Severe health risks and environmental damage are “widespread” in India due to “very low” literacy levels of the country’s over one million people involved in manual e-waste recycling operations, warns a new UN report. According to the ‘Global E-waste Monitor 2017’ report released yesterday, India’s electronics industry is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and plays an “important role” in the domestic generation of e-waste, producing 2 metric tonnes (Mt) in 2016. The report, which is a collaborative effort of the United Nations University (UNU), the International Telecommunication Union and the International Solid Waste Association, shows that the amounts of e-waste continue to grow, while too little is recycled. By 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste and only 20 per cent was recycled through appropriate channels, it said, adding that China was the top e-waste producer in the world, generating 7.2 Mt. “In the Southern and South-Eastern Asia region, India plays an important role in the domestic generation of e-waste (2 Mt in 2016) due to the large population, but the country also imports from developed countries,” the report said.
India’s electronics industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, it said while noting that the formal e-waste recycling sector in India is currently being developed in major cities. “However, informal recycling operations have been in place for a long time, with over 1 million poor people in India involved in manual recycling operations. Most of these people have very low literacy levels with little awareness of the dangers of the operations,” the report said. “Severe health impacts and environmental damage are widespread in India, due to the final step of the e-waste processing by the informal sector,” it warned. The report said that India has had the e-waste rules in effect since 2011.
“The rule mandates producers to be responsible for the collection and financing of systems according to the Extended Producer Responsibility concept,” it said. Although 66 per cent of the world’s population is covered by e-waste legislation, more efforts must be made to enforce, implement, and encourage more countries to develop e-waste policies, the report said.
Higher levels of disposable incomes, urbanisation and industrialisation in many developing countries are leading to growing amounts of electrical and electronic equipment and, consequently, to greater amounts of e-waste. Discarded equipment, such as phones, laptops, fridges, sensors, and TVs contain substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks, especially if treated inadequately, the report warned.
Most e-waste is not properly documented and not treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods, it said. The report noted that with cell phones and other equipment becoming cheaper, the problem may become more acute. “This means that more people will be able to afford purchasing new equipment, and that more equipment will eventually be discarded,” it said, highlighting the need for developing systems to safely handle and recycle e-waste.