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The E-Waste Problem, Namrata Rana  
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The global information and communications technology (ICT) industry accounts for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a figure equivalent to aviation, (Gartner, Inc). In addition the use and throw nature of most gadgets, pcs and other technology products is leading to the generation of mountains of e-waste in the developing world.

Technological change, led in many ways by Moore’s law has led to a use and throw culture where the latest is always better and the older product necessarily discarded. The electronics industry thrives on obsolescence. Computers, cell phones, and other gadgets go out of date quickly, sometimes within months of release. E-Waste is big and getting bigger everyday. While many companies have signed up to the Basle convention and many are now partnering with the UN Step Initiative, most Recycling initiatives are more Greenwash than actual reality.

The challenges faced by developing countries such as India are enormous. India is the software factory of the world and is the growth engine for hardware providers such as Apple, HP and Dell. Total PC shipments to India during 2007-08 (April-March) were beyond the 8.25 million mark, recording a year on year growth of 22.3 per cent (Source: Mait India). The booming PC market is also leading to a boom in the the total e-waste generation of 330,000 tonnes per year as per the study conducted by IMRB, Mait & GTZ. In addition India is also receiving large amounts of e-waste through trade and illegal imports.

The Hazardous Waste Rules of 1989 prohibit the import of e-waste without prior permission from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), import of such wastes is allowed for processing and reuse of raw materials upon merit from the state pollution control boards. The import of second hand computers less than 10 years old and donations of computers to non- profit organisations are also permitted.

Of the total e-waste, a study found, only about 43.2% finds its way into recycling. An additional 50,000 tonnes is estimated to be illegally imported. Most of this is refurbished and resold, leaving about 19,000 tonnes, representing 5.7% of the total waste, which is processed in the country. (Source: IMRB, Mait & GTZ.)

Does the solution lie in Recycling, Consumer awareness or Redesign?

While all the above need to necessarily be done for a long term solution, India needs an immediate way of coping with e-waste as well as a long term strategy to ensure that we are no longer playing catch up with a massive inflow of waste. The strategy also needs to take into account that India does not manufacture most IT products, instead we import most of our hardware requirements. The strategy for India also needs to look at a multi-dimensional view of the socio – economic environment, regulatory challenges and the need for balanced growth.

India could design a 3 step strategic framework to solve this problem

Step 1 Develop a business model that focuses on social good and economic value to resolve the e-waste problem

a – Develop a central repository of all IT technology products available for reuse and recycling.

b – Train people to collect, refurbish and recycle products.

c – Provide products to the needy. These products can be used to put more power and responsibility in the hands of the local communities through services for government interactions Computer-enabled education for children Programs to upgrade skill sets Help in village planning and monitoring Microcredit facilities

Step 2 Making it mandatory for IT hardware and Software firms to Recycle e-waste would ensure that we strike at the root of the problem.

Step 3 Undertaking a mass awareness campaign to ensure behavior change of home users.

While many industry bodies are aware of the problem and several forums have been launched, slow implementation is a serious cause for concern and much needs to be done.

 

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