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Radioactivity Dangers:NATIONAL E-WASTE POLICY CRITICAL, by Syed Ali Mujtaba, 19 May 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 19 May 2010



By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The death of a person in New Delhi’s scrap market and hospitalisationof seven others has brought to the fore the dangers of radioactivity and theurgent need for a national e-waste management policy to avert any suchincidents in future. 

India, it is estimated generatesapproximately 1, 50,000 tonnes of e-waste every year. This is produced becausethe resurgent growth of the economy is dependent on electronic hardware forhousehold, industrial and office automation. However, the electronic hardwareis generatin

g electronic waste that has a huge potential to causeenormous harm to human health and environment. Therefore, a commitment to eco-responsibilityis the sine qua non for the society, economy and the environment.

E-waste is any broken or unwanted electronic applianceswhich include computers, entertainment electronics, mobile phones and otherelectronic items, that are discarded. The main reason why e-waste has become aglobal concern is because of the presence of toxic and hazardous substancessuch as lead, cadmium, mercury, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), arsenic barium,beryllium and brominated flame retardants etc.

In the absence of an effective method for collection ofe-waste and managing the hazardous constituents, some e-waste ends up at thescrap market, which then recycles them, using high polluting technologies. Someother e-waste is being disposed off in land fills resulting in highenvironmental risk and health hazards to both humans and animals.

Therefore, it’s imperative for an early formulation of anational e-waste policy that may clearly spell out the methods to safeguard anddispose off the toxic material. Such a policy should appropriately reflect theconcerns of the various stakeholders which include the end users-- we thepeople of India,as well as the views of the practitioners in the field, both in the organizedand the unorganized sector.

Taking a lead, the southern State of Tamil Nadu has recently unveiled acomprehensive Environmentally Sound Management (ESM) policy on e-waste. It triesto address issues pertaining to public health and environment that has growndue to the impact of the ‘ineffective and continuous disposal’ of e-waste. Thenew e-waste policy would have a single window facility to guide investors. Itwill educate both the public and officials concerned on how to avoid recyclingelectronic equipment more often, recommending changing only the component in anelectronic item.

The policy sets forth the position of the State governmenton e-waste management by identifying the roles and responsibilities of allstakeholders, including the public, in reducing the generation of e-waste andproviding a system for its collection, segregation and recycling. The policywould be implemented in a structured manner by detailing the action programmewith definite timelines, setting up a monitoring committee, promoting e-wasterecycling as a socially viable industry in the State and involving the smalland medium enterprises.

The State government, its IT department and the Tamil NaduPollution Control Board (TNPCB) are responsible for formulation andimplementation of the policy. The Board is vested with the responsibility of effectivelyimplementing it and laying down the requirements and procedures for a recycler.

The policy emphasizes the important role that the corporations,municipalities and panchayats, play in the collection of e-waste, especiallyfrom household and other end-users, and its segregation from other householdwaste. They will also have to send the collected waste to authorized collectioncentres or registered recyclers for recycling.

The necessity for e-waste policy arose because a surveycarried out by a non-governmental organization in the State revealed that the e-wasteproblem had assumed staggering proportions –over 21,810 tonnes of e-waste in2009 alone. The survey was based on the ‘market supply method’, in which fivecomponents like televisions, mobile phones, computers, washing machines andrefrigerator were taken into account.

Taking a cue from Tamil Nadu’s e-waste management, the Centreshould initiate a national policy for complete national level assessment,covering all the cities and all the sectors. Such base line study must envelopeinventories, existing technical and policy measures required for emergence ofnational e-waste policy and action plan for eco-friendly, economic e-wastemanagement. 

The study should also culminate in identifying potentiallyharmful substances and testing these for any adverse health and environmentaleffects for suggesting precautionary measures. This apart, the national policymay create a public-private participatory forum of decision-making, problem resolutionin e-waste management. This could be a Working Group comprising RegulatoryAgencies, NGOs, Industry Associations, experts etc. to keep pace with thetemporal and spatial changes in structure and content of e-waste. 

There is need for creation of a knowledge data base onanticipating the risks, ways of preventing and protecting from likely damageand safe and timely disposal of e-waste. The Government should promoteInformation, Education and Communication (IEC) activities in schools, colleges,industry etc. to enhance this knowledge. Additionally, it must create a database on best global practices and failure analyses for development anddeployment of efficacious e-waste management and disposal practices within thecountry.

The policy should device ways and means to encouragebeneficial reuse/recycling of e-waste, catalyzing business activities that use suchwaste. It should formulate and regulate occupational health safety norms for e-wasterecycling, now mainly confined to the informal sector. Besides, it shouldreview the trade policy and exim classification codes to plug the loopholes, whichare often being misused for cross-border dumping of e-waste into the country.  

Indeed, the national policy should insist on stringentenforcement against wanton infringement of the Basel convention and e-waste dumping bypreferring incarceration over monetary penalties for demonstrating deterrentimpact. The e-waste policy should foster partnership with manufacturers andretailers for recycling services by creating an enabling environment so asdispose e-waste scientifically at economic costs.

The policy should mandate sustained capacity building forindustrial e-waste handling for policy makers, managers, controllers andoperators. It should enhance consumer awareness regarding the potential threatto public health and environment by electronic products, if not disposedproperly. 

In fact, the policy should enforce labeling of all computermonitors, television sets and other household/industrial electronic devices fordeclaration of hazardous material content with a view to identifyingenvironmental hazards and ensuring proper material management and e-wastedisposal.

Importantly, the policy could announce incentives for growthof e-waste disposal agencies so that remediation of environmental damage,threats of irreversible loss and lack of scientific knowledge do not posehazardous to human health and environment. Simultaneously, as a proactive step, municipal bodies must be involvedin the disposal of e-waste lest it becomes too late for their intervention,should large handling volumes necessitate it.

In addition, the e-waste policy should consider gradualintroduction of enhanced producer responsibility into Indian process, practicesand procedures so that preventive accountability gains preponderance overpolluter immunity.

 Last but not the least, the Government should carve out aninclusive e-waste management policy, as for meeting the need for finding an“India Unique Solution”, that strikes a visionary balance between precepts andpraxis for sustainable management of e-waste. Such a policy alone can bring thedesired paradigm shift for our society, economy and the environment.—INFA


(Copyright,India News and Feature Alliance)

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