Each year, more than 3 million tons of e-waste is generated in India. Vishal, an environmentalist by passion and business consultant by trade, has known the hazards posed by e-waste all too well. Having lived in Deonar – an area home to India’s most massive landfill – for many years, he had a ringside view of the situation and it could not get starker – mounds of e-waste that seemed to grow bigger by the minute. Vishal was of the view that concerted action by citizens was the only way to sensitize the government and industry bodies of the magnitude of the e-waste problem.
One day while browsing through the newspaper, Vishal had a brainwave. He recalled a story he had read a few days ago about a non-profit organization, United Action Forum (UAF), which had been canvassing in housing societies, industrial estates and political rallies to create awareness about e-waste disposal. He decided to start a chapter of UAF in his own neighborhood. After all, change begins at home, he thought to himself.
The next morning, he visited the UAF headquarters in Borivali, an hour’s drive away from home, to meet Mr. N. Shrinivasan, its honorary Chairman. As soon as they settled down for a conversation, Vishal reeled off the names of quite a few activists that he had been following on social media. He even showed Mr. Shrinivasan a few letters he had written to local MLAs, the municipal authorities and media outlets highlighting the precarious situation at Deonar.
Time seemed to fly by. The conversation veered towards how the corporate world had emerged as an ally in fighting a phenomenon it had helped create in the first place. Vishal was intrigued. He had a healthy dislike for the insensitive consumerism that some of the largest electronics makers were promoting. He felt that the government should impose curbs on companies that were grossly violating environmental norms. Sensing the militant tone in Vishal’s voice, Mr. Shrinivasan sought to calm him down.
The plight of scavengers who rummaged through mounds of garbage for their livelihood came up for discussion. Mr. Shrinivasan explained that UAF had been making efforts to sensitize them about the hazardous health effects of scavenging. After all, discarded electronics contained high levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium. Prolonged contact with these elements could severely impair normal kidney and lung function, he explained. Vishal was exasperated at the level of environmental and social apathy that had reduced human dignity to shreds.
Mr Shrinivasan went on to explain that companies like Exigo Recycling, Hulladek and E-waste Global were at the forefront of turning the tide against piles of e-waste. They provide end to end collection and disposal services for all types of IT, electronics, media and communications equipment, he said. Vishal immediately asked whether e-waste companies had any liability towards protecting their clients’ Intellectual Property (IP). As a business consultant, he was aware of the risk of confidential data, stored on hard drives contained in old hardware, being compromised.
Mr. Shrinivasan explained that data destruction and portable shredding were among the key services offered by recycling companies. They have processes in place that thoroughly destroy and shred confidential data found in donated equipment. In addition, recycling and recovery, reverse logistics, IT asset management also formed part of their offerings.
For the very first time, Vishal felt that corporate India was not to blame for the harmful effects of e-waste. He realized that what was needed was a new approach towards handling e-waste, on both the micro and macro level.3
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