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60,000 metric tonnes of e-waste generated in Gurgaon annually, but just 10% gets recycled: Ruchika Sethi Takkar

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By Nishtha 

Gurgaon: Citizen activist, Ruchika Sethi Takkar regularly collaborates with citizen groups and civic administration to develop and implement sustainable solutions.

In a conversation with NewsGram, Sethi talks about e-waste management, her initiative – ‘Why Waste Your Waste’ and the impact of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’. Excerpts from the interview:

Nishtha: As a citizen activist, you are passionate about saving the environment among other important issues. What made you take up this cause?

Ruchika Sethi Takkar: It is the civic and civil apathy which pushed me out of my comfort zone. This was sometime around March 2013. I felt that neither the civil society, nor the civic administration are doing their part for our planet. There was a big gap between the policies created by the government and its implementation on ground. There was a total lack of cooperation from the civic authorities when it came to sanitation work. Seeing this condition, I realized it was time for me to take charge and work towards the betterment of the environment. It was time for me to take responsibility for my surroundings.

N: You have been doing a lot of work for e-waste management. Could you tell me about your initiative and whether enough is being done to promote e-waste management?

RS: The biggest challenge in today’s time is that most of the electronic gadgets have a short life of three to six months before a new model hits the market. What happens to the older junk? If in a working condition, the gadget is passed around and it turns into a game of passing the parcel. Ultimately, it becomes junk, and lands up in the landfill sites.

I had attended a workshop on waste management and heard an executive from GIZ (an international organization) speak about the need for e-waste safe disposal. I did my research on this topic and subsequently formed a group of like-minded individuals to raise awareness about e-waste and its segregation.

E-waste contains toxic and hazardous materials including mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and chemical flame retardants, which have the potential to leach into our soil and water.

It should not come as a surprise that most of the Neuro-Developmental diseases are on the rise, and somewhere, the lead and mercury are entering the food we eat and the air we breathe.

Government of India has issued policies for safe handling of e-waste. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s e-waste handling and management rules (2011) call for correct disposal of the e-waste.  There is hardly any awareness in  government departments, and absolutely no enforcement .

N: Bandhwari plant, which is about 15 kms away from the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road, and was supposed to serve as a treatment plant for recycling around 900 Metric Solid Waste (MSW) every day, is still shut. As the garbage continues to pile on, what is the current situation at the plant?

RS : Currently, no processing of waste is taking place at the plant. More than 6.5 million tonnes of untreated MSW has piled up on this eco fragile zone. It is impacting our ground water, as well as releasing noxious green house gases such as methane into the atmosphere.

Gurgaon is the growth engine for Haryana and is also one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities. This urbanization brings challenges and consequences – the large quantities of municipal waste generation being one of them. The problem is further compounded with multiple civic agencies trying to handle civic sanitation functions. It is the responsibility of the city to implement a decentralized MSW plan to solve the impending crisis. 

N: You have started an initiative called, ‘Why Waste Your Waste’ and have tied up with the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG). What is the initiative all about?

RS: The ‘Why Waste Your Waste’ (WWYW) citizens campaign is creating awareness among the civil society and civic administration about the surmounting problems. WWYW campaign is extending its full support to the MCG to design and implement decentralized pilot projects in HUDA sector 31 and Ashok Vihar phase -2 (areas in Gurgaon).  The MCG commissioner, Vikas Gupta has initiated a scientific survey for the first time in Gurgaon, to see the quantity and classification of waste generation at the source.

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The objective of waste mapping, is to help MCG monitor the quantities of waste being generated and handled by other civic agencies and their contractors and to make them fully accountable for its scientific management and disposal; and also, to prevent the rampant open dumping as well as to look at the decentralized model of waste management.

The message from municipality should be very clear. Its time all stakeholders of the city start to look at their role in waste management. The waste mapping only validates the large quantum of waste generation in an urban household, and the need to scientifically process the Organic waste in complexes inhibiting the production of greenhouse gases like Methane from untreated organic matter. WWYW is also focused on waste diversion and reduction.

 

N: Do you think ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ launched by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has actually managed to make any difference?

RS : For the first time in our country, priority is being given to sanitation and our living surroundings. In fact, the very first Municipal Solid Waste guidelines, were only drawn up by MoEF in 2000; a good 53 years after independence! Yet, they have not been implemented by all the states. The civic needs were in the lower rungs of priorities of every government, so far. Yes, the cleanliness drive has inspired citizens, but, there is a huge gap between the prioritization and implementation of this campaign.

I sincerely hope it does not remain a mere rhetoric. The seriousness of the administration can only be gauged if the civic administration too starts rolling up its sleeve, and identifying the main inhibitors for clean surroundings, and basically begins to bring about a paradigm shift in its approach and methodology to execute the civic and sanitation needs of a city.

N: What is the message you would like to send across to people regarding e-waste management?

