E-WASTE MANAGEMENT IN INDIA
Updated: Dec 28, 2021
Author: Aanchal Gupta, II Year of BBA.,LL.B from Gitarattan International Business School (GGSIPU)
India is the 5th largest producer of electronics waste, or e-waste, in the world, generating close to 2 million metric tonnes in 2016. It faces a huge crisis with e-waste management. Although the Indian Government introduced its first dedicated e-waste management policy in 2011 and expanded its scope in 2016, less than 5% of e-waste in India is recycled through formally regulated units. The informal sector handles the rest, with very little control for environmental and worker health and safety. Several million informal sector workers are involved in recovering valuable metals from e-waste, largely through hazardous and unsafe practices such as open-air incineration and acid leaching. E-waste or electronics waste is defined as all items of electrical and electronic equipment, including their components, which have been discarded with no intention of further re-use. The term is used interchangeably with others such as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) or e-scrap.
In the 20th Century, the information and communication revolution has brought enormous changes in the way we organise our lives, our economies, industries and institution. At the same time, these have led to manifold problems including the problem of massive amount of hazardous waste and other wastes generated from electric products. It constitutes a serious challenge to the modern societies and require coordinated effects to address it for achieving sustainable development.
India ranks 177 amongst 180 countries and is amongst the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018, as per a report released at the World Economic Forum 2018. This was linked to poor performance in the environment health policy and deaths due to air pollution categories. Also, India is ranked fifth in the world amongst top e-waste producing countries after the USA, China, Japan, and Germany and recycles less than 2 per cent of the total e-waste it produces annually formally. Since 2018, India generates more than two million tonnes of e-waste annually and imports huge amounts of e-waste from other countries around the world. Dumping in open dumpsites is a common sight which gives rise to issues such as groundwater contamination, poor health, and more. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and KPMG study, Electronic Waste Management in India identified that computer equipment account for almost 70 per cent of e-waste, followed by telecommunication equipment phones (12 per cent), electrical equipment (8 per cent), and medical equipment (7 per cent) with remaining from household e-waste.
E-waste collection, transportation, processing, and recycling is dominated by the informal sector. The sector is well networked and unregulated. Often, all the materials and value that could be potentially recovered is not recovered. In addition, there are serious issues regarding leakages of toxins into the environment and workers’ safety and health.
Seelampur in Delhi is the largest e-waste dismantling centre of India. Adults as well as children spend 8–10 hours daily extracting reusable components and precious metals like copper, gold and various functional parts from the devices. E-waste recyclers use processes such as open incineration and acid-leeching. This situation could be improved by creating awareness and improving the infrastructure of recycling units along with the prevalent policies. Most of the e-waste collected in India is managed by an unorganized sector.
Also, informal channels of recycling/reuse of electronics such as repair shops, used product dealers, e-commerce portal vendors collect a significant proportion of the discarded electronics for reuse and cannibalization of parts and components. The discarded and end-of-life electronics products ranging from computers, equipment used in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), home appliances, audio and video products and all their peripherals are popularly known as electronic waste (E-waste). There is, however, no standard or generally accepted definition of e-waste in the world. In most cases, e-waste comprises of the relatively expensive and essentially durable products used for data processing, telecommunications or entertainment in private households and businesses.
E-waste is not hazardous if it is stocked in safe storage or recycled by scientific methods or transported from one place to the other in parts or in totality in the formal sector. The e-waste can, however, be considered hazardous if recycled by primitive methods. E-waste contains several substances such as heavy metals, plastics, glass etc., which can be potentially toxic and hazardous to the environment and human health, if not handled in an environmentally sound manner. E-waste recycling in the nonformal sector by primitive methods can damage the environment.
In India Indian Enforcement Agencies involved in E-waste:
Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India is responsible in identification of hazardous wastes and provides permission to exporters and importers under the Environment (protection) Act, 1986.
