India’s mounting e-waste problem is set to get worse as CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) services come to an end, rendering over 48 million handsets useless.
India recently crossed the one billion mobile (GSM, Global System for Mobile communications, plus CDMA) subscribers’ mark. According to a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report, there were 48.11 million CDMA subscribers till September 2015. Reliance Communications was leading the market with 25.89 million subscribers, followed by Tata, Sistema, BSNL, MTNL and Quadrant.
Reliance is in the process of shutting down its CDMA service. Existing subscribers are being upgraded to 4G. As a result of this, over 25 million CDMA handsets will become useless. Sources said other companies are also contemplating shutting down their CDMA services, which have been witnessing a decline in the past few years.
This development poses a threat to the environment as most people do not know how to dispose of their old CDMA handsets which will be of no use. “Many of them may throw these sets here and there, as they do not know how to get e-waste disposed, and this can become a major environment hazard,” said Rohan Gupta, COO, Attero, a leading e-waste management company in India.According to Gupta, not only handsets, but other equipment part of the CDMA infrastructure, will also become waste. “We will approach all the companies which are into the CDMA business, including Reliance, and ask them to ensure that the useless handsets or infrastructure equipment are disposed of scientifically,” he added.
So far Reliance has not announced any action plan for the scientific disposal of CDMA sets. “We hope that Reliance and all other companies which are planning to shut CDMA services would prepare a blueprint for it in order to protect the environment,” Gupta said.
The menace of e-waste has grown alarmingly in the past few years with the increasing use of computers, cell phones and other electrical gadgets. According to a fresh Assocham-Frost & Sullivan study, India’s electronic waste is likely to reach 30 lakh metric tonnes (MT) annually by 2018 from the present level of 18.5 lakh MT, with Mumbai being the largest contributor to the problem. Other cities which contribute majorly to the menace are Delhi-NCR, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Delhi-NCR has a garbage output of 98,000 tonnes annually, according to the study.
Assocham secretary general D.S. Rawat said that mobile companies should ensure that their e-waste is disposed of in a proper manner. He stressed the need for creating awareness in this regard and putting in place a proper collection system for e-waste. In India, there is no proper mechanism for disposing of e-waste. Other than Attero, agencies which are involved in scientific recycling of e-waste in the country are Sims Recycling Solutions, Tes-AMM and E-Parisaraa. There is hardly any awareness about how to dispose of e-waste and therefore collection is mostly done by the local kabadiwallahs (scrap dealers), who are not properly trained in handling e-waste.
The study says that only 2.5% of India’s total e-waste gets recycled because of poor infrastructure and legislative framework which lead to a waste of India’s natural resources, damage of environment and health of the people working in the industry. Over 95% of e-waste is managed by the unorganised sector and kabadiwallahs in this market. A source said though the “E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2011” are in place, it has not been implemented effectively.
“Moreover, there is no financial mechanism as to how recycling should be done. No agency will be involved in the business of recycling unless it is viable. As per rules, only producers (of e-waste) are responsible for recycling it, which is not feasible,” the source added.