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New Delhi: Electronic waste management is fast becoming a health concern for the informal sector that recyles e-waste in India. About 76% of e-waste workers in India suffer respiratory ailments like breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing and choking due to improper safeguards, according to a study Electronic Waste Management in India by industry lobby group Assocham.

E-waste accounts for approximately 40% of lead and 70% of heavy metals found in landfills. These pollutants lead to groundwater and air pollution and soil acidification. High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of almost all major body systems.

“E-waste is directly linked to the economic growth of the country and overall consumer spending. India’s economic growth has lifted millions of people from lower-income group to middle- and high-income groups, increasing their purchasing power," said D.S. Rawat, secretary general, Assocham.

The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 71% of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 16%; the rest being contributed by manufacturers. The study also found that although individual households are not large contributors to waste generated by computers, they consume large quantities of consumer durables and are, therefore, potential creators of waste.

There are 10 states that contribute to 70% of the total e-waste generated in the country, while 65 cities generate more than 60% of the total e-waste in India. Among the eight largest e-waste generating states, Maharashtra ranks first followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka and West Bengal, says the study.

Of the total e-waste generated in India, approximately 1.5% is recycled by formal recyclers or institutional processing and recycling. Another 8% of the e-waste generated is rendered useless and goes to landfills. The remaining 90.5% of the e-waste is being handled by the informal sector.

“Majority of e-waste is being handled by the informal sector where dismantling and metal recovery are done by hands," said Swati Singh Sambyal, Senior Research Associate at Centre for Science and Environment. She said the new draft on e-waste rules 2015 also does not have clear guidelines on worker safety.

As of November 2014, out of the 138 Central Pollution Control Board certified recyclers/dismantlers in the country, there are 122 in Haryana (13), Uttar Pradesh (11), Karnataka (52), West Bengal (2), Tamil Nadu (14), Gujarat (7) and Andhra Pradesh (2). The total capacity of these plants is 2, 45,049.62 metric tonne per annum (MTA). There are 21 recycling facilities in Delhi which have been issued licences by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee for collection, segregation and storage of e-waste without dismantling and recycling.

For the recycling of e-waste, India heavily depends on the unorganised sector as only a handful of organised e-waste recycling facilities are available. Over 95% of the e-waste is treated and processed in the majority of urban slums of the country, where untrained workers carry out the dangerous procedures without personal protective equipment.

The biggest e-waste recycling market in India is Delhi and approximately 40% of the e-waste in India lands here. Bengaluru and Chennai are the next big e-waste markets. Chennai is the fourth largest e-waste generating city and approximately 5.0 MT of e-waste is generated every day in the Chennai Metropolitan area. “In Moradabad and Seemapur, most dismantling work is done by women or teenagers in the informal sector while the men handle metal recovery using corrosive acids. The formal sector employs machines to do this work and thus regularization of the informal sector is urgently needed," said Sambyal.

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