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was constituted under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. CPCB coordinates activities with the State Pollution Control Boards and ensures implementations of the conditions of imports. It also monitors the compliance of the conditions of authorization, import and export and conduct training courses for authorities dealing with management of hazardous wastes and to recommend standards for treatment, disposal of waste, leachate and specifications of materials and recommend procedures for characterization of hazardous wastes.
State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) constituted under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 to grant and renew authorization, to monitor the compliance of the various provisions and conditions of authorization, to forward the application for imports by importers and to review matters pertaining to identification and notification of disposal sites.
Directorate General of Foreign Trade constituted under the Foreign Trade (Development & regulation) Act 1992 to grant/ refuse licence for hazardous wastes prohibited for imports under the Environment (protection) Act, 1986.
Port Authorities and Customs Authorities under the customs Act, 1962 verify the documents and inform the Ministry of Environment and Forests of any illegal traffic and analyse wastes permitted for imports and exports and train officials on the provisions of the Hazardous Wastes Rules and in analysis of hazardous wastes. vi. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) is the certifying authority for permitting imports of second-hand goods.
WHAT IS E-WASTE?
Rapid growth of technology, upgradation of technical innovations, and a high rate of obsolescence in the electronics industry have led to one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world which consist of end of life electrical and electronic equipment product such as : Refrigerator, Washing machines, Computers and Printers, Televisions, Mobiles, iPod etc.
E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life." Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are common electronic products. Many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled. There is an upgradation done to this E-waste garbage list which includes gadgets like smartphone, tablets, laptops, video game consoles, cameras and many more. India had 1.012 billion active mobile connections in January 2018. Every year the number is growing exponentially.
OBJECTIVES OF STUDY
The study has been geared to achieve the following objectives:
1. To study the trends of Electronic Waste in India.
2. To study the India’s current scenario of E-Waste management.
3. To study the challenges and problems of e-waste management.
E-WASTE IN INDIA
As there is no detached collection of e-waste in India, there is no clear data on the quantity generated and disposed of each year and the resulting extent of environmental risk and the preferred practice to get rid of obsolete electronic items in India is to get them in exchange from retailers when purchasing a new item. The business sector is estimated to account for 78% of all installed computers in India. Obsolete computers from the business sector are sold by auctions. Sometimes educational institutes and charitable institutions receive old computers for reuse, and it is also estimated the total number of obsolete personal computers emanating in each year from business and individual households in India. It will be around 1.38 million. According to a report of Confederation of Indian Industries. The total e- waste is generated by obsolete or broken down electronic and electrical equipment in India.
However, no confirmed figures available on how substantial these trans boundary e-waste streams are, as most of such trade in e-waste is camouflaged and conducted under the pretext of obtaining „reusable‟ equipment or „donations‟ from developed nations. The government trade data does not distinguish between imports of new and old computers and peripheral parts and so it is difficult to track what share of imports is used electronic goods.
STATUS OF E-WASTE MANAGEMENT IN INDIA
Despite the wide range of environmental rule in India there are no specific laws or guidelines for electronic waste or computer waste in 2004. As per the Hazardous Waste Rules (1989), e-waste is not treated as hazardous waste unless until it is proved to have higher concentration of certain substances.
Though PCBs and CRTs would always exceed these parameters, there are several grey areas that need to be addressed. Basel Convention has Waste electronic assemblies in A1180 and mirror entry in B1110, mainly on concerns of mercury, lead and cadmium. Electronic waste is included under List-A and List-B of Schedule-3 of the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989 as amended in 2000 & 2003. The import of this waste therefore requires specific permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. As the collection and re-cycling of electronic wastes is being done by the informal sector in the country at present, the Government has taken the following action/steps to enhance and provide the awareness about environmentally sound management of electronic waste:
Several Workshops on Electronic Waste Management was structured by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Action has been initiated by CPCB for rapid assessment of the E-Waste generated in the major cities. ¬ The National Working Group has been constituted for formulating the strategy for E-waste management.
