Monday, November 21, 2005

The e-waste problem

The hazardous effects of e-waste are a worrisome problem, says Vinutha V.


You may be a software professional working on the latest PC, a call-centre employee on your first job, or a teenager tapping away furiously on an assembled computer at home. Whatever slot you fall into, have you stopped to think what happens when you get parts of your PC, or all of it, replaced? Where do these parts go and where does all the unwanted or unusable stuff land up? e-waste or Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) is no longer a subject for academic discussions at environmental forums. Instead, there is a growing realisation that the issue may assume dangerous proportions over the next few years if it continues to be left unaddressed.

The situation is alarming. According to a survey by IRG Systems, South Asia, the total waste generated by obsolete or broken-down electronic and electrical equipment in India has been estimated to be 1,46,180 tons per year based on select EEE tracer items. This figure does not include WEEE imports. At the rate at which technological changes are taking place, not only in computers and cell phones but also in domestic appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators, microwave ovens and TV sets, the problem seems to be compounding.

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IDC expects fresh concern over disposal of PCs

IDC is expecting a new debate over disposal of PCs and expansion of the recycling industry as the installed base of PCs worldwide shot up to 749 million in 2004. The PC industry has been a leading driver of economic growth in the past three decades. The explosion in the use of computers has been driven by the need to modernise work processes and boost productivity, while the Internet, entertainment and other digital applications were among the primary drivers for the booming consumer market.

As businesses and consumers continue to shift to portable PCs and flat-panel displays, a new debate on disposal is likely to intensify, prompting the involvement of lawmakers and government. “Millions of systems will be moving out of homes and offices and will have to be disposed. Some will have their life prolonged through a data-cleansing and refurbishing process. In the case of others, various parts will be reused, and the remaining will be completely destroyed,” said David Daoud, Research Manager for IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker and Personal Computing programmes.

Many companies are yet to include asset disposition in their PC ownership cost analysis. For most of them, a good strategy would be the one that would protect them from possible legal problems and generate residual income for their organisation. The preliminary results of a survey currently being conducted by IDC suggest that less than 37 percent of commercial entities of all sizes have a formal PC recycling and end-of-life policy. The recycling and refurbishing industry is likely to expand and create a new market. IDC expects it will happen under the pressure of an expanding body of government regulations concerning disposal.

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