In 2016, India disposed of 728 kilotonnes (kt) Iron, 96.8 kt copper, 110.6 kt Aluminium, 71 tonnes silver, 22 tonnes gold and 9 tonnes palladium. That means, the country discarded gold and silver worth Rs 6,347 crore and Rs 300 crore
India is throwing away valuables including precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium worth over Rs 18,677 crore as electronic waste every year.
According to a report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency working in the field of information and communication technologies, India discarded about 2 million tons, i.e. 2,000,000,000 kg electronic waste (e-waste) in 2016. And, the number is increasing steadily every year.
Globally, the world produced about 44.7 million tonnes e-waste in 2016 which is equal to the weight of 4,500 Eiffel towers. The per capita generation of e-waste was pegged at 6.1 kg. The e-waste contained metals and plastic worth Rs 4.21 lakh crore.
Components of e-waste
Discarded electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) contain numerous valuable and rare metals, many of which could be potentially hazardous. They include lead, cadmium, aluminium, iron, gold, silver, palladium, copper among others.
In 2016, India disposed of 728 kilotonnes (kt) Iron, 96.8 kt copper, 110.6 kt Aluminium, 71 tonnes silver, 22 tonnes gold and 9 tonnes palladium. That means, the country discarded gold and silver worth Rs 6,347 crore and Rs 300 crore.
Orange bars represent the value of the components of e-waste (in Rs crore), whereas the yellow line reflects the weight of components (in kg) of the e-waste produced in 2016 in India. Numbers are rounded off to the nearest digit. Source: ITU
Similarly, copper worth Rs 3,262 crore and Aluminium worth Rs 1,228 crore were thrown away. India also threw 447 kt of plastics worth Rs 5,152 crore.
Worldwide, 1,600 tonnes of gold worth a whopping Rs 1.44 lakh crore (EUR 18.8 billion) was discarded in form of e-waste.
These numbers represent the monetary value of raw material, not the depreciated value of finished goods.
The biggest culprits
According to an Assocham report, in India, Mumbai leads e-waste generation with 1,20,000 metric tonnes (MT). The financial capital is followed by the national capital with 98,000 MT e-waste per year. Incidentally, Bengaluru, the IT capital of India is at the third position generating 92,000 MT of e-waste per year, closely behind Delhi.
Green bars represent the weight of e-waste (in metric tonnes) produced in major cities of India. The numbers here may not tally with the numbers provided by ITU as both use different methodologies to estimate the e-waste generation. Source: Assocham
Apart from generating a massive amount of e-waste, India also acts as a dumping yard for the e-waste produced in the developed countries. Delhi alone receives around 10,000 metric tonnes of e-waste every day, according to another report by Assocham.
That means, each year 3.65 million metric tonnes of e-waste is imported in Delhi alone. Asscocham estimates that 85 percent of waste generated in the developed world lands up in Delhi.
Apart from Delhi, there are other major centres in the country where e-waste is dumped. They include Ahmedabad, Chennai, Mumbai, among others.
Production wise, globally, China topped the e-waste production with 7.2 million metric tonnes in 2016. It was closely followed by the US with 6.3 million metric tonnes. Japan and India with 2.1 million metric tonnes and 2 million metric tonnes came at the third and fourth position, respectively.
On paper, India has the total installed capacity of recycling about 22 percent of the total e-waste produced as of 2016. However, as per Assocham, less than 2 percent of India's total electronic waste gets recycled. That means India is able to recover only about Rs 373 crore worth of valuables from the e-waste it generates.
The dismal state of e-waste recycling can be assessed from the fact that, despite the mounting heaps, India added just 40 registered recycling plants in two years from November 2014 to December 2016. The e-waste recycling capacity addition was just 88,931 metric tonnes in two years, which by all measures can be considered a drop in the ocean.
Incidentally, as per a May 2016 report by the department of electronics and information technology (Deity), accessed by OECD, 90-95 percent of e-waste recycling happens in the informal sector which is highly inefficient. The recovery yield is poor and only 10-20 percent of the precious metals are recovered.
The informal sector, though, employs around 10 lakh people for e-waste recycling as the sector uses primitive methods to recover valuable metals which is labour intensive. However, the report admits that the working conditions are "unsafe" in the informal sector.Update: An earlier version of this story wrongly reflected the weight of silver, gold and palladium as components of e-waste in kilograms.