RS: With changing pace of technology, the shelf life of electronic items has become limited. Most of the e-waste is managed by the informal sector which sometimes burns the e-waste to retain precious metals such as Aluminium and Copper, among others. As I said earlier, e-waste also contains toxic and hazardous materials including mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and chemical flame retardants, which have the potential to leach into our soil and water. This is why it is important that e-waste is safely disposed through government certified recyclers and dismantlers.

For example, more than 60,000 metric tonnes of  e-waste is generated in Gurgaon annually, but just 10% of this gets recycled in a safe manner.

So, in order to strike a balance between technological advancement and depleting natural resources, each consumer needs to indulge in safe disposal method . The authorized dismantlers will ensure that the environment is not harmed during the recycling process.

Also, the consumers should find a way to increase the longevity of their electronic items.

  • Parimal Bardhan

    Its a true status of Gurgaon as mentioned by Ruchika, and of other cities in India.Who cares about managing waste in our cities?But for the ragpickers,the landscape of our cities and around the cities would be worse.Does it really matter to anyone? We are so good at engaging people with pompous policy announcements that the system continues to remain in perennial sloth.Solutions to this menace are quite obvious and people and administration would often talk about them very passionately but putting them into action remains a mirage.Unfortunately, we are caught in a vicious cycle of (policy) announcements, (resource) allocation and no action.This 3As syndrom will swamp us with garbage and swachh bharat will remain a mythical concept.One however does hope that Ruchikas and such other non-pretentious and concerned persons in the society will keep our optimism high.

  • Aakash Mandyal

    These are the only people who are taking initiative .. Rest is bragging.

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  • Parimal Bardhan

    Its a true status of Gurgaon as mentioned by Ruchika, and of other cities in India.Who cares about managing waste in our cities?But for the ragpickers,the landscape of our cities and around the cities would be worse.Does it really matter to anyone? We are so good at engaging people with pompous policy announcements that the system continues to remain in perennial sloth.Solutions to this menace are quite obvious and people and administration would often talk about them very passionately but putting them into action remains a mirage.Unfortunately, we are caught in a vicious cycle of (policy) announcements, (resource) allocation and no action.This 3As syndrom will swamp us with garbage and swachh bharat will remain a mythical concept.One however does hope that Ruchikas and such other non-pretentious and concerned persons in the society will keep our optimism high.

  • Aakash Mandyal

    These are the only people who are taking initiative .. Rest is bragging.

Next Story

Cambodia Returns 1,600 Tons of Plastic Waste Exported from US, Canada

Neth Pheaktra said 70 of the containers were shipped from the U.S. and 13 came from Canada. Both countries are major waste exporters

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plastic waste
Containers loaded with plastic waste are pictured in Sihanoukville Port, southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. July 16, 2019. VOA

Cambodian authorities have announced plans to return 1,600 tons of plastic waste exported from the U.S. and Canada, according to a high-ranking official from the Environmental Ministry.

Inspectors found the waste Tuesday. It was packed in 83 containers unloaded in Sihanoukville, one of Cambodia’s main ports.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told VOA Khmer on Wednesday that “authorities are seeking the companies that smuggled the plastic waste in order to take legal action.”  He added that the waste would be returned “to the country of origin.”

Neth Pheaktra said 70 of the containers were shipped from the U.S. and 13 came from Canada. Both countries are major waste exporters.

plastic waste
80 percent of the waste found on 93 beaches was plastic. VOA

‘Not a dustbin’

“Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country,” said Neth Pheaktra.

In the past, Cambodian authorities have found radioactive and film waste arriving in Sihanoukville.  He said the plastic waste found this week was not biodegradable.

Emily Zeeberg, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, said the embassy “is monitoring reports of plastic waste at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.”

Zeeberg added that “we have requested additional information and are offering U.S. government assistance to determine both the exporter (country of origin) and the importing entity here in Cambodia.”

Sorn Chey, who works with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said the authorities should heed control mechanisms. “This is something that should not take place,” he added.

plastic waste
Scientists: China’s Ban Causes Plastic To Pile Up, Nations Must Reduce Usage. Pixabay

Chinese project

Cambodia’s rejection this week was the latest step in a trash crisis that emerged when China began Operation Green Fence in February 2013. It was aimed at reducing the vast amounts of contaminated recyclables and waste sent to China.

ALSO READ: Mahindra Group Chairman: No More Plastic Bottles at Boardroom Meeting

In January 2018, Beijing banned almost all imports of two dozen types of recyclable materials, such as plastics, mixed paper and electronic waste. Now, unless the materials are clean and sorted so they are unmixed, China rejects them.

Since then, other countries in Southeast Asia that accepted waste have started to turn it away. In May, Malaysia returned 450 tons of plastic waste to the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands. Earlier this month, Indonesia rejected waste from Australia. (VOA)