“Scrappy” issues – panting environment and decaying lives
E-waste, a new and hazardous category of waste, has further complicated the waste management scenario not only in India but globally. When talking about its management in India and other developing countries, maximum quantity of e-waste lands up in to the hands of informal recyclers. They use all sorts of crude methods to handle e-waste which threatens both the environmental health and health of the informal handlers.
I happened to visit one of the informal recycling sites in Hyderabad as part of my data collection (I was an MPH student then). The very existence of a typical urban slum, devoid of access to satisfactory level of hygienic conditions came to me as an utter shock. The existence of leather factories, welding shops, e-waste dismantling shops and slaughtering houses in a densely populated place makes the living conditions highly vulnerable to negative health risks.
When I asked informal handlers whether they were aware of environmental and occupational hazards posed by the way they managed e-waste (referred by them as “scrap”) , majority of them replied in negative and those who did know about the potential threat, opined that earning livelihood is far more important than thinking about environment or of their own health. Being poor daily wage earners, they could not even imagine the luxury bothering about anything else except money for basic sustenance. Highly polluted status of the air was quite apparent as uneasiness was felt strongly with every breath that I took. The miserable conditions of the informal handlers (who were residents of that area too) could easily be comprehended when one of them went to the extent of saying that he had now become used to such environment, actually liked to breathe that air and in fact felt uncomfortable to breath cleaner air! (“hume to ab ye hi hawa achhi lagti hai, agar kahi saaf jagah jao to saans lene me taklif hone lagti hai”).
When asked about their personal safety measures, they informed that they were taking tetanus injection regularly once in two/three months and they believed that that was enough to keep them safe. When asked whether they went to see any doctor in case of blow injury they replied that they mostly went to some nurse and she gave them tetanus injection by charging some 40-50 rupees (“hum nurse ke paas jaate hai, wo 40-50 rupeees leti hai aur injection de deti hai”).
They hardly bothered to use any protective equipment like goggles, gloves while working as those safety gears greatly affected the ‘smoothness’ of their work. With such backdrop, the abysmal waste management in the locality from the municipality side and choked drainage system made the situation far graver. People over there used to graciously offer me food and tea and although I had to accept whatever they offered, I could neither eat nor drink. The very sight of little children casually hovering around the dismantling sites and even playing with the exposed chemicals jolted me. Here I was, a young researcher studying the impact of handling hazardous e-waste on the lives of those people, all the while struggling hard to even to stand over there while my very research subjects were building their entire lives around this “scrap”.
It is high time that we ponder over the fact with utmost seriousness that when such situation can prevail right at the heart of a metropolitan city, what could be the situation elsewhere. The need of the hour is the implementation of a sound and all-encompassing policy at the earliest to save the panting environment and rapidly decaying human lives. We must also realize the fact that action speaks louder than mere concerns. Let’s contribute in whatever little or bigger ways possible to tackle this latest threat in the guise of e-waste to save our own dear earth and precious lives.