HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF E-WASTE
EEEs are made of a multitude of components, some containing toxic substances that have an adverse impact on human health and the environment if not handled properly. Often, these hazards arise due to the improper recycling and disposal processes used. It can have serious repercussions for those in proximity to places where e-waste is recycled or burnt. Waste from the white and brown goods is less toxic as compared with grey goods. A computer contains highly toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFR, polyvinyl chloride and phosphor compounds.
Lead exerts toxic effects on various systems in the body such as the central (organic affective syndrome) and peripheral nervous systems (motor neuropathy), the hemopoietic system (anemia), the genitourinary system (capable of causing damage to all parts of nephron) and the reproductive systems (male and female).
Mercury causes damage to the genitourinary system (tubular dysfunction), the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as the fetus. When inorganic mercury spreads out in water, it is transformed into methylated mercury, which bio-accumulates in living organisms and concentrates through the food chain, particularly by fish.
Cadmium is a potentially long-term cumulative poison. Toxic cadmium compounds accumulate in the human body, especially in the kidneys. There is evidence of the role of cadmium and beryllium in carcinogenicity.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) affects lungs, skin and bladder. Epidemiological studies in the past on occupational exposure to PAH provide sufficient evidence of the role of PAH in the induction of skin and lung cancers.
EXISTING LEGISLATION AND POLICY RELATED TO E-WASTE
Draft Hazardous Materials (Management, Handling and Transboundary movement) Rules, 2007 (September 28, 2007), part of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
India is a signatory to the Basal Convention. (Basel Convention is the United Nations Environment Programme) on the control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous wastes and their disposal.
There is no policy on e-waste, although some parts of computers could be considered as hazardous waste.
ORGANIZATIONS/NETWORKS working on e-waste issues in India
1. Knowledge bank for e-waste management in India.
The Asia Pro Eco programme supported by the European Commission is dedicated to the environmental performance in Asian Economic sectors through the exchange of environmental policies, technologies and practices and to promote sustainable investment and trade between the European Union Member States and South Asia, South-East Asia and China.
2. The E-waste Guide, India.
This is an Initiative of the Indo–German–Swiss Partnership (Ministry of Environment and Forests, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs). It is designed to serve as an information resource on e-waste as well as a common collaborative work platform for stakeholders.
3. National Solid Waste Association of India (NSWAI)
It is a leading professional non-profit organization in the field of solid-waste management, including toxic and hazardous waste and also biomedical waste in India. It was formed in 1996. Its objectives include development of solid-waste management as a profession, research and development, development of expertise, standards and goods practices with regards to solid-waste management.
4. Toxics Link
It is a Delhi-based environment activist group with a mission of working for environmental justice and freedom from toxics. It is also actively involved in creating public awareness on environmental issues through publications, reports, articles and environment news bulletins besides organizing various events.
1. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
Formed in 1982, located in San Jose, California, it is a diverse grassroots coalition that engages in research and advocacy and is organized around the environmental and human health problems caused by the rapid growth of the high-tech electronics industry.
2. The Basel Action Network (BAN)
It is a global network of toxics and development activist organizations that share a vision of international environmental justice. The network seeks to prevent all forms of ‘toxic trade’ – in toxic wastes, toxic products and toxic technologies.
3. Others are the International Solid Waste Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, Environmental Protection Agency, etc.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
1. Technical interventions
• Product design and engineering interventions
The solution for the e-waste crisis lies in ‘prevention at the manufacturing source’ or the ‘precautionary principle.’ This can be done by employing waste minimization techniques and by a sustainable product design.
Waste minimization in industries involves adopting:
• Inventory management
• Production process modification
• Volume reduction
• Recovery and reuse
• Sustainable product design involves:
• Rethinking on procedures of designing the product (flat computers)
• Use of renewable material and energy
• Creating electronic components and peripherals of biodegradable material
• Looking at a green packaging option
• Utilizing a minimum packaging material
Extended Producer Responsibility is considered one of the most appropriate frameworks that amalgamate all the enlisted principles on environmental justice.
Some recycling procedures require improvement, up-gradation (both in skills and technologies) and some have to be abandoned altogether due to severe risks for health and the environment.
2. Policy-level interventions
• Clear definition of e-waste for regulation.
• Import and export regulatory regime.
• An integrated IT waste management policy
Lack of clarity on the issue of e-waste and the inability of current hazardous waste rules to govern and effectively monitor the e-waste recycling are some of the prime reasons for experts and members of civil society demanding a separate set of rules to guide and control these processes.
3. Implementation and capacity building
• Legislation for collection, recycling and disposal.
• Institutional capacity building.
• Formalizing the informal recycling sector.
3.1 Technical advantage of processes improvement (restructuring recycling)
At Ash Recyclers, one of just two authorized recycling plants in Bangalore, hazardous metals are safely extracted at a special plant and everything else – down to the keys – is recycled.
3.2 Protective protocol for workers in e-waste disposal
Workers are given formally recognized jobs where they can use skills and where occupational health safety (information about their occupation-related health hazards involved and self protection, protective gear and equipment and periodic medical checkups) is assured.
• Bilateral and multilateral cooperation
4. Awareness building
The current awareness regarding the existence and dangers of e-waste are extremely low, partly because the e-waste being generated is not as large as in developed countries. Urgent measures are required to address this issue.
The role of citizens in e-waste management include:
• Donating electronics for reuse, which extends the lives of valuable products and keeps them out of the waste management system for a long time.
• While buying electronic products, opting for those that are made with fewer toxic constituents, use recycled content, are energy efficient, are designed for easy upgrading or disassembly, use minimal packaging and offer leasing or take back options.
• Building of consumer awareness through public awareness campaigns is a crucial point that can attribute to a new responsible kind of consumerism.
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