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Analysis Of Down To Earth Magazine: ”E-Waste Management”

Analysis Of Down To Earth Magazine
”E-Waste Management”


”GS 2: Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies, Government Policies & Interventions”
”GS 3: Environmental Pollution & Degradation”


  • India has become the largest producer of e-waste after China and the United States.
  • More than 95 per cent of this waste is handled by the informal sector, which only adds to the problem.
  • According to a Central Pollution Control Board report, in financial year 2019-2020, India generated 1,014,961.2 tonnes of e-waste for 21 types of EEE.

What is e-waste?

  • E-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) are loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, broken, electrical or electronic devices.
  • The International Telecommunication Union defines e-waste as all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste without the intent of re-use.
  • This waste is classified into six categories: Cooling and freezing equipment like refrigerators, freezer other equipment such as televisions, monitors, laptops, notebooks and tablets.

Key Challenges of e-waste Management

  • The e-waste stream contains diverse materials — most prominently hazardous substances such as lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), mercury, polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and valuable substances such as iron, steel, copper, aluminum and plastics.
  • These require special treatment and cannot be dumped in landfill sites.
  • E-waste releases harmful chemicals, such as lead, on burning, which adversely impacts human blood, kidney and the peripheral nervous system.
  • When it is thrown in landfills, the chemicals seep in the ground water affecting both land and sea animals. Decomposing e-waste is an expensive process and only a few developed countries can afford to do so.

Current Status of E-Waste Management

  • For the recycling of e-waste, India heavily depends on the unorganized sector as only a handful of organized e-waste recycling facilities are available.
  • Over 95% of the e-waste is treated and processed in the majority of urban slums of the country, where untrained workers carry out dangerous procedures without personal protective equipment, which are detrimental not only to their health but also to the environment.
  • Therefore, health risk assessments are also required for the analysis of the consequences and of inappropriate management of end-of-life electronic wastes in developing countries.

Various e-waste sources, their constituents, and health impacts

E-waste sources Constituents Health effects
Solder in printed circuit boards, glass panels, and gaskets in computer monitors Lead
  • Damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, and kidney damage

  • Adverse effects on brain development of children; causes damage to the circulatory system and kidney

Chip resistors and semi-conductors Cadmium
  • Toxic irreversible effects on human health

  • Accumulates in kidney and liver

  • Causes neural damage

Relays and switches, and printed circuit boards Mercury
  • Chronic damage to the brain

  • Respiratory and skin disorders due to bioaccumulation in fishes

Galvanized steel plates and decorator or hardener for steel housing Chromium
  • Causes bronchitis

Cabling and computer housing Plastics and PVC
  • Burning produces dioxin that causes reproductive and developmental problems

Electronic equipment and circuit boards Brominated flame-retardants
  • Disrupt endocrine system functions

Front panels of CRTs Barium, phosphorus, and heavy metals
  • Cause muscle weakness and damage to heart, liver, and spleen

Copper wires, Printed circuit board tracks. Copper
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, liver damage, or Wilson’s disease

Nickel–cadmium rechargeable batteries Nickel
  • Allergy of the skin to nickel results in dermatitis while allergy of the lung to nickel results in asthma

Lithium-ion battery Lithium
  • Lithium can pass into breast milk and may harm a nursing baby

  • Inhalation of the substance may cause lung edema

Motherboard Beryllium
  • Carcinogenic (lung cancer)

  • Inhalation of fumes and dust causes chronic beryllium disease or beryllicosis

Basel Convention

  • The Basel Convention started to address e-waste issues since 2002 which include, among others, environmentally sound management; prevention of illegal traffic to developing countries and; building capacity around the globe to better manage e-waste.
  • The Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI) was adopted by the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention.
  • The Nairobi Declaration on the Environmentally Sound Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste and decision IX/6 adopted by the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP9) gave a mandate to the Secretariat to implement a work plan for the environmentally sound management of e-waste.

Existing Laws Related to e-waste management

  • There are various legislations to regulate the disposal and management of e-waste in India, but their implementation is lax.
  • These legislations include Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Amendment Rules, 2003, Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, 2008 and E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, E-waste Management Rules, 2016, etc.
  • The states have notified a set of hazardous waste laws and built waste disposal facilities in the last 10 years. However, a Comptroller and Auditor General of India report found that over 75 per cent of state bodies were not implementing these laws.

The way Forward

  • We need to efficiently use our electronic devices by regularly maintaining them. By getting devices serviced timely, we can extend the average life of these electronic devices.
  • Another unique solution to the problem can be offered by tech giants through conditional selling. All tech companies should mandate their customers to buy new technology only after exchanging old electronic products for the new ones.
  • Hardware stores and companies should offer incentives such as exchange offers and discounts to customers who give away their old electronic devices. Tech companies and sellers should collaborate with e-waste disposing companies for their proper disposal.

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