With incomes rising steadily over the last decade, more and more people have been purchasing and discarding mobile devices, computers, televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc. This has created a mountain of e-waste in the country. According to Central Pollution Control Board data, India will generate 800,000 metric tonnes in 2012 compared to 147,000 metric tonnes in 2005.
Workers sort e-waste in a godown in Seelampur, Delhi. Some of the chemicals are a health hazard Photo: Vivan Mehra
Nearly 90 per cent of India's e-waste is processed by the unorganised sector, mostly comprising small sweatshops in urban slums. These outfits use hazardous methods - pouring acid over circuit boards, for instance - to extract valuable elements such as iron, gold, silver and copper. These unscientific methods pose a health risk. Moreover, the unusable junk is discarded, causing environmental damage.
But there is hope in the form of the growing organised sector, which is using technology to process e-waste in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. Nearly 95 per cent of the electronic waste is converted into reusable material like plastic, copper, aluminium, iron, etc. Noida-based Attero Recycling claims to extract 12 elements from the junk, which it sells to companies and vendors. The remaining five per cent hazardous waste goes to government-approved treatment, storage and disposal facilities.
Attero Recycling has tied up with many companies to collect their e-waste Photo: Shekhar Ghosh
Today, there are 64 authorised recyclers, including Attero, E-Parisaraa and Ramky Enviro Engineers. Most have tie-ups with large businesses to process their e-waste.
There has been a positive legal development as well. In May this year, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, came into force. The rules have made manufacturers responsible for recycling and reducing e-waste, and requires them to open collection centres or introduce take-back systems. "In the long term, the policy will have a major impact on recyclers in the formal sector," says Rohan Gupta, Co-founder, Attero Recycling. Manu Kaushik