Delhi is one of the global capitals of e-waste. Roughly 10-20 thousand tonnes of electronic waste are collected, dismantled and recycled every year in the city. The infrastructures that are necessary to process the electronic components that get discarded require a significant effort and a complex organisation that includes 1.5 million waste-pickers who live and work in Delhi. Considering the amount of people, money and physical space invested in e-waste, the issue is not simply one of management. The multiple and sometimes opposite interests at stake may in fact turn e-waste into a “problem”.
But what is it that we are really talking about when we talk about e-waste?
For some people and institutions e-waste is a hazard and a problem to be solved because of its impact on the environment, public health and urban aesthetics. For others, like people who work with e-waste, it provides opportunities for investment, speculation and livelihood. There are many conflicting words associated with e-waste that seem to challenge each other: illegal, informal, dirt, beauty, sustainability, survival. Many of these words reflect values rather than realities, and point to the aspirations of a select few rather than to a sense of equity for a greater number of people.
In the past few years, Delhi has made significant efforts to strengthen its official profile by investing in large scale infrastructures that promote an image of efficiency and modernity. How does this modernising effort meet the issue of waste and its management and actually shape city and state policies, laws and public opinion? What does this mean for the people involved in the complex commercial, social and ecological networks of e-waste management in the city?
Delhi Digests is a Sketchbook on E-waste and as such it is an ongoing space to explore ideas and collect materials to reach a better understanding of what the question of e-waste in Delhi entails. Through videos, photos and a series of conversations with activists, waste-pickers, urban planners, journalists and bureaucrats, Delhi Digests includes multiple voices and images to explore how citizens, state and corporations coexist. It suggests a political take on e-waste, looking at it as an indicator of democracy and a measure of equity in society.
Artists often maintain sketchbooks to explore, document, organise and revise ideas. They evolve from rich, spontaneous journeys of gathering information, awareness and realisations about a theme. Sketchbooks are a kind of collage, a series of non-linear associations of ideas and information. They seldom seek to be comprehensive or conclusive. Taking inspiration from this concept of the sketchbook, we have created Delhi Digests as an online platform to present multiple perspectives on e-waste, and critical overviews which combine qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection. Delhi Digests proposes six stories and different keywords to navigate these complex debates. The combination of these multiple layers allows an alternative geography of Delhi to emerge and provides insight into how a city is shaped by what it digests.
Delhi Digests employs a creative and interdisciplinary approach to aggregate and present information on e-waste through infographics, statistics and databases, maps, photographs, video and audio material as well as interviews with and testimonies of individuals and organisations. This information was aggregated through two visits to Delhi and the support of Toxics Link and the All India Waste Pickers' Union. In presenting this information we've tried to expose the many controversial positions on e-waste through the realities of people associated with its management.
The Delhi Digests Sketchbook on E-Waste is a practical exploration of a broader theme of work we've called 'Exposing the Invisible'. With our 'Exposing the Invisible' projects, we aim to reveal the hidden commentaries, politics and realities about an issue through the artful and careful curation of information about it. And so the Sketchbooks are also another iteration of an idea and a practice that we call Information Activism.