Bulk of Dehradun’s e-waste ends up with unauthorised recyclers; here’s why

A majority of citizens and traders dealing in electronic items have never heard of e-waste management rules or extended producer responsibility. Where does the city's large quantum of electronic waste go then?

Near the city centre, the clock tower, is the gleaming ‘mobile lane’, home to around 40 shops selling all varieties of mobile phones and electronic accessories. This creates a new problem for the city’s waste management authorities — managing the increasing amounts of e-waste being generated.

Significantly, the state’s pollution control board does not have a dedicated database on e-waste as it does on solid waste or plastic waste (available on its website). The state with 13 districts has only seven registered e-waste dismantlers and recyclers. Authorisation for all these e-waste dismantlers and recyclers seems to have expired in 2018, with no current information available on the number of authorised e-waste recycles.

The traditional local kabadiwalla is the main collector of e-waste generated in Dehradun. Some crude recycling is done locally. But mostly, the kabadiwallahs sell their e-waste to dealers in Moradabad in UP, which is emerging as one of the biggest hubs for informal recycling of electronic waste.

At an all India level, the electronics industry has emerged as one of the fastest growing segments in terms of production and export. As per an ASSOCHAM report, India is ranked 5th in the world in e-waste generation, behind countries like the USA, China, Japan and Germany. “Recent spikes in the world’s total e-waste amount is mainly attributed to India,” said the report.

Another ASSOCHAM-KPMG report identified that computer equipment accounts for almost 70 per cent of the country’s total e-waste, followed by telecommunication equipment-phones (12%), electrical equipment (8%) and medical equipment (7%), with the remainder being household e-waste.

This increase in the quantity of e-waste is largely because of increased consumption and obsolescence. Users are discarding old computers, mobiles and other equipment much earlier than before. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, published by United Nations University, the volume of e-waste is growing at an estimated 21 per cent annually.

The report predicts that by 2020, e-waste from old computers in India will have increased by 500 per cent since 2007. Discarded mobile phone waste will be about 18 times higher, television waste will be 1.5 to 2 times higher and the number of discarded refrigerators is likely to double from their 2007 levels. It is estimated that only 1.5 per cent of e-waste generated in the country gets recycled.

A lack of awareness about e-waste and e-waste recycling, as well as the role of the unorganized sector, add to the problem. The base metals that can be reused are lost, and this results in soil contamination from the unorganized and crude processes of dismantling.

Lack of awareness

Even with the mushrooming of mobile phone dealers in Dehradun, in areas like Premnagar, GMS road and Jakhan, there is no regulation on how they dispose of their e-waste. A recent social audit of authorised mobile brand dealers by the city-based Gati Foundation revealed that 68 per cent of the mobile dealers are not even aware of the term ‘e-waste’. 88 per cent of the mobile dealers are totally clueless about the primary piece of legislation governing the management of e-waste i.e. the E-waste (Management) Rules 2016.

All the mobile dealers audited by the Foundation were found to have zero knowledge about any take back scheme of the company whose mobile products they are selling. Not surprisingly, 94 per cent of the dealers do not have any separate bin facility for collecting e-waste materials as mandated under the E-waste rules 2016.

“Selling e-waste to the Kabadiwala is the most common practice because economically it is extremely rewarding,” said Pyare Lal, Community Outreach Associate, Gati Foundation. “Unlike other waste, pay back price for e-waste is high, for buyer and seller. Metals in e-waste like aluminium, silver, copper fetch 25 to 30 rupees a kilo”.

“Motherboards are the most sought-after,” said Nafees, a city-based e-waste collector. “The current market rate for even a damaged motherboard is Rs 300 per piece. Small batteries go for Rs 130 per piece, while the non-4G touch screen mobiles sell at Rs 20 per piece. We do not recycle the e-waste, we simply sell to recyclers based out of Uttarakhand”.

The Gati audit also assessed the knowledge and awareness levels of citizens. Around 77 per cent respondents were not aware about the E-waste (Management) Rules 2016, and 68 per cent were not aware about the term “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) enshrined under the rules which makes it compulsory for companies to manage e-waste after the life term expiry of their product. The companies announce buy back schemes, but 60 per cent of the citizens were not aware about any such scheme of any company.

At an individual level, mobile phones emerged as the most common type of e-waste generated, followed by batteries. pencil cells. And LED tube lights and bulbs, with heavy category like washing machines, television sets coming last.

Faulty disposal

A third part of the survey focused on the disposal. Some 30% of citizens agreed that they prefer to keep e-waste at home while 12% say they just bin it with other waste. Around 6.5% said they were burning e-waste.

Another interesting insight from the survey was that 8 people out of 10 preferred buying a new phone instead of repairing their old one. And almost none of the respondents were aware about any registered e-waste dismantler or recycler.

Capri Trade Centre, Dehradun. Pic: Rishabh Shrivastava

A good example of this total lack of awareness about e-waste can be seen in Capri Trade, Dehradun’s biggest centre for selling new and second hand electronic items. “We don’t have any established mechanism for e-waste management here in the centre,” said one of the Capri shop owners. “Once a week the kabadiwala comes and takes all e-waste, including discarded printer cartridges, monitors, desktops and other machine components”.

With Uttarakhand pushing for the growth of businesses big and small, Dehradun is set to witness a steep increase in all kinds of waste generation (solid, plastic, e-waste, bio-medical etc). While scientific recycling of other kinds of waste is happening to some extent, the bulk of the e-waste is ending up with illegal recyclers. There is an urgent need for government agencies to step in and create systems for environmentally friendly recycling of such waste by engaging all stakeholders (citizens, mobile dealers, registered dismantlers, brand owners etc).

Effective city level awareness campaigns on safe e-waste handling and disposal is an urgent need. Mobile dealers and other electronic showroom owners in particular can be an important link in this process.

Tackling the illegal recycling of e-waste, without harming livelihoods will be a challenging task for the state pollution control board. Setting up a joint working group to examine the issues of environmental, health and labour related hazards being caused by inter-state movement of e-waste could be a good first step.

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