With Delhi set to become the largest producer of e-waste in India by 2020, more recycling and less dumping of old appliances seems to be the only solution to this recurring problem

Ranit Das, a resident of Noida, was fed up of his laptop, which he owned for the past five years, as it was showing some major technical glitches, and finally stopped working. So, last week, he bought a brand new one which was a major upgrade to the previous one. He then decided to sell the old one to a scrap dealer near his house. Little did he know that most of the parts of his laptop would pile on to the already existing 85,000 metric tonne of e-waste in Delhi-NCR.

According to the United Nations, electronic waste, otherwise known as e-waste (any discarded product with a battery or a plug like laptops, mobile phones, refrigerators) “poses a major threat to the environment and human health”. “With the increase of electronic gadgets in the past couple of years, the amount of e-waste is growing every day and is becoming one of the — if not the most hazardous form — of waste material”, says Ranjana Goswami, an environment rights activist.

According to a study by the UN, India is the fourth largest producer of e-waste in the world, amounting to over 20 lakh metric tonne. While Mumbai is the city which produces the most amount of e-waste in the country (96,000 metric tonnes), Delhi-NCR stands at the second position. However, according to a report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), Delhi will produce 1.5 lakh metric tonne of e-waste by 2020, thus not only making it the most e-waste producing city in India, but also one of the leading cities in this regard in the world.

“The major reason why e-waste is on the rise is that most of us don’t know what to do with our e-waste”, says Goswami. According to a study done by a Delhi-based NGO, Toxics Link, 90% Delhiites do not know how to dispose of e-waste.

“Most of us sell our old electronic devices to the unorganized sector, i.e., scrap dealers. However, they are extremely disorganized and scientifically unaware. Most of them open up these appliances, and the parts which are not at all working anymore, are either discarded or burnt”, says Bhagwati Suman, the director of Auctus E-Recycling Solutions. “The parts of devices like refrigerators, televisions and AC’s contain lead, and when they are burnt, they produce harmful gases which contribute a lot to the increasing air pollution of the city and is also responsible for acid rain,” he adds.

“The e-waste that is dumped in landfills stays there for days, and they contain harmful polymers that release a toxic liquid if they are dumped in the open for a long period of time. This toxic liquid, goes into the soil, making it more fragile. When it rains, this toxic liquid is washed into the river Yamuna, thus polluting it”, says Suman.