Probably the most difficult aspect of waste that I’ve encountered is e-waste. At home I’ve been collecting e-waste for 2 years (fortunately it’s very little: mostly batteries and CFL light bulbs) largely because I didn’t know how to dispose of it properly. The same thing is true at school where I’ve been collecting for myself and others (it’s illegal to carry e-waste across state lines in India, so I cannot take it home either. I have to find some way to dispose of it in Andhra Pradesh.

There is also the larger e-waste–old video tape machines, radios, stereos, cell phones. We’ve got quite a collection of these objects at home, largely because Indians (in the past anyway) tend to save rather than toss such items.


With the entrance of Saahas Zero Waste into the private sector in Bangalore, managing e-waste has become a lot simpler. Their website tells you how to manage your e-waste and where to take it when you need to dispose of it. I recently visited the Kormangala BBMP dry waste segregation centre, which is managed by Saahas. I got to see first-hand how they operate while delivering two years worth of e-waste (which weighed a whopping 1 kg!).

The facility was quite well run and maintained–and the ceiling is even made of used tetra paks! On the day I visited they were sorting compost which they collect from various residents and small businesses (although I saw far too much plastic and paper mixed in it, which made for awful work for the ladies sifting through it. Saahas does educational work in communities as well as collecting waste, which may explain why parts of Koramangala is one of the places where waste seems to be far less of a problem. They are also doing some interesting Zero Waste projects in schools to encourage reducing purchasing of notebooks, tea and coffee cups, ID cards, water bottles, gift wrap, and plastic bags.

One of the main items I dropped off at the Saahas e-waste centre were CFL bulbs. In India there is no safe method of disposing these light bulbs and on top of this, the bulbs are not designated as e-waste and so there is no clear way to dispose of this toxic waste. When I contacted WasteLess about how I should dispose of CFL bulbs, they gave me some excellent context and advice, which I’ll share here for others to benefit from:

A few years ago we had contact with Philips to ask them about their take back policy on CFLs. They just told us that until the government has a policy that demands companies like them to handle and safely dispose of CFLs– they would not do so! Even though in Europe and the USA and other parts of the world they do have a take back policy on CFLs. This seems to be the sorry state of affairs. There is definitely a need to change at the policy level.
So far when it comes to CFLs we would suggest the following:

The best is always avoidance. So its best to choose LED’s over CFL‘s. We know this is easier said than done and in my own household, Chandrah only has a few LEDs as they are expensive about Rs. 700 for one. However, we are still experimenting with different brands of LEDs. So far from my experience with the voltage fluctuations where we are- I have already lost 3 LEDs in the last two years. But if you can afford it and you get could quality LEDs then you can slowly phase out CFLs and replace them with LEDs. This way you  are reducing the amount of mercury finding its way into the environment.

Other useful information related to CFLs:

1. Our Indian CFL‘s contain a lot more mercury than in western countries. There’s an interesting report here.

2. In Auroville as of now we have drop off/collection points for CFLs and batteries. For the time being we are safely storing them and hope to find a way to dispose/recycle them in a safe way.

3. There is a machine which a lady in Infosys was testing. The initial report was very good but we did not receive the full technical report. You can learn more about the CFL crusher here. Also find attached a short presentation which explains the process.

4. The local informal sector (scrap dealers) are primarily interested in the aluminum (Rs 90/kg). They crack the bulbs open with a hammer and just take the metals. The occupational hazards are massive and environmental impact would also be very serious. This is probably the worst disposal method.

5. We tested the Pondicherry dump (Karavadikuppam site) and found that top soil has about 122 times the permissible limit of mercury (This is at the lowest lying area in the dump and results are from a sample of soil 0-30cm depth). Its shocking and can not only be attributed to CFL‘s but my guess is that a large percentage of the mercury in our landfills is from them.

e waste india infographic

On another note, I decided to test out one of these new outfits that takes back your electronic items that are not in great condition, or need repair, for refurbishing and then reselling. Attero Bay makes doing this really easy, and they pay you for it, too! I sent my old, slightly broken Micromax phone to them earlier this summer. They make it extremely easy for you to register your phone, get an estimate of what they’ll pay you for it, and then they send you the packaging to ship it to them (which wasn’t too bad) as well as send a courier to pick it up for them once you put your item in their package.


I made almost ₹500 just by sending my phone to them (albeit a far cry from the estimated ₹2,300). Better yet: it will be repaired and reused! Even better: they plant a tree for each phone you send them!

However, I’m planning to switch from my Micromax phone to a Fair Phone the next time the need arises. It’s about €529, and it’s created using a DIY sensibility so ordinary folks like me can repair their phone easily when the need arises. It’s a brilliant model.

For people who are as disturbed as I am about the overload of digital waste and who want to help educate young people about this, here are a few terrific videos that lay out the problems of consumption as well as disposal, especially an issue affecting those of us in India: the fact that we are a digital dumping ground. Also check out this excellent interactive page on the Al Jazeera website called “e-waste Republic”.

All of this feels rather urgent when one reads the recent headlines about the dangers of e-waste in India and around the globe. Here are a few important articles to peruse:

♼ India to generate 30 lakhs MT of e-waste by 2018

♼ 76% of e-waste workers in India suffering from respiratory ailments

♼ Uncontrolled e-waste treatment produces carcinogenic effects


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