Shady side of 'exchange' offers

Shady side of 'exchange' offers

The next time you exchange your old television or refrigerator for a brand new product, be warned: That product is likely to end up in a highly unregulated informal system of eWaste disposal, where safety, labour standards and environmental concerns are seriously compromised! 

The consequence could be terrible for the city’s environment, since eWaste contains significant quantities of hazardous waste such as lead, mercury and cadmium.

So when your old TV or any other electronic waste gets into the unregulated informal recycling sector, here’s what it could lead to: Open burning, exposure to toxic solders, river dumping of acids and widespread general dumping, as a recent study by the city-based Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) and waste entrepreneur NGO, SAAHAS found.

Six reputed retail store chains in the city selling electronic products were surveyed for the EMPRI study. The results were disturbing: All of them had programmes where old and used products were exchanged for new ones. 

The used products were sent to their warehouses and eventually disposed of to the highest bidder.

This inevitably meant the old stuff entering the unregulated, informal sector.
This informal sector involved repair and refurbishing of second-hand goods sourced from the showrooms, and sold through smaller retailer shops. The study found that there is a complete lack of regulation within the retail sector.  

The exchange programme “is a source of material for the unauthorized recyclers.” But it does not provide adequate focus on authorized eWaste management systems.
Avoids formal recyclers

So, this substantial share of the eWaste evades the 34 formal, authorised recyclers in the State. Unlike the illegal outlets with substandard recycling working conditions, these recyclers are registered and authorised to collect, dismantle and process eWaste.

Eight of them are dismantling units that collect, dismantle and segregate eWaste for further processing, while 24 do the additional task of recycling. The collective recycling capacity of these recyclers is 37,000 metric tonnes per annum (MT/A).

But thanks to the poor flow of eWaste, the formal recyclers are underperforming. The study had estimated the investment required for a 300 MT capacity enterprise to be about Rs. 70 lakh. Break even could be achieved in eight months if the plant ran to full capacity. To keep these recyclers afloat and sustainable, eWaste will have to come in big quantities from the bulk generators. 

The study recommended that the retail sector should be included as a bulk waste generator and be subject to monitoring from the regulatory body.  

But more importantly, all the waste generated through the exchange mechanism had to be accounted for. This, the study noted, will ensure that the material is sent to the authorised recyclers through approved channels.

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