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Unimaginable havoc

Electronic products are made of a multitude of components containing toxic substances that create unimaginable havoc on human health and the environment if not handled properly, finds out Michael Fisher.

A computer contains highly toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFR, polyvinyl chloride and phosphor compounds.

The awareness level is very low, says Group Tenplus director and proprietor Ashley Delaney, the only official lone-ranger recycling e-waste in Goa. He says generally the perceptions of e-waste are computers and when we mention recycling e-waste it is being misunderstood as re-using it or refurbishing it. This is because of the lack of awareness by the municipality and government.

The owner does not see an overused and an old electronic product as recycling waste.  They see it has refurbishment with the idea of making a fast buck. In recycling there is much less money. Recycling e-waste is basically extracting metal, glass and plastics and channeling it back to manufacturing.

An awareness campaign has to be introduced by the government screaming that e-waste is non bio gradable and it is very dangerous to our health and the environment. Even some plastic has a life span up to 700 years before it degrades away, but e-waste stays the same forever.

Delaney says the reason we convince people to recycle e-waste is on account of its sustainability of extracting metal. Amongst the metals that can be extracted are: Indium, mercury, copper, silver, gold and other rare earth metals. Indium: This metal is found in small quantity and is getting lesser by the industries (its occurrence is low). It is used in every LCD screen.

Mining for indium is becoming rare as the cap is set for expiry in the next five years or 2020. 50 per cent of it is the recycled indium which is used for manufacturing of new electronic products (source: Implementation of E-Waste Rules 2011 by CPCB). The days of LCD screens are numbered. MOEF has enacted the E-Waste Management and Handling Rules 2011 which is not taken seriously, warns Delaney.

When it comes to tube bulb lights and disposable batteries pose a major threat to Goa’s e-waste because where broken and splintered tube bulbs strewn around the place nothing grows there due to the mercury it contains it kills and contaminates the soil.  An intact tube bulb after it fuses out can be recycled. The government must make it mandatory to enforce residential complexes and buildings to set up tube bulb bins and start an awareness campaign in schools and colleges to offices and clubs of the danger of e-waste, Delaney hopes.

The mercury contained in tube bulbs is very dangerous and may end up in potable water, streams and water bodies. If consumed it can cause disorders in liver, increase cancer cells and stunt human growth cause brain damage.

Now a new threat is lurking courtesy the Goa government’s introduction of cyberage scheme supplying computers to school students without a recycling or take back plan.  On an average 60 tons of e-waste is generated yearly and by this scheme it is growing. These are GSPCB’s official figures. But the e-waste collected by the unorganized scrap dealers for refurbishing and reuse is huge.

An average computer has 29 metals and its 99 per cent recyclable. About 60 per cent of all Indium comes from recycle e-waste which goes into manufacturing of LCD screens and other electronic gadgets. Scrap pickers buy e-waste for a song and extract four or five metals that include aluminum, copper, iron, steel and lead. They don’t touch other metals which are more dangerous as mentioned earlier.

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