World Environment Day 2022: From AI waste sorting to zero-waste solutions, this CEO believes e-waste crisis can be tackled with prudence

World Environment Day is here! Even as the pandemic abates, reorienting ourselves about the significance of protecting our natural surroundings has become more important than ever. This is perhaps the opportune moment to pledge corrective measures to strike an environmental balance. From littering, and pollution to climate change individual action is paramount.

While numerous influential personalities and organisations are working towards alleviating the planet from the hazards of global warming, there are more miles to cover. Electronic waste or e-waste has been on the rise around the world. They are essentially electronic products nearing the end of their utility such as computers, keyboards, smartphones, television, etc. E-waste contains toxic components that can lead to negative health effects such as damage to the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, etc.

According to a recent report, only 22.7 per cent of e-waste out of 10lakh tonnes generated in 2019-20 was collected, dismantled, recycled or disposed of in India. E-waste comprises 21 electrical and electronic equipment types as categorised under the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016. While it was 21.35 per cent in 2018-19, in 2017-18 it was only 9.79 per cent.

On World Environment Day, in an exclusive conversation with
ET Panache Digital, Amit Das, serial entrepreneur and founder of Electric One Mobility Private Limited, throws light on the perils of e-waste and what lies ahead.


Bijin Jose: What is the current state of e-waste in India?


Amit Das: The mammoth generation of e-waste has created a new e-waste stream in the country containing obsolete, end of life electrical and electronic equipment discarded after their intended use. E-waste is being generated by both indigenous and outsourced electrical and electronics equipment contrary to Basel Convention (a multilateral environmental agreement by the UN). The know-how and compatible infrastructure for e-waste treatment are limited in India and informal recycling operates under the ambit of the flexible legislative framework. The presence of toxic and hazardous substances in e-waste equipment attracted the attention of the waste managing agencies in the country because these substances endanger human health and the environment.

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At present, the existence and implementation of environmentally sound management are partial and progressing very slowly. The formal recyclers have commissioned comprehensive e-waste treatment facilities, but it s inadequate in proportion to the e-waste generation in the country since the informal recyclers are treating 95% of the e-waste with hazardous practices. The formal e-waste collection from all sources is ambiguous. E-waste contains a good amount of valuable recyclable materials also and has the potential to become a lucrative business in the country.

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Amit Das, Founder, Electric One Mobility.

Jose: What are your thoughts on e-waste management?

Das: I feel that e-waste is damaging our environment in a serious way. The waste is not being recycled properly, and as the third world countries strip away the useful materials by burning the electronics, their health is in great danger. Improper disposal of e-waste affects the soil, air, and water. Electronics containing heavy metals such as lead, barium, lithium, etc., lead to the death of plants and animals. Some chemicals are carcinogenic and can cause cancer.

The ability to obtain and recycle the materials from e-waste helps limit the need for mining them from the Earth. This conserves natural resources worldwide. The United Nations found that precious metal deposits in electronic waste are between 40 to 50 times richer than found in ore mined from the earth.

On New Modes Of E-waste Management in India


AI For Waste Sorting

After several years of development, there’s hope in 2021 for an AI solution that can provide an efficient way of sorting waste into different kinds of recyclable materials. The technology is termed ‘machine vision’ and can help us tackle improper waste disposal and make the most of missed opportunities. Therefore, an AI solution can help us recycle efficiently and inexpensively while avoiding environmentally hazardous mistakes, inevitably achieving a zero-waste lifestyle.

Innovative Waste Recycling Plants

With technology advancing every day and machines getting smarter by the minute, it is no surprise that waste management facilities have received a major push as well. With more efficient machines saving businesses money and time while providing new raw materials to be pushed into production, this has led to a new era of recycling led by the Circular Economy movement. Sorters, shredders and scanners and more have made the whole recycling process streamlined and beneficial for investors and clients both. An industry that is valued in the billions globally, is still coming to terms with the whole recycling concept but it is definitely one for the future.

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Zero-Waste Commercial Places

To manage waste, we need to come to terms with the amount of waste we produce. Reducing your waste production by practising a zero-waste lifestyle, can limit the burden on the landfills. Keeping that in mind, multiple zero-waste commercial places are opening up around the world. These places specialise in producing zero-waste at an operational level, encouraging individuals to follow the same practice.



Waste Monitoring System


The IoT garbage monitoring systems are deployed all around the world, mostly in developed countries. These systems enable the waste management authorities to monitor the level of garbage collected in the bins. Based on that, they can strategise the waste collection routes, ensuring that the waste-collecting vehicles are energy and cost-efficient. They are also known as smart waste collection monitoring and alert systems because whenever the bins are full, the relevant collectors are informed and they can collect them in time.

Jose: How does your organisation deal with e-waste?

Das: I believe we have an obligation as responsible entrepreneurs to do everything we can on an individual and organisational level to support the responsible recycling of e-waste. As a CEO looking to mitigate my company’s e-waste and having launched an e-waste startup at one time, here are some ways I believe companies can do this.

Educate And Encourage Your Employees

The first place to start with company-wide e-waste management is yourself, quickly followed by your employees. Education is an important starting point. Not everyone realizes the extent to which e-waste has become such a problem, and neither does everyone know how they can combat it on an individual level.

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Set Up Recycling Drop-Off Centers In-House

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in running my various businesses and startups, it’s that the easier a goal or plan is, the more likely it is to actually be accomplished. And that applies to e-waste recycling initiatives, too. If you want to engage your employees in your e-waste management plans, the easier you make it, the more likely you’ll succeed.

The E-Waste Recycling Take Away

Regardless of whether your company is large or small, e-waste is bound to be a concern at some point. How we manage it can impact our budget and even the outlook of our employees. Even more importantly, as leaders within our company culture and within our communities, we have a responsibility to take the lead in doing what we can to help the environment and foster sustainability.


Jose: What sensitisation methods have you adopted to create awareness among employees on e-waste?


Das:

  • Re-evaluate. Do you really need that extra gadget? Try finding one device with multiple functions
  • Extend the life of your electronics. Buy a case, keep your device clean, and avoid overcharging the battery
  • Buy environmentally friendly electronics. Look for products labelled Energy Star or certified by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
  • Donate used electronics to social programs—and help victims of domestic violence, children’s safety initiatives, environmental causes, and more. Ask your student REP for a postage-paid mailer for your cell phone or ink cartridge. For each item received, the World Wildlife Fund will receive one dollar
  • Reuse large electronics
  • Recycle electronics and batteries in e-waste recycling bins located around campus. Large electronics can go in the larger bins found in your building

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