Between 2.9 and 12.9 million women and 18 million children may be at risk from exposure to toxic e-waste through their work in the informal waste sector: WHO Report
In an alarming declaration of the status of the informal E-waste processing that happens around the world as mostly clustered processing sights, common in developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out more than a few gross violations of the law, our failed attempts at conserving the environment and most important of all-a gross violation of basic human decency.
I want you to think of maggots. I know it's not one of the most sought-after images in the world but just think of them. You’ll probably imagine them lying in pieces of shit, living inside it, feeding on it, and what some may even call thriving in it.
However, this was the first image that hit my head whilst reading this report. Human Beings, Women, Women bearing children and children ranging from 5 to 17 years of age all just squirming and squiggling and trying to make a living, diving in and feeding on what all the rest of us wouldn’t even touch with a ten-foot pole and a pair of world’s thickest gloves- our waste.
The argument for Recycling and Circular Economy and the Value in E-waste has been made countless times even on this page and will be made again, but today I don’t care about the wealth loss from not recycling our E-waste and the burdens we hence lay on our future generations. Instead, I want to talk about scavenging and more so, about the scavengers and the fact that 12.9 million women and 18 million Children have their existences reduced to that of Maggots due to our irresponsible behavior, ignorance, and the greed of Big Developed Countries and Businesses.
If we want to talk in non-metaphoric terms and use a more social class-approved lexicon, I’ll highlight some of the effects this activity of scavenging has on the health of scavengers. This may range from DNA damage to negative birth outcomes and everything in between.
We have to understand why this report is especially alarming, on one hand, it states how there are hundreds of life-threatening chemicals like Lead, Mercury, Chromium, PAHs, etc. that are common in E-waste causing the laborer without having any protective equipment to have impaired thyroid function, impaired cardiovascular system function, a decreased immunity resulting in especially high vulnerability to Hepatitis B and the middle of this pandemic a reduced response to immunization. In the same breath, the report also highlights how developed countries have been shipping all of this waste to developing countries like India to avoid such health disasters in their own countries.
Maggots seem about right, right now, doesn’t it?
Our own estimates show a less than halved life expectancy of the average worker in such informal recycling shacks. This is not just poverty, this is something much grosser than that, where human beings not so far from us are stuck in a vicious cycle- they work in toxic environments, being exposed to fumes and chemicals that are fatal to them so that they can live another day to repeat this and ultimately die an ill-fated disease-ridden and painful death.
We can do a lot about this, the first of which is enforcing the existing ban on the import of E-waste in India. Our people are just as important as the arrogant Climate Offenders who are using our land and lives as their dump yards for centuries and finally, I want to make the same appeal to you, please make sure your E-waste reaches the formal sector for recycling. Currently, 95-98% of Indian E-waste is recycled in the informal sector, please give this figure some attention. We barely have a leg to stand on, the current laws on E-waste have made significant progress. However, a 2% Vs 98% is not an easy battle and can not be won without your help.
We at YePrayas would also like to reiterate our ambition of making this transition as smooth and inclusive as possible and are committed to providing appropriate sanitation and protective equipment to the informal scavengers and recyclers as well as to conduct training programs for them and including them in the formal recycling process so they can continue their work more sustainably with no impact on their health and our environment.