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Children and Digital Dumpsites: WHO Report

  • 17 Jun 2021
  • 6 min read

Why in News

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its recent report “Children and Digital Dumpsites” has underlined the risk that children working in informal processing are facing due to discarded electronic devices or e-waste.

  • There are as many as 18 million children (as young as five years) and about 12.9 million women work at these e-waste dumpsites every year.
  • The e-waste from high-income countries is dumped in the middle- or low-income countries for processing every year.

Key Points

  • About the E-waste:
    • E-Waste is short for Electronic-Waste. It is the term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded electronic appliances.
      • It majorly includes electronic equipment, completely or in part discarded as waste by the consumer or bulk consumer as well as rejects from manufacturing, refurbishment and repair processes.
      • It contains over 1,000 precious metals and other substances like gold, copper, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Volume of E-waste:
    • Global Scenario: According to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, the volume of e-waste generated is surging rapidly across the globe.
      • About 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2019.
      • Only 17.4% of this e-waste was processed in formal recycling facilities. The rest of it was dumped in low- or middle-income countries for illegal processing by informal workers.
      • This is because of the rise in the number of smartphones and computers.
    • Indian Scenario:
      • According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generated more than 10 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2019-20, an increase from 7 lakh tonnes in 2017-18. Against this, the e-waste dismantling capacity has not been increased from 7.82 lakh tonnes since 2017-18.
      • In 2018, the Ministry of Environment had told the tribunal that 95% of e-waste in India is recycled by the informal sector and scrap dealers unscientifically dispose of it by burning or dissolving it in acids.
  • Impact of Working at Digital Dumpsites:
    • On Children: The children working at these ‘digital dumpsites’ are more prone to improper lung function, deoxyribonucleic acid damage and increased risk of chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
      • They are less likely to metabolise or eradicate pollutants absorbed.
    • On Women: Several women, including expectant mothers, also work there. Processing e-waste exposes them as well as their children to these toxins, which can lead to premature births and stillbirth.
    • On Others: The hazardous impact of working at such sites is also experienced by families and communities that reside in the vicinity of these e-waste dumpsites.
  • Management of E-waste (International Convention):
    • Basel Convention on the Control of the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, 1992.
      • Originally the Basel Convention did not mention e-waste but later it addressed the issues of e-waste in 2006 (COP8).
      • The convention seeks to ensure environmentally sound management; prevention of illegal traffic to developing countries and; building capacity to better manage e-waste.
      • The Nairobi Declaration was adopted at COP9 of the Basel Convention. It aimed at creating innovative solutions for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes.
  • Management of E-waste in India:
    • Producers:
      • The government has implemented the E-waste (Management) Rules (2016) which enforces the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
        • Under EPR principle the producers have been made responsible to collect a certain percentage of E-waste generated from their goods once they have reached their “end-of-life”.
    • State Governments:
      • They have been entrusted with the responsibility for maintaining industrial space for e-waste dismantling and recycling facilities.
      • They are also expected to establish measures for protecting the health and safety of workers engaged in the dismantling and recycling facilities for e-waste.
    • Recycling of E-waste:
      • India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing and disposal of waste from household and commercial units has been set-up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Way Forward

  • Most of the e-waste is recycled in India in unorganized units, which engage a significant number of manpower. Recovery of metals from Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) by primitive means is a most hazardous act.
  • Proper education, awareness and most importantly alternative cost effective technology need to be provided so that better means can be provided to those who earn their livelihood from this.
  • A holistic approach is needed to address the challenges faced by India in e-waste management. One approach could be for units in the unorganized sector to concentrate on collection, dismantling, segregation, whereas, the metal extraction, recycling and disposal could be done by the organized sector.
  • A suitable mechanism needs to be evolved to include small units in the unorganized sector and large units in the organized sector into a single value chain.

Source: DTE

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