Ever thought about where our smartphones end up after buying the latest models? And what about laptops, ACs, charger cables, and every other electronic gadget that we ‘throw away’?
E-wastes are a growing menace to our society, and at least in North-east India, there are few, if any, steps taken to tackle this issue.
This is why two friends from Dimapur, Nagaland–Bendangwala Walling and Sowete Letro–set-up the first-ever e-waste collection centre, e-CIRCLE in the State.
Walling completed her Masters in Social Work, while Letro pursued Human Rights from Punjab University, Chandigarh. “We were roommates during our University days,” said Walling, adding, “It was during our solid waste management internship in Shillong that we received the nudge needed to work for our state as well.”
During their internship at Mott McDonald, a consultant for the Shillong Municipal Board, the duo was “inspired” to work on the waste management issues of Dimapur.
After their Masters, the duo and one more person opened the first-ever e-waste collection centre. “At first, we were quite confused about what to do. Both of us knew that we want to focus on managing e-waste, which is toxic to human health and the environment, is discarded without proper preparation,” said Walling.
She added that they began contacting e-waste management and recycling plants across the country and then ultimately landed in Hulladek Recycling Private Limited. Hulladek, based out of West Bengal, is a licensed e-waste recycling centre under the permission of the state pollution control board.
“Under Hulladek’s guidance and authorisation from the Nagaland Pollution Control Board, we set up the e-waste collection centre on September 17, 2018,” Walling said.
The pair realised that most Dimapur residents are unaware of the difference between waste and e-waste. Hence, proper sensitisation was necessary before starting their initiative. “We visited local repair shops and scrap dealers, hotels, garages, colleges, schools, colony councils, and conducted sensitisation programmes, to make people aware of the nuances of e-waste and its disposal,” she said.
The duo does door-to-door visits for awareness programmes and e-waste collection. “The waste collected is then stored at Letro’s basement,” said Walling thanking the stars for their supportive parents. At times, the duo even has to buy the e-waste and electronic scraps. They then pay for transport to Letro’s basement, and after the collected e-waste reaches a certain threshold, they transport it to Hulladek Recycling in Kolkata.
“At times, we even collect waste from Kohima. In 2018, we were able to transport 20 tonnes of waste to Kolkata and we have conducted 30 sensitisation programmes all from our finances,” stated an elated Walling. The duo even plans to encompass the entirety of Nagaland if their initiative gains more momentum.
This ‘thankless job’ is not without its challenges, the first being the low awareness amongst people about the perils of e-waste. India generated about three million tonnes (MT) of e-waste in 2019 and ranks third among e-waste producing countries, after China (10.1 MT) and the United States (6.9 MT). According to a 2019 United Nations report titled ‘A New Circular Vision For Electronics, Time for a Global Reboot,’ consumers discard nearly 44 million tonnes worth of electronics each year. Out of this, only 20% is recycled sustainably.
Also, not everyone wants to part with their e-waste without an incentive. “There have been days where we were lucky enough to get a huge amount of e-waste from people who do not ask for anything in return. Then, there are days where we need to pay even for a damaged charger wire,” Walling said. Additionally, according to her, people would support them verbally, but when the time comes for collection, things become a problem.
“Moreover, the municipal areas cover just a small area for waste collection and disposal, hence, the garbage gets accumulated and then seeps into natural streams as well, and add on the fact that not all areas of Nagaland are easily approachable via road things become even more of a challenge for us,” she added.
The duo’s efforts have alerted the Dimapur Municipal Council (DMC) too. Albert Ezung, administrator, DMC, said, “We directly collaborate with e-CIRCLE for e-waste recycling because they have technical and theoretical know-how.” He added that the DMC does not monitor the proper storage, disposal, or if e-CIRCLE follows waste management protocols. Nagaland Pollution Control Board (NPCB), however, does an annual check-up.