My Project on E-waste

After the second week, my project was solidified.  I’m working with another intern who is from just outside of Delhi (near Gaziabad) named Sadhvi.  Sadhvi and I spent the week researching e-waste and creating a survey to conduct on the informal sector.  In India, there is a large distinction between the informal and formal work force.  The informal sector includes waste-pickers, street sweepers, etc.  Thus, we’ll be interviewing scrap-pickers and e-waste traders in the informal sector to determine how the government’s new regulations on e-waste will affect them and to determine how we can help formalize their work.  The government passed a new set of laws and regulations on e-waste this week that will be in effect next May 2012.  The laws require all handlers of e-waste to become registered with the government.  In order to become registered, the recyclers of e-waste must prove that they are handling e-waste in ways that do not harm the environment or human health and they must have the proper equipment to do so.  This is extremely difficult for scrap-pickers and informal e-waste traders as they have few resources to obtain the proper equipment and comply with environmental and health standards. The survey that Sadhvi and I created mainly asks how much these traders buy and sell e-waste for, what problems they face, and if they are aware of the new laws passed by the government.  We went to Shastri Park, a very poor area in Delhi and a small hub of e-waste handling.  Sadhvi and I were both a bit nervous walking around this area.  We received a mixture of responses.  Some people were compliant enough to answer the questions on prices but when we tried to delve a bit deeper and ask about what problems they face, they were quick to reply that there are no problems. Its difficult to get people in these areas to give honest answers.  Those willing to share the difficulties in the system highlighted the fact that if they were registered, they would be able to buy items at lower prices and sell them at high prices along with the registered groups, resulting in greater business opportunities and higher profits.  
Many organizations, both government and non-government affiliated have conducted surveys in these areas that publicize the illegal and hazardous methods of trade, which end up hurting business rather than helping these workers legitimize the system.  Sadhvi and I tried to explain the new rules to those who were unaware and asked them if they’d be interested in joining forces with Chintan to help get registered.  Some seemed interested but visibly showed little faith that we’d actually follow through.  Others refused and shooed us out. 
It was quite the experience.  We’re hoping to interview 125 e-waste traders/handlers (approximately 10% of the total number of people working in this sector in Delhi).  We have a long way to go and a lot to learn.

One thought on “My Project on E-waste

  1. Abby you write that "the recyclers of e-waste must prove that they are handling e-waste in ways that do not harm the environment or human health and they must have the proper equipment to do so." What exactly is the proper equipment that the waste pickers have to have? And how much does it cost? Have you or others at Chintan been thinking about other ways that the waste pickers could obtain this equipment? And beyond obtaining it, given your experiences so far, what do you think is the likelihood that they will use it?

  2. <html> <head> <style><!– .hmmessage P { margin:0px; padding:0px } body.hmmessage { font-size: 10pt; font-family:Tahoma } –></style> </head> <body class=’hmmessage’> Great question and this is actually a larger problem than we thought. &nbsp;I’ve only spent one day conducting the survey and will hopefully have more input from waste-pickers in the future but so far one of the respondents said that because the guidelines for handling e-waste are so vague it is difficult to determine what machinery they must buy in order to be eligible to register with the government. &nbsp;Some complained that if they buy certain equipment, the government says it is not the right kind. &nbsp;Thus, people are hesitant to make the investment. &nbsp;I imagine it is very expensive to obtain equipment. &nbsp;I think that if the waste-pickers do make the investment to buy certain equipment they will use it because they have spent their own money one it. &nbsp;In terms of health safety precautions, I think there needs to be much more work on education done in order for the waste-pickers to understand why gloves, masks, etc are essential in protecting their health and exactly how these items do so. &nbsp;Chintan has tried distributing masks and gloves to waste-pickers before and they usually do not use them. &nbsp;<div>I’m researching the matter and will let you know of my findings when I do!</div><div><br></div><div>Also, I would like to correct my past blog entry on the waste-picker community in Gaziabad (specifically Gaziapur). &nbsp;I stand corrected and am so sorry for the mis-information. &nbsp;I spoke with an employee who speaks very good English and she clarified the matter for me. &nbsp;Aparna, you are absolutely right…the community is from Bangladesh (they migrated from Bangladesh to West Bengal to Delhi). &nbsp;This complicates the matter of ration cards exponentially. &nbsp;I was under the impression that the government was being absurd for not giving Indian citizens ration cards if they were simply from another state. &nbsp;However, this is an entirely different situation now that I understand that they are immigrants from Bangladesh and not Indian citizens! &nbsp;Excuse my mistake!<br><br></div></body></html>

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About Abby Waldorf

I work in communications and engagement for the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My work focuses primarily on fostering discussion and collaboration on research for development (focusing on the management of water, land and ecosystems for sustained agricultural intensification and poverty alleviation). See our blog here: I received a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn I participated in the Penn International Development Summer Internship Program in Ghana in 2010 and the Center for the Advanced Study of India internship program in New Delhi in 2011. I love traveling and all water sports.