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Mitigating the e-waste Crisis

Context:

Today, with advancements in science and technology, computers and mobile devices have become essential to our work and personal lives, making it difficult to imagine life without them. However, this widespread usage leads to a growing problem of e-waste, as consumers frequently upgrade their gadgets, resulting in a high turnover of electronic devices.

Relevance:

GS3- Environment- Pollution and Conservation

Mains Question:

What are concerns associated with the rising magnitude of e-waste generation in India? What role can innovations, regulations and corporate responsibility play in this regard? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

About e-waste:

  • e-waste, or electronic waste, consists of discarded electronic devices and appliances that are no longer useful or wanted.
  • Since 2011, India has implemented laws to manage e-waste, requiring that only authorized dismantlers and recyclers handle it. The E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016, were enacted in 2017.
  • India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing, and disposing of waste from household and commercial units was established in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Concerns Associated with e-waste:

  • It is a significant issue due to its complex composition, rapid generation, and the challenges it poses to human health and the environment.
  • Toxic substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium in batteries and semiconductors can cause neurological damage and harm the kidneys and bones.
  • Additionally, these toxic chemicals can leach into the soil, rendering it infertile and unsafe for agriculture.
  • Furthermore, e-waste contamination affects water and air quality. Improper disposal can pollute water bodies, impacting water supplies and aquatic life, while toxic fumes from extracting valuable metals can cause respiratory problems.
  • Airborne toxins can travel long distances, deteriorating air quality and harming human health. In many developing countries, informal e-waste recycling provides a significant source of income.
  • However, these activities are often unregulated, exposing workers to high levels of toxic substances without adequate protection.
  • Exposure to improperly managed e-waste can lead to respiratory problems, skin disorders, and other severe health issues.
  • Additionally, improper disposal and recycling contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating environmental degradation and increasing carbon footprints.
  • According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, the world generated 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, with projections reaching 74.7 million metric tons by 2030.
  • Only a small portion of this waste is properly recycled, with much of it ending up in landfills, posing significant environmental and health risks.
  • The ICEA report indicates that e-waste management in India is largely handled by the informal sector, which is responsible for about 90% of e-waste collection and 70% of recycling.
  • This sector is highly effective at salvaging older electronic devices for spare parts and conducting profitable repairs.

Way Forward:

  • Proper recycling is the key to recovering valuable materials and reducing the need for new resource extraction.
  • This can only be achieved through stringent government regulations for e-waste management, including proper collection, recycling, and disposal practices. Initiatives such as e-waste collection drives and recycling centers are essential.
  • Manufacturers should also be held accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products through take-back programs and recycling initiatives.
  • Investing in advanced recycling technologies can improve the efficiency and safety of extracting valuable materials from e-waste.
  • Encouraging manufacturers to design products that are easier to recycle, repair, and upgrade can reduce e-waste generation.
  • Educating consumers about the importance of proper e-waste disposal and available recycling options can further reduce improper disposal practices.
  • Establishing international standards for e-waste management can ensure safe and efficient recycling practices globally.
  • Strengthening international regulations to prevent the illegal export of e-waste to developing countries, where it is often processed unsafely, is also crucial.
  • From gadgets to green initiatives, everyone should recycle their e-waste to help create a cleaner, greener future.

Conclusion:

E-waste management poses a significant challenge for governments in many developing countries, including India. It is rapidly becoming a major public health issue. To ensure proper collection and effective treatment, it is crucial to integrate the informal sector with the formal sector. Competent authorities must establish mechanisms to handle and treat e-waste safely and sustainably.


June 2024
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