11 Jan 2011 Last updated at 03:20:06 GMT

Thriving business of illegal e-waste recycling in Seelampur

Thriving business of illegal e-waste recycling in Seelampur

NEW DELHI, INDIA (Scrap Monster): Here you find heaps of computers, motherboards, CRT monitors and hard drives and working on them are not engineers or IT experts but poor people who belong to slums who risk their health to work in contaminated surroundings to earn a living.

The place is Seelampur, in East Delhi located in India’s capital city, considered to be India’s largest illegal electronics dismantling, recycling, and selling market.

People here are mostly engaged in extracting gold and copper from circuit boards of a computer, some extract metals independently, some work with big traders, most earn about Rs. 200 per day Tehelka reports.

People in Seelampur, live their life with scrap electronics, they sleep and dine over the electronic circuits, they burn electronic motherboards for heat.

Informal processing of electronic waste causes serious health and pollution problems. Some electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants.

Even in developed countries recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaching of material such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes. Scrap industry and USA EPA officials agree that materials should be managed with caution, and environmental dangers of unused electronics have not been exaggerated.

A large amount of e- waste is shipped to developing regions like India, China and Africa where environmental laws are lax and labour is cheap. Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO, estimates that India generates about 4 lakh tonnes of electronic waste annually and illegally imports 50,000 tonnes from the US, Europe, South Korea, Australia, among others. Ninety percent of e-waste is recycled in the informal sector, in the bylanes of cities and towns, Tehelka reported.

At Seelampur you’ll see warehouses full of dismantled circuit boards strewn around. Computer parts sit stacked in Haphazard Mountain heaps. Go closer and you see little hands and feet rifling through the scrap piles. They are ripping the keyboards apart, hunting for precious metal slivers. These teens work 10 hours a day in these underground vaults.

Most trucks arrive at night from all corners of the country, with a majority from Mumbai’s seaport. Transport companies earn 5 per kg. Each truck can ferry about 10 tonnes of waste in one trip. It transports 30 to 40 tonnes of motherboards from Seelampur to Moradabad daily, where copper is salvaged from printed circuit boards with a brew of nitric acid, a toxic chemical that releases copper as well as cancer-causing lead and mercury, Tehelka says

Most interesting information is that the authorities say they are unaware of such activities at Seelampur.

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