E-waste: The Not So Cool Side of Tech
If you’re into smart watches, please stand up! It looks like we have a problem here.
After using my smart watch for 4 years, it’s time to say goodbye to a perfectly running watch, scratch-free yet redundant. Reason – I changed my phone and resultantly the watch is not compatible with the latest tech.
If we think of it, that’s how the materials economy survives, right? The gadgets are hard to upgrade, easy to break, impractical to repair. Plus, there are some cool, new, ‘must-have’ tech gadgets out practically every year. The worst part is that most of them are designed for the landfill. Your new phone may have different charger, even if it’s from the same company as the old one, your old ear plugs may not be compatible requiring you to purchase new ones, worn out batteries may be not be replaceable, the examples are endless. And of course, there are the lakhs and lakhs of refrigerators, A.C.s, and washing machines that are put out of use every time there’s a sale on Amazon or Flipkart.
According to a U.N. report, India is the third largest e-waste producer in the world. It’s not really a surprise especially with our large and increasingly tech-savvy population. However, India also imports e-waste from other countries, but that’s a story for another day.
Why is e-waste so bad anyway?
Firstly, it’s not so easy to recycle. E-waste needs special facilities and equipment for it to be recycled safely. E-waste contains toxins that are harmful to the environment and to humans like mercury, chromium, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and plastics. When extracted improperly, these toxins can leach into soil and water bodies contaminating them and in turn our crops and drinking water. Prolonged exposure to such chemicals can cause major organ failures, respiratory illnesses or lead to cancer. Most of India’s e-waste is handled by informal waste collectors. I’m just going to leave you with that thought...
What can you do, as a consumer?
A study found that 86% of people surveyed felt that manufacturers should provide consumers with guidance on the recycling of electronic products. It’s easy to see their point. Everyone tells you how to start using a product but not many tell you what to do with it once you’re done. Things are looking up though in small ways – India is the only country in South Asia to draft legislation for e-waste although we still have a long way to go.
For now, following four of the five Rs of Sustainable Waste Management can help:
1. Refuse: Think about all the stuff you have. Do you merely want the latest PlayStation or do you need it? It’s absolutely fine not to have the latest tech on the market.
- Reduce: This is a naturaI follow on to the first step. If you can refuse buying new stuff, you can also think of replacing a spare part and repairing your appliances or gadgets instead of simply buying new ones.
- Reuse: If you really must have that new gizmo while your old one is still working fine – and I can think of plenty of instances where this may be the case, like needing a bigger fridge as your family grows – think about gifting the old one to someone in need. Many NGO’s accept old computers to help teach underprivileged children about tech or even to run their day-to-day business. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s utility.
If you need a cash incentive, many big brands may also offer buy-back programs for your appliances and gadgets.
Recycle: There are many certified recycling centres for e-waste in India or nearest collection centre authorised with the pollution control board like - Chintan, Ecoreco, E-Parisaraa, Saahas Zero waste to name a few. Many of them even organise e-waste collection drives every couple of weeks in major cities – so do keep an eye out for those!
Remember, don’t bin electronic waste with other trash. Collect gadgets with heavy metals separately and dispose of them with the appropriate recycling centres.
I counted 10 different old mobile chargers in my house the last time I did a clean-up. How many did you find my fellow eco-conscious warrior? Let me know!
From your (currently) i-Waste-free,