But before you decide to finalise that deal, spare a thought for where your older smartphone, TV or laptop might end up at. In all probability, you might find it at a landfill, where it will jostle for space among millions of its counterparts, rusting away while its toxins seep into the water table. Not a pretty sight, but this is the consequence of our fast tech lives, where it doesn’t take a split second to discard an existing gadget and purchase a new one, without considering the option of repairing or reusing it with help from technicians. Fortunately, a few nations are concerned about our stockpiles of e-waste and taking recycling action to mitigate the environmental catastrophes.
Japan, which hosted the Tokyo Olympics took the lead with a nationwide effort wherein it recycled used electronic devices to produce the Olympics medals for the Tokyo 2020 games. The two-year long programme sought the cooperation of citizens who donated obsolete devices for the project. The rationale was that precious metals like gold and silver worth billions of dollars that are used in electronic devices get discarded annually, as people choose to recklessly dump their e-waste, instead of ensuring proper collection and recycling.
Over 90 per cent of cities and villages in Japan participated in the programme, and it yielded 32 kg of gold, 3,500 kg of silver, and 2,200 kg of bronze – which offered recycled material to produce 5,000 medals. While the Japanese effort is not without precedent, it has stoked a fire in the belly of Paris that will host the 2024 Games, where social change and ecological consciousness are the themes. The quantum of e-waste generated in 2019 globally was 53.6 mn tonnes, which adds up to 7.3 kg per person. It’s big enough to fill up 350 cruise ships. The UN says it is the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream. Less than 20 per cent of e-waste gets properly recycled, which poses a major threat to humans and our environment.
India happens to be the world’s third-largest e-waste generator producing over 3.23 mn tonnes annually, trailing the US and China. The generation of e-waste in India has risen 43 per cent between FY18 and FY20, amplified by the increasing demand for e-goods during the pandemic. But then, India is the only nation in South Asia with a legal framework to handle e-waste since 2011. The E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules defines how e-waste can be transported, stored, and recycled. India has also extended the idea of Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO).
PROs are firms authorised by manufacturers to collect and efficiently channelise e-waste produced by their products. The Central Pollution Control Board says that India has 51 registered PROs and 1,703 producers with extended producer responsibility (EPR) authorisation. There are also 400 authorised dismantlers and recyclers with a capacity of 10.6 lakh metric tonnes per annum. However, due to the high cost of handling and low margins, people depend on neighbourhood kabadiwalas for disposing of e-waste.
However, the call for a circular economy is slowly gaining momentum globally. The legislation for a Right to Repair is gaining traction in the EU and the US where demand for products that can be repaired and reused is growing. But repairability is the last of the priorities when it comes to the manufacturers of high-end electronic goods. The issue of planned obsolescence has also sprung up as gadget makers release frequent software updates, after which they withdraw support for older models, owing to which users are compelled into buying newer devices. To tackle such issues, EU lawmakers are mulling the creation of repairability scorecards that will be made mandatory for all e-devices sold in the bloc. It’s something India could be inspired by, in its quest for recycling.