Tackling E-Waste With NASSCOM Foundation in India

NASSCOM Foundation is the social development arm of the internationally recognized trade body of the Indian IT outsourcing industry (IT-BPO). The Foundation aims to channelize the potential of the industry towards inclusive development of India. The Foundation is effectively harnessing IT to spread knowledge, increase employability, eradicate poverty, bridge the gender divide, and dispel isolation. This is done via two cross-cutting functional areas – to facilitate and strengthen CSR within the IT-BPO Industry and Technology Access Programmes.

It is arguably the only CSR arm of an industry body in the world which runs programs to help with ethical disposal of e- waste. It tackles this problem with one of its innovative programs called Big Bridge . This program aims to enable education, employability and entrepreneurship through computer donations from NASSCOM Member companies. 

The program picks up and transports old computers to designated warehouses or recyclers. It also re-furbishes or responsibly manages e-waste as per government guidelines, ensuring optimal reuse. The refurbished computers are loaded with original software and content (such as Microsoft OS, MS office, Primary school support curriculum, Adult literacy program, health and HIV/AIDS awareness, Agri-based and skill based livelihood content for micro-enterprises). The computers are then routed through either the NKN (NASSCOM Knowledge Network) or an NGO of the company’s choice.

Big Bridge caters to these issues and allows a seamless transfer. The Big Bridge Program provides a complete IT disposal facility to Indian companies, giving new purpose to redundant computers and peripherals. Cognizant, HSBC, Nucleus Software, Bank of America, Microsoft, Societe Generale, Corelogic, Fidelity and recently Thomson Reuters have joined hands with NASSCOM Foundation’s Big Bridge in support of this effort.

E-Waste is a very large problem in India. Unregulated recycling of e-waste creates many secondary problems like leeching of toxic metals into soil as well as health hazards. Most recycling happens in an unregulated manner involving extraction of metals like copper and gold in open acid baths. Not only is this illegal, it also releases a cocktail of toxins. Most recyclers in the informal sector work without protection and in the process expose themselves to harmful chemicals like mercury etc. In spite of the recent government crackdowns several recyclers continue to operate illegally because sales from recovered metal is very profitable.

In order to deal with this, the government is proposing to open the nation’s largest e-waste recycling plant in Bangalore. It will have the capacity to recycle 60,000 tons of e-waste annually. Formal recyclers will have to tackle the informal sector. For example, informal scrap dealers pay consumers by the kilogram which recycling plants will not do. Further more, informal recyclers go door-to-door to collect wastes which is not the system that formal recyclers follow.

According to Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO, India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of e-waste domestically. The IT sector is the largest contributor and 30% of its machines reach obsolescence annually. Bangalore alone generates 8,000 tons a year. Minimizing e-waste is not just an acknowledged topic of discussion but it is also a very important area of CSR for companies. It is therefore appreciable that initiatives like Big Bridge exist to tackle this problem in a streamlined manner.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net