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Meet environmental engineer Prasanth Omanakuttan, who is offering a solution to e-waste problem

Electronics recycling

Electronics recycling   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Wind up 2019 on a planet-friendly note and think twice before you chuck your old mobile phones for shinier new ones — you could be doing the planet a great favour

E-waste is a real threat, says Prasanth Omanakuttan during a tour of Green Era Recyclers, an e-waste recycling facility, located on the outskirts of Coimbatore. “It is the second-most threatening and hazardous waste, after radioactive or bio-medical waste. There are about 60 to 100 components in e-waste that are hazardous to consumers and the environment,” he reveals, as we stop at a counter with CPUs and monitors neatly arranged on the shelves. “These are in perfect working condition and will easily last another three or four years,” he says. Founder Prasanth and his team are doing just that. They reduce, reuse, recycle, refurbish, replenish and recover gadgets and give them an extended lease of life. They either repair them or reclaim parts from them to be used in other products. The plastics and steel are recycled, he says.

  • ‘Circuit’ world: Fast computing devices like mobile phones, computers and laptops, use precious metals for quick transmission. The discarded circuit boards, processors, and rams are segregated, graded and then sent for recovery of those metals such as silver, platinum, palladium and gold and other base metals like copper and aluminium. Then they are sent to recycling units in Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai. Steel, copper and aluminium are smelted and reused.
  • Destroy: Data in the wrong hands is always a threat. Any CPU, laptop or USB, contains data, even after you format it. Anything deleted from a storage device can always be recovered. In corporates, IT companies and also those in manufacturing and design, data security is of foremost importance. The testing team secures confidential data in storage devices and ensures that the data is wiped off using a clinical methodology.
  • Upcoming:Green Era Recyclers abides by the rules and regulations of the Central and State Pollution Control Board (CPCB and SPCB), Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). They plan to upgrade the facility so as to handle 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes of e-waste per year, catering to clients pan-India. On a pilot basis, they are working on a project along with the corporation to channelise e-waste collection from households. Instead of an additional bin for e-waste, they can collect e-waste as a part of dry waste and then later segregate it. Once successful, this can be replicated across the country.
  • To know more, visit www.thegreenera.in or call 8300223526.

One can only guess the volume of e-waste being generated. At the facility, electronic waste is piled up in every corner. Used computers, monitors, laptops, keyboards, printers, scanners, and tablets, share space with tonnes of wires and cables, and discarded refrigerators, washing machines, microwaves, AC compressors, music systems and ear phones. There are fluorescent lamps too. “We are designing a machinery to powder the bulbs and trap the mercury content in it, before we send it to the hazardous waste disposal facility at Gummidipoondi in Chennai. One has to extract lead from computer monitors (every monitor has a lead coating) before we dispose them. Many electronics carry heavy metals such as mercury, lead, lithium, and other materials that pollute the air when incinerated or poison the ecosystem as they invade the landfills.” There is no awareness or a channel to dispose e-waste, admits Prasanth.

“My focus is on integrated e-waste management, where the waste is used as a by-product to make something new. For example, making plastic tiles with recycled plastics and power banks from discarded batteries.”

What led 25-year-old Prasanth, an environmental engineer, to e-waste, is the first question that pops up when we settle for a chat. He looks around his room and says, “There is a laptop, switch boxes, chargers, desktop... this small room alone has 100 kilograms of e-waste. Every household easily generates 100 to 200 kilograms.”

Prasanth emphasises that all old, usable or unusable electronic items can be refurbished or can be disposed in an environment-friendly manner. “India is the fourth-largest contributor of e-waste after Europe, China and the US. We generate 2.5 million tonnes every year (with a 30% increase every year). Tamil Nadu is the second-largest contributor at 13%, which is about 3.5 lakh tonnes. The e-waste hubs in Delhi and Mumbai are choked. We need better infrastructure to handle the tonnes of e-waste.”

The three-year-old start-up has so far recycled over 150 tonnes of e-waste and has reduced carbon footprint emission by 0.0034%. Green Era Recyclers is chosen as one of the top three start-ups in the environment field and is incubated at Vel Tech Technology Business Incubator (TBI), Chennai. “We are ideating on automation and digitisation. We will go for a prototype first and then pitch for funding.”

Government policies are in place, says Prasanth. For example, producers have to declare conformance to RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) in manufacturing, but more needs to be done.

“We have a guideline for manufacture and supply. But what about disposal? It is so easy to buy an iPhone, but when I want to dispose it, I do not know where to go. In a start-up ecosystem, there are investors for block chain technology or AI, but when it comes to e-waste management, there is always a concern about returns. The government should come forward and support us with subsidies.”

Self-realisation is important, he says. “From ink pens, we have moved on to plastic ball pens. We use virgin paper instead of recycled paper. We have to value every single product, be it a bike or a gadget. Take an effort to repair and reuse. Don’t give in to temptation whenever a new mobile phone hits the market (you have to worry about the EMIs too!).”

Prasanth says, on an average, an individual generates 1.2 to 1.8 kilograms of e-waste, annually.

“My vision is to create a system for households to streamline e-waste. And, have a Waste Park where e-waste can be laid to rest.”

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:30:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/gadgets/make-your-e-waste-count/article30148499.ece

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