Lying somewhere in between the two tags that have come to define Bangalore — the ‘IT Capital’ that it proudly wears, and the obviously infamous ‘garbage city’ tag — is one that’s recently acquired: e-waste hub.
A report released by IT trade body ASSOCHAM last week confirms that owing to its concentration of IT companies, Bangalore is fast on its way to becoming a “dumping ground” for e-waste generated by the industry. The report estimates the overall quantum of e-waste generated here at 18,000 tonnes a year, growing at a compounded rate of 20 per cent a year. Other industry estimates have pegged the figure between 17,000 and 20,000 tonnes.
According to the report, Bangalore leads, followed by Mumbai at 10,000 tonnes a year, and Delhi and Chennai. Though the report does not offer details on “imports”, it mentions that both Bangalore and Mumbai have e-waste coming in. This claim in the report is disputed both by the formal private sector companies (Bangalore has 27, the highest in any Indian city) and State pollution officials. The only “imports” could be traced to other Indian cities, and this is because the end producer responsibility clause means that a lot of the products sold in many parts of India are inventoried here, says a senior executive at a waste dismantling firm here.
Imports apart, handling of e-waste in Bangalore presents several key challenges. According to industry sources, while there has been an improvement in the amount of e-waste reaching the formal sector (dismantlers/recyclers) the numbers leave much to be desired. While in 2011, only 5 per cent of the e-waste generated in the city was making it to the recyclers, today, the number has increased to around 10 per cent, says Veerendra Kaur, marketing head at e-parisara, among the earliest entrants in the e-waste recycling sector. “Our survey has shown that 90 per cent of e-waste is still going into the informal sector, which is not equipped to handle this kind of material in a scientific manner,” he explains.
Indeed, a large section of electronic and electric equipment — television sets, refrigerators, computers, cellphones, cables, cartridges, bulbs and tube lights — makes its way to the neighbourhood ‘raddiwala’ and then to the informal scrap yard. Besides being highly polluting, this also impacts those who manually dismantle the waste without proper equipment, says an official from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). “Scrap dealers often just burn components in the open, which given the metallic content is hazardous to their health. Or they may dump what they cannot extract in drains and with other garbage, and this can leach into the ground and pollute groundwater.”
Junaid, a scrap dealer in Shivajinagar, told The Hindu that many newspaper recyclers are now collecting electronic scrap too. “Extracting metals such as copper is profitable. Some burn the components to melt the metal, but most of us do it by hand,” explains Junaid.
According to a 2012 Bangalore survey, conducted by e-parisara, on an average, a citizen from a middle-income household generates 21 kg of e-waste a year. Industry sources concede that barring a small portion, a majority of this goes into the informal sector. The KSPCB too is aware that if it needs to get cracking on e-waste it has to involve hundreds of recyclers, like Junaid, who work in the informal sector. But, officials say, this won’t be easy. “Simply telling them that this is illegal, or even hazardous, will not work. We have to get them on board and make them part of the system,” says a KSPCB official. In fact, the board has requested the BBMP to have collection centres for every 2 or 3 wards to facilitate easy disposal.
However, any plans to formalise this large informal sector, though necessary, must take into account the issue of livelihoods, says Nalini Shekar of Bangalore-based NGO Hasiru dala, which organises rag pickers.