Every day I return home for lunch around 1 PM, when I always see a junk collector’s handcart parked on the street corner, along with the owner standing nearby. Surprisingly, I have never seen usual junk like empty bottles, tin cans, paper boxes and broken bathroom fittings on his cart. On the contrary, his cart is always parked with old Personal Computers, old CRT monitors, broken printers and all that kind of discarded electronic or e-junk. I have been always wondering, where from he manages get every day so many computers and printers? Finally, I decided to ask him directly and satisfy my curiosity. Few days back, I stopped my car near his cart and inquired with him, about the junk he had collected on his cart that day. The answers , which he gave me were quite revealing. All the electronic junk like computers, printers and old telephones, which he had on his cart, was collected by him on the same day. I naturally asked him about what exactly he does with the junk. He told me that there is a shop in the city, which buys only electronic junk on weight basis from junk collectors like him, so he goes to the shop at the end of the day and sells the collected junk to the shop.
I am acquainted with a scrap dealer, whom I used to sell my factory scrap earlier. By chance, I met him couple of days ago. I casually asked him about the electronic junk. According to him, the computer junk collected from the hard cart junk collectors is actually sold to big scrap dealers in Delhi, who buy this e-junk on per ton basis from shops spread all over the country. By now I was very curious about this electronic junk trade. I decided to do some research on the net. What I found was interesting but not very palatable.
Let us trace out the entire journey of the e-junk from the household to final destination. In the first place, what my street corner cart owner had told me was half truth. The scrap dealer, who purchases e-junk from him does not buy broken plastic parts or moulded plastic cabinets. So my street corner cart owner, simply burns off the plastic parts at the end of the day. Many of these plastic parts are quoted with metal films and most of theme are sprayed with chemicals containing Cadmium, lead, Mercury compounds and Bromides to make them anti-inflammable. The fumes created by open burning of such parts, are highly dangerous to the people in the vicinity and are also carcinogenic with continuous exposure. Our hand cart owner does not even know that he is playing with his own life by burning the plastic parts in open.
The bulk purchased electronic junk is usually sent to Delhi by trucks or railway wagons. Here, this junk is first sorted out. The computers which are salvageable or are in working order are separated and sent to some cities in India’s Rajasthan state like Bharatpur, Dholapur, Bikaner, where these are repaired or cannibalized. Such cannibalized computers then are sold to traders from smaller towns or schools for as low a price as 30 to 40% of the price of a similar new computer. Whatever remains after this cannibalization and is beyond use, is again simply sent back to Delhi scrap traders. I have been always under impression so far that these non salvageable computers along with broken junk are used as a landfill and are simply dumped into pits, dug into earth and covered up finally with loose soil. The realities however quite differ from this and what happens later with the junk is extremely polluting and unhygienic.
The trade in old Personal Computers and other e-junk, taking place in India’s capital Delhi, has now reached such gigantic proportions that Delhi along with being called India’s capital, may be also called as Capital of scrapped computers and e junk. As per present figures, every year, Delhi recycles more than 20000 tons of e-junk and it is likely that this figure could be much higher in coming few years. Besides re-cycling the e-junk collected from throughout the country, such electronic junk is now reaching Delhi from almost all advanced nations of the world, who do not want to do anything with the junk but simply discard it. A Ton of e-scrap is sold in Delhi market for about 20000 Rupees (US$ 365.00) From this e-junk it is possible to recycle or salvage around 10 Grams of Gold and 30 to 40 Kg of Copper and other metals worth 40000 Rupees.(US$ 730.00)
From above mentioned figures, it may appear that this is a very lucrative business. But this recycling is being done in Delhi in such hazardous and deadlier way that anyone would come to the conclusion that this cure for disposal of e junk is worse that the problem of creation of the junk itself.
This recycling work goes on in small villages surrounding Delhi. You can watch 10 to 12 year old kids shaking trays filled with electronic printed circuit boards in acid filled drums that come to almost their height. They were rubber hand gloves but are not provided with any mask or googles. Small droplets of acid can drop on these children any time. Similarly the entire air surrounding these sheds is saturated with acid fumes. All the kids working here suffer from cough and breathing problems. Under such conditions, when the work is over, these kids find solace in drinking hard illicit liquor.
The residue that collects in the acid drums is collected each day. This residue contains all the metallic salts. The metals like copper are later recovered from the residue. Other e-junk containing glass an plastic are similarly recycled in other small sheds with furnaces. The working conditions here also are equally horrible. Within Delhi metropolitan area the rules are very strict about child labour and working conditions. Hence this entire recycling work is done in sheds set up in small villages on periphery of Delhi. Since the profitability of this business is more than 100%, it continues to grow and flourish without bothering about the environment and health of child labour utilized.
With the popularity and the fact that manufacturers continuously keep bringing newer and newer models out, the mobile phones are latest additions to e-junk. Because of this, old scrapped mobile phones are being brought to Delhi for recycling. No one seems to be bothered that by bringing in this poisonous junk from everywhere in world to Delhi and recycling it, we are causing a great harm to the environment and immeasurable damage to the health and well being of these poor children, who are forced to work in these recycling sheds.