Health hazards caused by unorganised e-waste disposal

By V. Ranganathan|28th Jun 2018
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The lifestyle of the average individual has changed. We’ve embraced technology and gadgets in all their glory. The result? An ever-increasing heap of e-waste we find hard to manage. The digital revolution changed a lot for us, and our habits have been at the receiving end of this change too. Our spending and consuming habits have altered the way we use electronics and electrical equipment (EEE) and for how long.

Some of us ‘upgrade’ our smartphones twice every year. Just as you buy one, you get the itch to buy another (read, a better one). The substantial production of EEE and its rapid disposal has become a grave concern all over the world. India is no different. In a country marked by a diversity of culture, income, beliefs, and customs, the problem of e-waste management is, unfortunately, one of the few aspects that seem uniform, and it’s too complex to have a definite answer.

E-waste management is a critical issue crippling our nation. As if that wasn’t enough, we’re bogged down by yet another challenge – e-waste treatment. About 95 percent of electronic waste in India is treated and processed in urban slums, where untrained workers carry out practices unsafe for human and environmental health.

Image: Pixabay

E-waste generation – the causes and the consequences

E-waste is generated as a result of any of the below-mentioned reasons:

  • Upgrade and innovation in technology
  • Lifestyle changes
  • End of the intended usage

A lack of stringent policies in India pertaining to e-waste management furthers the issue. The informal sector continues to exploit the rudimentary methods of waste disposal and recycling. They openly burn the waste, heat circuit boards, expose them to acid baths, dump waste into landfills, and so on.

Sans any protective equipment, workers in the unorganized e-waste management space make themselves prone to hazardous consequences.

E-waste’s hazardous metals get mixed into the soil or the water or convert into harmful emissions that are liberated into the air we breathe. The repercussions of these practices are catastrophic.

Health hazards – improper e-waste disposal effects

Improper handling of e-waste is detrimental to the environment and mankind. Since this waste is nothing but a combination of plastics and toxic chemicals, these get released into the environment. Pollutants such as dioxins and furans from polyvinyl chloride, lead, beryllium, cadmium, mercury, etc. get into our environment and cause the following health hazards:

  • Reproductive issues
  • Developmental problems
  • Damage to the immune system
  • Interference with regulatory hormones
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Kidney damage
  • Hamper’s brain development in children
  • May lead to lung cancer
  • Chronic beryllium disease
  • Skin ailments
  • Cadmium accumulations on liver and kidney
  • Asthmatic bronchitis
  • DNA damage
  • Muscle weakness
  • Endocrine system disruption

Exposure to harmful chemicals present in e-waste can lead to severe health hazards that are at times fatal. These toxins enter our body through inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion. After that, humans run the risk of developing any of the above-mentioned conditions.

It is time that we find out sustainable ways to dispose of e-waste, ones that are organised and safe. Organisations like Cerebra Integrated Technologies are striving to make this world safer and better through activities like deploying collection vans, tying up with local clubs and schools to increase awareness, and more.

E-waste management – who’s responsible?

Tossing around the responsibility for management of e-waste is something we are used to as a society. The government is often brought under the radar for not taking adequate measures to turn the informal sector into a well-managed system. Also, we see it as a responsibility of the government to carry out awareness programmes to make the masses aware of what they are expected to do with their appliances once they don’t want to use them.

With the new E-Waste Management Rules 2016, it is the responsibility of equipment manufacturers to take up the task of recycling the products they produce. However, once in a while, we also must ponder over the idea if the responsibility ever comes to us as a society, if we are responsible in discarding our e-waste. A balance between the three institutions – government, manufacturers, and society – is what India needs to manage its e-waste better.

V. Ranganathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Cerebra Integrated Technologies, the company behind one of India’s largest e-waste recycling facilities.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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