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Making Peace with Green

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By Manoj Chugh, President – Group Public Affairs and Member, Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra

It was a lazy Sunday morning. I had got out of bed leisurely only to be jolted out of my skin by loud chatter emerging from our living room. I hurriedly washed my face and rushed to join in the babble. There strewn on the floor were old laptops, mobile phones, tablets and sundry from “generations” ago. My wife and daughter had pulled out my favorite electronic gadgets from the yore. “Do any of them work?” they asked quizzically.

“Well we can try them,” I muttered rather apologetically. As you would have guessed, we spent the better part of the morning trying to find the right power cables to breathe life into each one of them. No matter how hard we tried, we drew a blank each time. I scowled and huffed, but to little avail. I had really loved some of the mobile phones, which had served me well. There was a strong emotional connect and I was not willing to give up so easily. They had been an integral part of my life for years. Suddenly it occurred to our daughter that maybe, just maybe, a friend could. Before I could react, she had sent a message to Jeevesh.

Jeevesh and I live in the same neighborhood. He is a successful entrepreneur and we had had some very interesting discussions in the past, on e-waste. Jeevesh had shared some interesting factoids on how India had become the 3rd largest e-waste producer in the World. Almost sheepishly I had admitted to him that through my decades with the High Tech Industry, I and my dear friend Shashi Mal, who now works with Jeevesh have been a guilty party, selling tens of thousands of computers of all hues and sizes across the length and breadth of India. When we sold this stuff, we had never cast a thought at what would happen when these devices reached their end of life. After the many hand me downs, what would their culmination be? Never occurred to me, for sure.

To my astonishment, I learnt that 5.2 million metric tons of e-waste was generated just in the past one year! As I gulped down my hot of cup tea, in reflective silence, trying to fathom the size of the colossal problem, something told me that there had to be a good solution.

I heaved a sigh of relief when I later heard that hidden in this electronic trash was a whopping potential of $5.2 B worth of commodities. Commodity prices have been making the headlines off late. “Ah, this seems to be a good option to improve supply, only if were able to extract the precious metals in an eco friendly way,” I thought, as I smacked my lips. It was not surprising that currently only 3% of the e-waste is actually recycled. What a shame! In fact 70% of the heavy metals found in our landfills are accounted for by e-waste.

The informal sector which processed a large part of this waste uses dangerous, environment degrading, unhealthy techniques which cause huge harm to the workers. 95% of the recycling is done by the Informal sector in appalling conditions. Low mechanization, resulting in low yields and low volumes are a bane of this sector. As we battle with lives and livelihoods, the entire value chain can benefit, if the formal sector jumps in with both legs.

The world is coming a full circle. Most commodities, as we know them are found under the earth. They have to be mined in incredibly tough and dangerous conditions. Billions of the stylish, beautifully designed electronics products that we use day in and day out are built from these commodities. The good new is that the very same commodities can be extracted back in an environmentally friendly manner, by embracing urban mining techniques. Urban mines exist above the ground. They are safe to work in and can be built to scale. The day is not far when they will rival the underground ones. Safe techniques to collect, dismantle and recover metal are finding fast acceptance.

The triple bottom line effect of providing a safe work environment for all, including the “ kabadiwala”, the benefit of reduced raw material supply risk and the use of low carbon techniques to recover, with no penalty on the environment, enabling good business opportunities because of the ever-growing, burgeoning quantum of e-waste, are all compelling reasons for the potential big shift.

The conversion of hazardous electronic waste into useful commodities like Gold, Platinum, Palladium, Iron, Copper, Aluminum, Engineered Plastic amongst others are a great incentive. In fact commodities like Cobalt, Lithium and Tin, which are not available under the ground in India can be mined above the ground.

The role of cobalt and Lithium in building batteries for Electric Vehicles amongst other usages is well known. A single EV can have battery cells with 10 kg of Lithium. India will be able to produce an important part of it’s needs of Lithium through Urban mining of e-waste, in the near future. Given our country’s push to EVs’, this can turn out to be a big blessing.

Organizations like Greenscape Eco Management and their Leaders like Jeevesh Kumar are doing a tremendous job in ushering in eco friendly techniques into Urban Mining. They are helping us create a sustainable environment, something we certainly need in our Country.

And Oh, coming back to my Sunday story, Jeevesh’s team was able to breathe life back into my favorite mobile phones and finally they did not need to go under the “hammer”. Today they are back in happy circulation as our “guest” phones.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They may or may not reflect the opinions or views of the author’s organisation

Other articles by Manoj Chugh

My tryst with Rajiv Gandhi

Bringing Physical and Digital Worlds together: Enabling India’s Demographic Dividend

Delivering Services the SST Way- The Time Is Here and Now!

Digital Workers at the Doorstep – Are you Ready?

Network Security Quo Vadis?

Guns, Roses and Cyberwarfare

Will Technology accelerate the bounce back?

Mirror Mirror on the wall: Can Technology bring hope to all?

New Year Wish: CIOs, May Your Tribe Increase!

The Second Renaissance – Seize The Moment

Will Smarter Citizens deliver Smart Cities?

Safe Cities: Melding Technology with Compassion

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