India’s growing eWaste

India is the fastest growing telecom market and has the second largest number of telecom subscribers in the world. India’s 630 million telecom subscribers means an inclusive growth and increasing opportunities for the rural poor. But it also means more than 600 million mobile phones which can turn into eWaste in two years. The average shelf life or the obsolescence rate for a mobile phone is 1.8 to 2 years. There will be millions of mobile phones which are not being used every year, in addition to the millions of mobile phones being bought every year. Indians bought 930 lakh ($2m) worth of mobile phones in 2007-08.

India produces 1,040 tonnes of e-Waste daily, of which an abysmal 10 tonnes is treated. If this wasn’t enough it ‘imports’ waste from richer countries. Most of these imports are not legal and usually imported as scrap. A possible 1.9 million tonnes of e-Waste is sent from US to the Asian nations, and India gets a big cut of it. India generates up to 385,800 tons of electronic waste every year, and imports another 55,100 tons, mostly illegally under the pretext of metal scrap and secondhand electrical appliances.  e

The amount of eWaste is expected to jump 500 percent by 2020. A survey carried out by the Central Pollution Control Board lists these top 10 cities generating e-waste are Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur. (source)

Though mobile phones are easy targets, televisions and computers are the biggest contributors to India’s eWaste. Of the total 382,979 metric tonnes of electronic waste generated in India, 275,000MT is from TVs and 56,000 MT is from computers. Mobiles only contribute 1,655MT of the eWaste. People tend to dispose TVs and computers and tend to hold back or forget mobile phones. This could be one of the reasons for the low contribution of mobile phone eWaste, despite their ubiquity. With the growing number of plasma screen TVs and imminent 3D technology televisions the waste will only grow. Add a mix of low-cost computers, tablets and gaming consoles, it could soon become unmanageable.

Is India ready for handling the eWaste generated?

Nokia has launched a Take Backcampaign to promote the safe disposal of eWaste. Three tons of old phones and accessories were collected in 45 days of the campaign period from four cities. A total of 10,000 phones were collected in the pilot program in which Nokia has planted a plant for each phone collected. What Nokia did with the waste is not known. What would happen to this waste otherwise?

It has to be handled. For someone to handle eWaste officially they have to be registered with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Right now only 14 facilities have registered with CPCB. Don’t we need more?