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India a thriving global e-waste dump yard

By Shweta Srinivasan, IANS,

New Delhi : If you thought your old outdated PC or television was safely in a junkyard rotting away or being dismantled, think again. A study by a leading environmental group says it is poisoning our soil and water, causing serious health problems.

Booming economies like India and China that are increasingly dependent on electronic and electrical equipments have created a new but very dangerous stream of waste, called “electronic-waste”, or simply e-waste, says the report brought out by Greenpeace India.

“Primitive recycling or disposal of e-waste to landfills and incinerators causes irreversible environmental damage by polluting water and soil and contaminating air.”

Titled “Take Back Blues – An assessment of e-waste takeback in India”, the report showed that in 2007 India generated 380,000 tonnes of e-waste from discarded computers, televisions and mobile phones. This, the report said, was projected to more than double by 2012, to 800,000 per annum with a growth rate of 15 percent.

“Long-term exposure to deadly component chemicals and metals like lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and polyvinyl chlorides (PVC) can severely damage the nervous systems, kidney and bones, and the reproductive and endocrine systems, and some of them are carcinogenic and neurotoxic,” the report mentions.

“The findings from this study are absolutely shocking. It seems like e-waste takeback in India is in no way a priority for global brands. Otherwise, how else can one explain the irresponsible conduct of brands like Sony, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, Samsung and Philips, which have no take-back service in India whatsoever?” questions Abhishek Pratap, Greenpeace Toxics campaigner and the principal investigator for the study.

Another campaigner Rampati Kumar believes the only way to tackle this looming threat was to ensure that global and domestic brands manufacture eco-friendly equipment.

“If brands follow the ‘cradle to grave’ approach by ensuring takeback and bring back responsibility, it might work,” he says.

“The solution lies with the brand owners or manufacturers of electronic products, which need to bear responsibility for financing the treatment of the own-branded e-waste discarded by their customers.”

Findings from the study reveal that nine of the 20 brands surveyed for their takeback practice have no takeback service in India. The nine named in the report are Apple, Microsoft, Panasonic, PCS, Philips, Sharp, Sony, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba.

Two brands stand out as having the best takeback practice in India – HCL and WIPRO – and have come out publicly in support of e-waste legislation in India.

Positions on this from other brands are not clear. No brand has invested much in education and awareness of general customers on e-waste management.

“As part of HCL’s eco safe programme, we give booklets along with our products that address waste disposal and inform customers of take back policies, we also host customer seminars telling them about the importance of electronic waste disposal,” George Paul, executive vice-president marketing, HCL Info Systems, told IANS.

He also said that though the company had tied up with government approved recycling bodies to treat the electronic items after they are rendered useless.

“Customers have to incur the cost of giving back the equipment; thus they prefer to sell it to local scrap dealers for a nominal price. Unlike in Europe where once a week the local municipality picks up the electronic waste for a charge levied at the time of purchase of goods, in India the consumer is still at a fairly nascent stage of understanding waste disposal.”

Even as India heads for an e-waste crisis, most of the global electronic brands have no functioning e-waste takeback services in India.

The study is yet another effort to sound an alarm and get domestic standards on a par with global environment and health safety norms. Failure, as the report points out, could convert emerging economies into permanent grounds of toxic waste.