The new report, titled Children and Digital Dumpsites, was recently released by the WHO.
This report summarizes the latest scientific knowledge on the links between informal e-waste recycling activities and health outcomes in children. As many as 18 million children and adolescents and 12.9 million women, including an unknown number of women of childbearing age, may be at risk from adverse health outcomes linked to e-waste recycling. The report is intended to increase awareness and knowledge among health professionals of the dangers that e-waste recycling poses to the health of future generations and is a call to action to reduce children’s exposure to harmful e-waste activities.
Key Highlights Children and Digital Dumpsites report:
- More than 18 million children and adolescents working at e-waste dumpsites in low- and middle-income countries are potentially at the risk of severe health hazards, the World Health Organization said in its recent report.
- The new report, titled Children and Digital Dumpsites and published June 15, 2021, underlined the risk children working in the informal processing faced due to discarded electronic devices or e-waste.
- The e-waste from high-income countries is dumped in the middle- or low-income countries for processing every year.
- This e-waste is dismantled and recycled by children. It contains over 1,000 precious metals and other substances like gold, copper, mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
- The processing is done in low-income countries, which do not have proper safeguarding regulation and which makes the process even more dangerous.
- Children are especially preferred at these dumpsites because of their small and dexterous hands. Several women, including expectant mothers, also work there. Processing e-waste exposes them as well as their children to these toxins, which can lead to premature births and stillbirth.
- The hazardous impact of working at such sites is also experienced by families and communities that reside in the vicinity of these e-waste dumpsites
- Children are particularly more exposed to the toxic chemicals used and released during the processing of e-waste. They are less likely to metabolize or eradicate pollutants absorbed.
- The report stressed that children working at these ‘digital dumpsites’ are more prone to improper lung function, deoxyribonucleic acid damage and increased risk of chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- The volume of e-waste generated is surging rapidly across the globe. About 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2019, according to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership.
- Only 17.4 per cent of this e-waste was processed in formal recycling facilities. The rest of it was dumped in low- or middle-income countries for illegal processing by informal workers.
- This is likely to increase in the coming years because of the rise in the number of smartphones and computers.
- The report also called for the monitoring, safe disposal of e-waste and raising awareness about its outcomes on the health of children and women working at these dumpsites.
What is E-Waste
E-waste or electronic waste is created when an electronic product is discarded after the end of its useful life. The rapid expansion of technology and the consumption driven society results in the creation of a very large amount of e-waste.
Management of E-waste (International Convention):
- Basel Convention on the Control of the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, 1992.
- Originally the Basel Convention did not mention e-waste but later it addressed the issues of e-waste in 2006 (COP8).
- The convention seeks to ensure environmentally sound management; prevention of illegal traffic to developing countries and; building capacity to better manage e-waste.
- The Nairobi Declaration was adopted at COP9 of the Basel Convention. It aimed at creating innovative solutions for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes.
Management of e- waste in India:
Laws to manage e-waste have been in place in India since 2011, mandating that only authorised dismantlers and recyclers collect e-waste. E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 was enacted in 2017.
- India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing and disposal of waste from household and commercial units has been set-up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
E-waste Generation in India:
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generated more than 10 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2019-20, an increase from 7 lakh tonnes in 2017-18. Against this, the e-waste dismantling capacity has not been increased from 7.82 lakh tonnes since 2017-18.
- Most of the e-waste is recycled in India in unorganized units, which engage a significant number of manpower. Recovery of metals from Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) by primitive means is a most hazardous act.
- Proper education, awareness and most importantly alternative cost effective technology need to be provided so that better means can be provided to those who earn their livelihood from this.
- A holistic approach is needed to address the challenges faced by India in e-waste management. One approach could be for units in the unorganized sector to concentrate on collection, dismantling, segregation, whereas, the metal extraction, recycling and disposal could be done by the organized sector.
- A suitable mechanism needs to be evolved to include small units in the unorganized sector and large units in the organized sector into a single value chain.