Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Monday, February 2, 2009

A day in the life of an e-waster recycler

14-year old Ram Kumar wakes up at 4 a.m. in the morning. He starts his search for broken mobile phones, keyboards and CPU cabinets. By 9 a.m., his brown gunny bag is brimming with electronic junk from the stream of sewage and garbage dumps lining a nallah in Patparganj, East Delhi.

Broken mobile phones, cathode ray tubes, radiators, mangled printed circuit boards and smashed refrigerator parts - the e-waste bulges out of the gunny bag. He offloads his electronic knick-knack daily at the nearest assemblers for Rs 100 a bag. On a lucky day, a PC motherboard fetches him Rs 30. As the sun settles, on the banks of the nallah, the assemblers ship all the e-junk to Seelampur, where the e-waste recyclers reside near the slums. Scores of concrete bath tubs, filled with lead acid, line up in the area. The recyclers dump all e-waste into the acid bath overnight.

As dawn breaks, on the banks of the Yamuna, metal scrap from the circuit boards, melts away and settle at the bottom of the acid bath. As the acid loses its corrosiveness after 4 to 5 uses, the bath tubs are drained into the Yamuna. From the river, poisonous metals and chemicals find their way into the ground water, from where it reaches your drinking water supply.

About 3.3 lakh tones of e-waste was generated in 2007, which was dumped into the rivers, nallahs, landfills and sewage drains of the country. An additional 50,000 metric tonnes was illegally imported into the country. While the chemicals seep into the ground water, the e-waste (like junk refrigerator bodies, compressors from air conditioners and waste plastic used to make phones) just keep on piling up. Around residential areas, just off city limits, these dumps are growing.

Out of the 3.3 lakh MT, only 19,000 MT of the annual e-waste is recycled, every year. This is due to high refurbishing and reuse of electronics products in the country and also due to poor recycling infrastructure.

“E-waste is going to be one the major problems facing the world after climate change and poverty,”
says Nokia India MD D Shivakumar. “At Nokia, we have realised this and have started a programme under which anybody can move into a Nokia priority care store and put any mobile phone in a box. We then collect all this e-waste and get it recycled via authorised recyclers,” he adds.

Globally, Nokia has collection points for recycling used mobile phones and accessories across 5000 Nokia care centres in 85 countries and engages in collection campaigns with retailers, operators, other manufacturers and local authorities around the world. Nokia’s proactive approach has made it the top electronics major in Greenpeace India’s

Annual Guide to Greener Electronics 2008. In India, Nokia has installed take-back bins in more than 600 care centres across India, with a free gift for people depositing their old mobile phones.

According to a MAIT report, e-waste from discarded computers, television sets and mobile phones is projected to grow to more than 800,000 MT by 2012 with a growth rate of 15% in the country.

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