What is life without a tab, a laptop or a TV? Sure, gadgets have made our lives easier, but remember, too much of these good things can be very bad for us, over time.

Think of it. How many batteries do we use and throw in a lifetime? How many CDs, cell phones, cameras, laptops, and PCs have we junked over the years? Not to mention light bulbs, refrigerators, hair dryers, microwave ovens and the like.

The scale of our collective e-waste generation is mind-boggling. Mumbai produces 61,000 tonnes of e-waste every year, while New Delhi produces 43,000 tonnes, Bangalore 37,000 tonnes, and Chennai 30,700 tonnes, says a Frost & Sullivan report and ASSOCHAM 2013 White Paper. After Earth and Wall-E scenarios may be far closer to reality than we dare imagine.

“When we junk end-of-life electronic and electrical goods with our other trash, the lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury and other toxic elements in the e-waste could leach out of landfills, dump yards and informal burning yards and enter our bodies through the water we drink and the soil that yields our food,” says Rajesh Rangarajan, Chennai-based researcher and consultant on waste-management. That is a scary proposition, because accumulation of these hazardous metals in our bodies could cause anaemia, irritability, respiratory issues, gastro-intestinal and kidney problems, developmental abnormalities, and even nerve damage and cancer.

So then, shouldn’t we get down to dealing with the e-waste challenge on a war footing?

The way ahead might be with initiatives like the ‘Used batteries collection counter’ at Goli Soda in Besant Nagar. Feel free to drop your used batteries here. These are passed on to authorised e-waste recycling firms, who extract material from e-wastes either as usable electronic components or as usable metal (that includes even gold, silver, and copper), plastic or glass. Alongside, such recycling avoids the energy expenditure and carbon foot print caused by freshly mining these metals or manufacturing material from scratch.

“Space permitting, we will set up counters to collect all kinds of e-wastes,” shares Vaani Anand, Eco Alternatives, who helped set up the disposal counter at Goli Soda. Apartment complexes, institutions, and offices can likewise set up such collection bins.

Meanwhile, the Class V students of Chettinad Hari Shree Vidyalayam had gone on an ‘E-waste collection drive’ as a community project, tying up with a recycling firm. And then, NGOs like Toxics Link organise e-waste awareness programmes in schools, because children can be powerful ‘agents of change’

How about funky jewellery from tiny LED bulbs and junked capacitors? Or jazzy clocks and coasters from old vinyl records? Or pretty votive candles from discarded CDS that reflect shimmering light when the candle is lit? Well, Goli Soda is one store where you can lay your hands on such funky stuff up-cycled from e-waste and other junk. “While the three ‘R’s of eco-responsible behaviour (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) matters, the Up-cycle link has to be thought of before recycling is considered,” says Sruti Harihara Subramanian, model, film person and entrepreneur who started Goli Soda.

Up-cycling has already become a huge trend in the west, as borne by the fact that Etsy, the popular U.S. e-commerce site for handmade objects increased its stock of ‘up-cycled’ items from 7,900 in January 2010 to 263,685 in April 2013. Having said that, up-cycling from e-waste has to be handled with caution, so that toxic stuff doesn’t leach out from these products during the up-cycling or usage.

“E-waste recycling can be hazardous for handlers, toxic to the environment, and expensive too. So we need to reduce the volume of e-waste generation in the first place,” says T.K. Ramkumar, advocate and principal advisor of Exnora International, the grassroots-based environmental movement. “We must induce manufacturers to get creative and come up with universally compatible design in gadgets and add-on upgrade features rather than release totally new versions of electronics devices, which force us to buy/discard entire devices,” voices Ramkumar.

And we as consumers do have a say, because the ‘consumer is king’, after all.

E-waste etiquette

• Set up e-waste collection counters at apartment complexes, schools, offices and pass it on to authorised e-waste recycling firms

• Agencies like kuppathotti.com offer to pick up e-waste at your doorstep.

• Try safe up-cycled products.

• Don’t buy gadgets for every task

• Maintain electronic gadgets so that they last long.

• Upgrade/repair old equipment instead of buying new ones.

• Check out DonateYourPC.in to identify schools/people who could use old PCs/accessories.

• When passing old electronic gadgets, get them in working condition first. Otherwise, it might just get sold off to the raddiwala.

• Delete all personal information before donating old computers, phones, etc.