Tuesday, December 30, 2008

more sensible Indian commentary

Looking forward: Let’s resolve e-waste in 2009

Alok Verma

30 December 2008, Tuesday

WITH THE end of 2008 there appears to be a genuine optimism that the year 2009 would be a witness to more cheers and less of threats, violence, fear, crises, clashes and conflicts. Optimism is what brings motivation for change. And, in all fairness we all must work towards making 2009 as the ‘year of optimism’. Unless we remain optimistic it is quite possible that the threats that are staring us so dangerously may again throw us into the realm of pessimism.

We as a nation have just been a witness to the worst kind of terrorism, economic crisis, commodity crisis, petroleum crisis, stock market crisis and real estate crisis. We are not too sure when and how we would be coming out of it. But while probing the root cause a little too closely behind these crises one finds only one symptom responsible for it – the indifferent people.

We have been indifferent to yawning unfair business practices, inequitable income and distribution of resources, denial of fair justice, rudimentary rights to live. The insatiable greed and avarice have led to the ills that we are confronting in contemporary times. The growing disdain of people towards those issues that cut across geographical boundaries, classes, castes and religion but are critical, significant and of concern for the humanity to survive. Unless these demons are reined in early there is very little for hope for addressing much larger issues such as energy, water and environment.

Often, I read about drastic changes in weather patterns across continents that are causing rise in sea level, melting of polar icecaps and ever-increasing levels of all forms of pollution. A lot of thrust is being laid on conservation of environment as one of the major concerns around the globe. But what has jolted me out of my slumber is a recent article that someone has sent me as part of the chain mail. The article talks about the portent dangers of almost unstoppable generation of electronic waste (e-waste). And, one single reason that wallops tonnes of energy, water, emission of greenhouse gases and produces tonnes of electronic waste is the mindlessly growing but inevitable necessary information technology infrastructure across India.

The scale of the problem is so gigantic that it is spine-chilling if one comes across certain statistics. According to a report by hardware body Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT), e-waste from discarded computers, TVs and mobile phones is projected to grow to more than 800,000 tonnes by 2012, with a growth rate of 15 per cent in India. "If the situation is not controlled, we may see large land-fills of junk e-waste around our cities 10 years down the line," says MAIT executive director Vinnie Mehta.

E-waste encompasses ever growing range of obsolete electronic devices such as computers, servers, main frames, monitors, TVs and display devices, telecommunication devices such as cellular phones, pagers, calculators, audio and video devices, printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines besides refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines and microwave ovens, e-waste also covers recording devices such as DVDs, CDs, floppies, tapes, printing cartridges, military electronic waste, automobile catalytic converters, electronic components such as chips, processors, mother boards, printed circuit boards, industrial electronics such as sensors, alarms, sirens, security devices, automobile electronic devices.

There is an estimate that the total obsolete computers originating from government offices, business houses, industries and household is of the order of two million every year. Manufactures and assemblers in a single calendar year, estimated to produce around 1200 tons of electronic scrap. It should be noted that obsolesce rate of personal computers (PC) is one in every two years. The consumers find it convenient to buy a new computer rather than upgrade the old one due to the changing configuration, technology and the attractive offers of the manufacturers.

Due to the lack of governmental legislations on e-waste, standards for disposal, proper mechanism for handling these toxic hi-tech products, mostly end up in landfills or partly recycled in a unhygienic conditions and partly thrown into waste streams. Computer waste is generated from the individual households; the government, public and private sectors; computer retailers; manufacturers; foreign embassies; secondary markets of old PCs. Of these, the biggest sources of PC scrap are foreign countries that export huge computer waste in the form of reusable components.

With extensive use of computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipments and people dumping old devices for new ones, the amount of e-waste generated has been steadily increasing. At present, Bangalore alone generates about 8000 tonnes of computer waste annually and in the absence of proper disposal, these find their way to scrap dealers. According to Toxic Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization about 3.3 lakh tonnes of e-waste generated in 2007 was dumped into the rivers, land-fills and sewage drains. . "E-waste is going to be one the major problems facing the world after climate change and poverty," says Nokia India managing director D Shiva Kumar.

One can estimate the quantum of crisis when according to Siva Kumar five lakh people walk in every month at Nokia stores around the country to buy new phones and of them thousands would be junking their old phones. Worst is that these phones are not being recycled but get piled up as e-waste. Imagine, almost a similar number of phones of other cell phone manufacturers must also be getting junked in lieu of new phones.

Electronic waste or e-waste is one of the rapidly growing environmental problems of the world. In India, the electronic waste management assumes greater significance not only due to the generation of our own waste but also dumping of e-waste particularly computer waste from the developed countries. All of us who are using the internet or mobile as a medium of communication must understand the dangers of e-waste and use the year of 2009 to create mass awareness of its portent dangers. Let e-waste not become another threat to humanity as we already have many threats to deal with.

No comments: