the after-life of electronic products

what happens to products after we finish with them? did you ever think about it? i used to be thoughtless as i ran through new phones and electronic gadgets every other year, often making cringe-worthy statements like “the only consumer product i consume a lot of are electronic products“. i never thought about what happened to the electronic products after it stopped working, after it became e-waste.

where did all of the e-waste go? eventually to a colossal land-fill, after most of it was informally dismantled at facilities where millions of men, women and children are employed. so poor and vulnerable that no-one cares whether they inhale toxins all day or die prematurely. no, there is no justice in environmental pollution. the people most directly affected by pollution are often the ones who had the least to do with causing it.

but now karma is catching up. as we reach the limits of capacity, the toxins are entering water-systems, leaching into the soil, travelling across neighbourhoods as suspended particles in the air. perhaps now we will wake up?

i remember seeing agricultural fields near tijori, alwar (in rajasthan) being taken over by e-waste. it looked like the local agriculture-based economy had broken down and the local communities were transitioning to e-waste dismantling. given how close that district is to delhi and gurgaon, there is only one possibility…e-waste is beginning to spill out of cities into the rural landscape.

in india, most of the electronic waste land up in informal dismantling facilities like seelampur. i found a massively informative and readable article below which you must read.

tl:dr a walk-through of seelampur streets where circuit-boards are dipped in acid or cooked in open flames to extract the metals. it’s a complex social ecosystem generating income and ‘jobs’. as with most informal activities it is rife with the overt exploitation and pollution and the subverted hint of an underworld. the informal sector is the truth of indian waste-management that we have to incorporate, but do the policies support that?

meantime, am going to be much more mindful of what i consume. but not everything is on us. at some point, we have to go to the source and ask for robust extended producer responsibilities. it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to give us durable product that can be recycled and reused not replaced.

featured image by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash