The other side of India's tech boom

Computer recycling is booming in India, but the government has been slow to regulate the industry.

Far from the gleaming high-tech parks of Bangalore and Hyderabad, 25-year-old Mohammed Zayeed hunches over a raised concrete slab in the slums of New Delhi. With surgical precision he disassembles the backbone of India's booming IT industry for 12 hours a day: removing cream-colored plastic casings from old desktop computers, separating hard drives from circuitboards, and stripping PVC coating from copper wires. He tosses the detritus into towering piles destined for the next link in a long chain of recyclers.

In New Delhi alone about 10,000 people, some young children, dismantle old computers and other equipment known as e-waste - searching for gold, copper, palladium, or anything else to turn into cash. The work can be hazardous. Recyclers expose themselves to toxic metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. "We know that it's harmful," says Zayeed, whose monthly income of $75 supports a wife and two children. "But we are poor, so anything that can be recycled is money for us."

E-waste recycling is a booming business in India. A study by Toxics Link, an advocacy group in New Delhi, found that metals from 183 defunct computers could yield as much as $24,000. India currently produces 150,000 tons of e-waste a year and illegally imports at least that amount from the West, says the group's associate director, Satish Sinha. Currently India has only 22 computers for every 1,000 people, but that number is projected to increase to 120 in the next five years.



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