Thrown Away: India's E-Waste Problem

Home > Learn More > Stories & News > Thrown Away: India's E-Waste Problem

Posted on 10/16/2013



Electronic waste is a serious problem in India, and many children are forced to work in the country's informal recycling industry to support their families.
Electronic waste is a serious problem in India, and many children are forced to work in the country's informal recycling industry to support their families.

Millions of people in developed nations around the world clamor to get their hands on the latest consumer electronics, and in an increasingly competitive market, major electronics manufacturers are constantly lowering prices to gain a vital edge over their rivals. Although smart phones and tablet computers can positively impact people's lives, few consider the environmental implications posed by the production and, more importantly, the disposal of old electronic devices. In India, so-called "e-waste" is becoming a serious problem, not only for the environment, but for the children and young people involved in the electronics recycling business, which puts them at risk of health problems.

The Price of Progress: The Dangers of E-Waste Recycling

India's information technology industry is growing at a rapid rate. An increasing number of technology companies are expanding their operations in India because of a readily available and often cost-effective workforce and lower operating costs. Although this growth has had positive effects on the Indian economy, it has also resulted in a substantial rise in the amount of e-waste produced every year, worsening the electronics recycling problem.

According to The Guardian, the city of Bangalore alone produces more than 20,000 tons of e-waste annually, and this figure is growing by approximately 20 percent every year. To make matters worse, as much as 90 percent of this e-waste recycling is handled by untrained workers who may not be provided with sufficient protective clothing to safely handle the toxic chemicals used in the production of consumer electronics and computer components.

Data from Assocham, the Association of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India, suggests that many of India's informal electronics recycling firms employ children to scavenge for, handle and dismantle these materials. In addition to posing a serious threat to the environment of local communities, e-waste also presents numerous health hazards, particularly to the young children who often work for these electronics recycling companies.

Difficult Choices

Participating in the e-waste recycling business is dangerous, but many Indian children have little choice but to find work wherever they can to help support their families. Time magazine recently reported on the state of India's informal recycling electronic recycling industry, and found that children like 12-year-old Nazeeb earn as little as between $3 and $5 per day by scavenging and selling copper wire commonly found in many consumer electronics.

However, not every discarded computer or phone can be easily disassembled. Some devices require stripping in open acid baths to extract copper and gold components. Although this practice is illegal under Indian law, it is still all too common on the streets of India's slums, and children are often forced to perform such dangerous work in the e-waste recycling industry. The acid baths release harmful chemicals such as brominated flame retardants, dioxins, cadmium, lead and mercury, the fumes from which can irritate the lungs and cause permanent organ damage.

Giving Children Hope

Effectively regulating India's electronic recycling industry is a significant challenge, and many children will be forced to continue working in these dangerous conditions to support their families. ChildFund has worked in India since 1951, and one of the best ways you can help us make a difference in the lives of children in need is by becoming a child sponsor. Among our goals in India is to protect children from working in exploitative and dangerous conditions in electronic recycling firms by providing families with job training and other assistance that helps children and youth remain in school longer.

For just $28 per month, you can provide a boy or girl with the food, water, health care and educational opportunities they need to emerge from generational poverty. Alternatively, becoming a monthly giving partner allows ChildFund to intervene where the need is greatest.

Next time you use your smart phone or tablet, consider where your old devices end up when you discard them. For Indian children like Nazeeb, upgrading to the latest devices can mean another day's work harvesting wires from old phones or broken computers for unethical and sometimes illegal electronics recycling firms. Become a child sponsor today and help a vulnerable child in India live a more fulfilling life.