The picture is the same – whether in Idukki, Pathanamthitta or any other flood-hit district of Kerala. Silt-covered television sets, of all sizes, lie under the open sun, their owners having given up all hope that they would come back to life.
Days after being hit by the worst floods in a century, people in Kerala are returning to their houses, to assess the damage and to clean their homes. Slush and silt cling to household possessions – clothes, utensils, furniture. Nothing has been spared including the many electronic appliances that a home may have. Trash accumulates in front of doors, or at street corners.
In the aftermath of the deluge, one of the biggest challenges for municipal officials is the problem of waste disposal – especially e-waste like television sets, mobile phones, laptops, computers, refrigerators etc. Most of these damaged electronic gadgets contain harmful materials and toxic chemicals, and if not disposed properly, it poses a threat to the environment as well as to human health.
Speaking to TNM, Ernakulam MLA, Hibi Eden says, “People are confused as to what to do with these electronic appliances that got damaged in the floods. These are gadgets that were submerged in water for 3 to 4 days and won’t work again. People are scared whether to switch it on to see if it works, which is a big risk because you never know if it will catch fire or something or whether they should ask for compensation.”
Following a meeting with District Collectors, Hibi Eden says, it was decided that authorities will set up various collection points where these e-wastes can be brought. From the collection centres, the e-waste will then be handed over to an established agency for recycling.
Dr Ajay Kumar Varma, Executive Director of Kerala Suchitwa Mission says, “Instructions have been given to all the District Collectors as well as the local Panchayat and municipalities who will be in charge of coordinating these collection centres.” “These collection points will not only collect e-waste but they will collect all non-biodegradable items that needs to be disposed and from there. The waste will be segregated,” he adds.
The state government had also issued an order stating that the collection of e-waste be done by the Clean Kerala Company, a body that comes under the Local Self Government Department.
Nagesh Kumar SS, Senior Assistant Manager of the Clean Kerala Company said that e-waste will be handed over to their recycling agent in Hyderabad - Earth Sense Recycle Pvt Ltd, who will in turn dispose these damaged gadgets in a scientific manner.
“We have allocated one coordinator for every affected district, who will be in charge of coordinating the collection of the e-wastes in those districts,” he adds.
Nagesh also went on to say they are yet to estimate the amount of e-waste that needs disposing as they are yet to start collection in many areas.
“We have just started with Ernakulam district on Monday and it will slowly pick up in other places as well. Also, many people are yet to return to their homes and even after they do, they have to clean their homes, see if the appliances are working or not and then only decide whether to dispose them or not. So, it’s a long process but having said that, we have found discarded television sets and computers outside homes,” said Nagesh.
Sreelal, the Clean Kerala Company coordinator of Ernakulam district said that as of Tuesday, 28 tonnes of non-biodegradable materials have been collected in the district alone.
“We haven’t calculated the total amount of e-waste collected because right now, our primary focus is to collect all non-biodegradable wastes and later on segregate all the e-waste from other materials,” says Sreelal.
Clean Kerala Company has been in the business of collecting e-wastes since 2014.
“But at the moment, we are not doing this for any business and it is purely service oriented,” says Nagesh. “The appliances that we are giving to the recycling unit is not like the usual discarded appliances,” he explains.
Nagesh said that the e-wastes which is generated from the floods cannot be recycled. “Most of these appliances are completely damaged and useless as it was submerged in water for a few days,” he observes.
This article has been produced in partnership with Oxfam India. In the last 10 years, Oxfam India has delivered over 36 impactful humanitarian responses in India.Oxfam India is providing critical relief to the affected families and communities in Kerala: clean drinking water, sanitation, and shelter kits. Click here to help #RebuildKerala.