Developing countries are dumpyards for e waste
Exactly what is the new millenium all about? Some call it the time of the information technology (it) revolution. Some say it is globalisation turning mature. But, as one looks for ways to name the present, there pops up a phrase with a murky neologism in it: the new millenium is also the era of e-waste.
e-waste means: discarded electronic devices. Televisions, telephones, air conditioners, toys, microwave ovens, computers. e-waste is often hazardous. Take computers. They use lead and cadmium in circuit boards; lead oxide and cadmium in cathode ray tube (crt) monitors; mercury in switches and flat screen monitors; cadmium in computer batteries; polychlorinated biphenyls in older capacitors and transformers and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, plastic casings, cables and polyvinyl cable insulation.
A recent study in the us shows that by 2004, over 315 million computers will become obsolete. By 2005, for every single computer an American buys, one will be discarded. California alone discards more than 6,000 computers daily. In Europe the volume of e-waste is increasing by 3-5 per cent per annum, almost three times faster than the growth in municipal solid waste.
So should we panic? The standard answer is: the problem of e-waste is limited to the industrialised world, so India and other developing countries needn't worry. But reality dictates we need to worry, for two reasons. Firstly, India is a major presence in the it world. In 1995-2000, the Indian it industry recorded a compounded annual growth rate of more than 42.4 per cent. Indians use at present about 12 million pcs, 13 million mobile phones and 70 million televisions. Soon, these goods will enter the waste stream. Already, close to 1.38 million pcs become obsolete in India annually, and manufacturers and assemblers alone are creating about 1,050 tonnes of electronic scrap every year.
Secondly, most pcs trashed in the industrialised world find their way into our backyards, as