Feature Environmental Health

Health costs of recycling

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a296 (Published 10 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a296
  1. Patralekha Chatterjee, freelance journalist
  1. 1New Dehli
  1. patralekha.chatterjee{at}gmail.com

    While India’s burgeoning information technology industry might be good news for big business and people wanting cheap electronic goods, the waste it produces poses serious health problems for workers. Patralekha Chatterjee reports

    In New Seelampuri, a poor neighbourhood in north east Delhi, Shakeela, a 35 year old mother of eight, sits in a tiny shed separating bits of copper from discarded electrical wiring. Her working day starts at 8.30 am and ends around 6 pm. The daily earnings come to 60 rupees (about 70p; €0.90; $1.4) on average, she says. There are no holidays. She works seven days a week.

    Shakeela is one of many migrants from India’s impoverished rural hinterland doing the dirty, dangerous job of dismantling and recycling discarded electronic products in unauthorised workshops that form part of the country’s vast informal employment sector. With no education and a large family to support, this is the only kind of work she could get, she says. The long hours and the posture required for her work cause acute back pain. When she was pregnant, she took time off. But now that the baby is a few months old, she is back to the grind.

    A few blocks away, in Shastri Park, a neighbourhood bustling with scrap dealers, is another hub of electronic waste recycling. A group of children is sitting in a room dismantling old computers. No one is wearing gloves. The workplace is unauthorised and the work itself illegal. Not surprisingly, the children are reluctant to talk. The child workers earn 2500-3000 rupees (less than £40) a month. “This is good money for me and I do not want to risk getting sacked by chatting with an outsider,” one boy says.

    Further down, in Sundarnagri, a slum settlement bordering Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states, electronic waste …

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