Safety first

A report by industry watchdog Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) has drawn attention to the large number of children who are exposed to hazardous electronic waste (e-waste). 

According to the report, 4.5 lakh children in the country are employed in the collection and segregation of e-waste.

This is a matter of grave concern for several reasons. For one, child labour is banned in the country and that such a large number are being employed in the industry is shocking.

Recycling units like to hire children to keep costs down.  E-waste often includes components that contain toxic substances. Handling substances like lead, mercury and cadmium without adequate and proper protection can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, the genito-urinary system, the respiratory system, etc.

Many of the substances are carcinogenic too.  Employing children in this industry amounts to exposing them to slow poisoning.

E-waste can be a source of wealth if it is handled properly. However, much of the e-waste is disposed untreated.

It contaminates the environment, toxins enter the food chain and jeopardise lives. 

Around 70 per cent of India’s e-waste that is recycled is handled by the informal sector. 

Scrapping units in this sector adopt the most rudimentary methods, exposing their workers constantly to dangerous gases and substances. 

Although the government has enacted legislation providing for rules for handling e-waste, these laws have failed to bring change as most recycling units function illegally.

Besides, state pollution control boards that are mandated with enforcement of the law are largely toothless bodies, with limited human and material resources. 

What is more, an approach to achieving compliance that is based on policing and punishment rather than incentives is less fruitful. 

The government must shift to an approach that rewards scrapping units that follow norms in recycling. 

It is important too that the onus of responsibility for safe recycling of waste is put on those who generate it in the first place.

They cannot be allowed to wash their hands off their waste, leaving it to scrapping units to deal with the problem. 

Awareness creation is important too and the government, civil society and scrapping units must join hands to educate those employed in the recycling industry on the importance of following safety norms while handling the e-waste.

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