Chennai went a step further recently when they used the money collected from recycling to fund welfare activities. “We were able to collect 1 ton this year. We handed over the waste to a certified recycling company,” says Deepthi, a college student. The campaign was part of CEG-Techforum, a student-run organisation.

Why scrap dealers may not be ideal for e-waste disposal

Siddharth Singh, who teaches a course on waste management in Delhi, points out that, “In India, if a consumer buys a product for `100, he wants at least `10 back while discarding it. And for an average consumer, the easiest and quickest way for that is via kabbadiwalas. This mindset needs to be changed.”

The most convenient way, perhaps, to dispose of e-waste is to hand them over to waste collectors from the informal sector. But it’s an unsafe practice, experts say. “The issues include no occupational or environmental safety, inefficient recovery of resources, no pollution control checks among others,” adds Priti Mahesh, the chief programme co-ordinator at an environmental NGO with its offices in Delhi and Goa.

E-waste and what needs to be done

  • Global e-waste monitor categories waste as: small appliances, small IT equipment, large appliances, screens, lamps and temperature exchange equipment (AC, freezers etc.)
  • E-waste needs to be stored at a cool and dry area, Remove its battery, if possible. Follow device-specific instructions for storage given by the company.
  • More awareness about e-waste disposal using sustainable practices to be created among consumers

Sustainable practices…

  • Buy from brands that have EPR policy
  • Practice 3 Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Look out for recyclers, brands’ collection centers, PROs
  • Give off e-waste to government-approved dismantlers
  • Gather e-waste at community level or organise e-waste collection drives

E-waste generated in 2020

10,14,961.2 tonnes

Companies with EPR authorisation in India: 1900+

PROs in India: 60+

(Source: CPCB data)

E-waste includes:
Batteries, mobile phones, CDs, electronic toys, wires, laptops, computers, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, televisions, induction stoves, microwave ovens, etc.

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