When it comes to waste management, plastic has been given much attention over the years in our country. However, the issue of electronic waste, or e-waste, which includes the innards and shells of dumped smartphones, desktops, laptops, and printers, among other things, is a massive modern-day challenge.
Today, India is among the world’s largest consumers of mobile phones while most consumers are still unaware of how to dispose of their e-waste. Most Indians end up selling their e-waste to the informal sector, which poses severe threats to human (including children’s) lives, with its improper and highly hazardous methods of extracting the trace amounts of precious metal from it and handling e-waste for profit.
Research shows end-of-life electronic products offer huge economic and job-generating potential, and India, which produces upward of two million tonnes of electronic waste every year, surely has an advantage.
The solution uncovering significant economic value in e-dumps is also in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Swachh Bharat” and “Make in India” campaigns. Veena Sahajwalla, materials scientist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney is the inventor of what she calls micro-factories that can transform e-waste into reusable material to be converted into ceramics and plastic filaments for 3D printing. The high-grade metals — like gold, silver, copper, palladium — in the e-waste can be separated for re-sale in conditions that are totally safe.
India has an advantage; But how?
Street scrap collectors and the country has a huge number of them, can be employed, trained and introduced to the micro-factories.
India already has kabadiwallas (waste collectors) and scavengers working at the grassroots level. They collect and separate waste. This is the biggest advantage the country has.
What we or the government need to do is to equip them with technical know-how to deploy the micro-factories and teach them how it works. And the repercussion would be — instead of burning that e-waste, these people will be working in a sustainable and safe environment without producing any kind of toxic waste.
By adopting this strategy we are not displacing the kabadiwallas and scavengers. Instead, we can create more job opportunities.
A modular micro-factory, which would require a 50 sq. meter area can be erected wherever waste is stockpiled. The science behind these factories would be brought in from Australia. These micro-factories are affordable, can be built locally and would help empower the people dealing with waste.
If we can create products by using e-waste and then sell the filaments to make value-added products using 3D printing, then we are not only making our environment more liveable, but we are also creating sustainable job opportunities for the people at the lowest level of the chain.
The author is a technical writer having three books published to his credit and is also a contributor to numerous research journals. Many of his works are on implementing IoT based solutions for automation.