The mobile phone in one’s pocket or the laptop at one’s desk is getting obsolete faster than ever. A recent UN report states that e-waste (electronic waste) is the fastest growing waste stream today, with 50 million tonnes being produced annually world over.
It was during her son’s school project in 2015 that Shreeja Nambiar, an electrical engineer, realised the gravity of the problem. “We started off by finding out how people dispose off electronic goods and realised they usually just throw them in the trash bin or give it to scrap dealers,” says Nambiar.
“These scrap dealers don’t know the harmful effects of certain chemicals and parts in these goods such as mercury, cadmium and lead which, when exposed to the environment, lead to brain and lung damage, respiratory and skin disorders, kidney damage and so on,” she adds.
The 46-year-old approached an NGO, the Indian Development Foundation (IDF) in Goregaon, to begin the process of collecting e-waste before passing it on to a government recycler. Giving a talk on the topic at Byculla’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum in collaboration with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Academy, Nambiar said that the issue of e-waste management needs to be tackled at a macro level. “I then developed a deeper interest in the subject and volunteered to collect e-waste from people in my neighborhood before passing on batches of the same to NGOs, which would hand them over to recyclers,” she explains. This cycle continued to grow with talks in schools, colleges and institutions leading to more awareness which led to there being 50 e-waste collection sites across Mumbai today, in South Mumbai, the Western Suburbs and even Nerul in Navi Mumbai.
Participating in the talk, Namrata Mankad, an engineering professor, expressed her concern about poor management of e-waste. “Today we are looking to replace our gadgets rather than repair them as it’s not only cheaper but also a leap-up in terms of quality because of newer innovations,” she says. “This means, the amount of e-waste is only going to increase over the years and we need to spread more awareness about the harmful effects of unorganised disposal of electronic goods,” she adds.
“Another question we end up tackling regularly is, what qualifies as e-waste? It’s a very broad topic and people often get confused,” says Nambiar.
“Electronic gadgets, chargers, wires, cables, headphones qualify as e-waste. We also accept old cassettes and CDs,” she adds.
The right way to dispose e-waste is by dismantling the item and shredding it. Experts have a mechanism to concentrate, shred and treat e-waste responsibly, not allowing harmful chemicals from coming into contact with the environment.