A towering heap of grimy CPUs and keyboards are shoved roughly into bulging gunny bags. LCD monitors are lined up face down on a slightly cleaner desk — they will be separated from their cases and sold off at Rs500 a piece. Two men try to melt metals from a printed circuit board, unmindful of the noxious fumes that will one day ruin their nervous systems.
“We work around all kinds of old and discarded e-waste that has to be handled manually. Heating karte waqt thoda dhua hota hai, usse kaafi khaasi hoti hai (The fumes that come from heating the boards make us cough),” says Rahim, one of the workers.
More than city can handle
This is the story of every claustrophobic alley in Mumbai’s biggest electronic waste (e-waste) disposal sites at Saki Naka. Here, old computers, electrical appliances, keyboards, laptops, hard disks and related accessories are manually dismantled, separated for reusable parts which are sold to companies who can legally export them after acquiring the right permissions. Other centres at Kamathipura, Kurla, Jogeshwari and Malad are no different.
There is no real inventory of the city’s e-waste, but it is estimated to be about 40,000 metric tonnes per annum. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has only one authorised recycler, Eco Reco, in a city that generates the most e-waste in the country. Of the 14 dismantlers authorised by the MPCB, 90% are located on the outskirts of the city, in Thane, Vasai, Navi Mumbai and other districts such as Pune, Auranagabad and Raigad.
It’s harming you, the earth
The major concern: most of dismantling and breaking down is in small workshops in the informal sector, a process hazardous to both citizens’ health and the environment.
The informal dismantlers and recyclers housed in such alleys are trying to use the current legislation to conduct their work in a cleaner, more structured manner, and work with the relatively bigger recyclers in the formal sector.
While this should have been simple, given the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules formulated by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2011, more than a year on, there’s little to show that the disposal, handling, dismantling and re-cycling processes have improved.
“The pollution control boards need to be more transparent in the process of authorising dismantlers and recyclers. Presently, they take a long time to respond to applications for licences,” says Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link, a not-for-profit from Delhi. “This makes stakeholders from informal sector feel left out. The health hazards are also huge of e-waste are also huge.”
Who knows where to put it?
Making manufacturers more responsible for the disposal of e-waste, through the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a first in the country, CPCB envisaged that a whole new sector of environment-friendly recycling would come into effect. The problem, however, is the utter lack of information —consumers still have no clue about how to dispose of the e-waste they generate. “Some products can be upgraded and others such as mobile phones can be sent back to the company, but what about batteries? I have no idea where to junk them,” says Dhruv Shah, a Ghatkopar resident.
Asked about the lack of information on e-waste, Vinayak Shinde, regional officer, in-charge of e-waste, MPCB, says: “We have to cover a large ground to put mechanisms in place. We have started this by carrying out an exhaustive inventorisation study of e-waste in the city and state, through an independent auditor. We lack the resources to take the regulation to every stakeholder.”