Emissions from e-waste recycling threaten workers' health

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  • Dan Campbell, USAID Water Communications and Knowledge Management Project
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Emissions from e-waste recycling threaten workers' health

An article in the Sept 30 2015 issue of The Lancet Respiratory Medicine

Link to the complete article

An excerpt: In the absence of effective buy-back mechanisms and strong legislation for waste handling in India, more than 90% of 800 000 tonnes of e-waste generated every year is discarded in municipal waste dumps or in unorganised, backyard recycling units. Located in urban slums or on the periphery of cities, such recycling units employ untrained labour to dismantle e-waste for recovery of precious metals including copper, silver, and gold. All work is done with bare hands and without masks. Metal recovery processes used are often crude—open burning and immersion in acid baths. Resulting toxins in air, soil, and water are adversely affecting workers' health.

“While many [people] may blame the informal sector for poor recycling, it is also true that this sector is increasingly being used by companies to take care of the last mile in collection of e-waste for safe recycling. So, we need to provide incentives to the informal sector to undertake steps to safeguard public health and invest in small scale metal extractors for safe and legal recycling”, suggests Chaturvedi. Additionally, informal recyclers can operate e-waste collection at local centres and, along with producers, can help generate awareness.

Dan Campbell
USAID Water Communications and Knowledge Management Project
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1901 N. Moore St, Suite 1004
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