The inclusive technical guide on "Environmental Management for Information Technology Industry in India" have been published and circulated broadly by the Department of Information Technology (DIT), and Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.
Demonstration projects have also been set up by the DIT at the Indian Telephone Industries for recovery of copper from Printed Circuit Boards.
The lack of reliable data that poses a challenge to policy makers wishing to design an e-waste management strategy and to an industry wishing to make rational investment decisions.
Only a fraction of the e waste finds its way to recyclers due to absence of an efficient take back scheme for consumers.
The lack of a safe e waste recycling infrastructure in the formal sector and thus reliance on the capacities of the informal sector poses severe risks to the environment and human health.
The existing e waste recycling systems are purely business-driven that have come about without any government intervention.
E-waste Recycling Practices in India
1. Non-formal Sector:
Ninety-five percentage of the e-waste in India is being recycled in nonformal sector and five percentage of the e-waste volume are handled in formal unit. In and around of metropolitan cities in India, there are over 3000 units engaged in non-formal sector for e-waste recycling. Non-formal units of e-waste recyclers are distributed all over India. A large cluster of industries are in Delhi, Tamil Nadu, U.P., Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, etc. Non-formal units generally follow the steps such as collection of the e-waste from the rag pickers, disassembly of the products for their useable parts, components, modules, which are having resell value. The rest of the material is chemically treated to recover precious metals. Due to inadequate means, it may cause leaching of hazardous substances to the air, soil, and water. This recycling method has low efficiency and recovery is carried out only for valuable metals like gold, silver, aluminium, copper, etc. Other materials such as tantalum, cadmium, zinc, palladium etc. could not be recovered.
2. Formal Sector:
Few formal recyclers are operating in India. The processes followed in formal sector are mainly limited to the segregation, dismantling of e-waste till the size reduction stage of printed circuit boards (PCBs). A shredder is employed for PCBs size reduction. The pre-processed PCB is exported to smelting refineries in developed countries for further recovery of precious metals like copper, silver, gold, aluminium, palladium, tantalum, ruthenium, platinum etc. and treating the slag by-product in an eco-friendly manner. The end-to-end solution of e-waste recycling is still not available in India the recycling/ recovery of valuables substances by units in formal sector is carried out in protected environment and with due care to minimize any damage to the environment or society. The use of advanced processes and technologies leads to efficient recovery of metals. Recovery technology by units in formal sector will be economically viable as the high cost of capital equipment’s and needed techniques could be shared by the volume of products. Efficiency of recovery in the formal recycling is high and metals at the trace level can also be recovered. Some technology works with zero-landfill approach. Most of the e-waste in India is channelized to non-formal sector, whereas the formal sector is facing problem of not having sufficient input materials. To address the issue, MoEF had introduced adequate clauses in the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling & Transboundary) Rules, 2008. The MoEF had advised all the Government Departments/ Offices that e-waste generated in various offices is essentially to dispose of in an environmentally sound manner in accordance with these Rules. The occupier has now responsible for safe and environmentally sound handling of such wastes generated in their establishments. It was further advised that the units handling and engaged in activity
Impact of Recycling E-Waste in Developing World
Almost all e-wastes contain some form of recyclable material, including plastic, glass, and metals; however, due to improper disposal methods and techniques these materials cannot be retrieved for other purposes. If e-waste is dismantled and processed in a crude manner, its toxic constituents can wreak havoc on the human body. Processes such as dismantling components, wet chemical processing, and incineration are used to dispose the waste and result in direct exposure and inhalation of harmful chemicals. Safety equipment such as gloves and face masks are not widely used, and workers often lack the knowledge and experience required to carry out their jobs properly. In addition to this, manual extraction of toxic metals leads to entering of dangerous material in the bloodstream of the individual doing so. The health hazards range from kidney and liver damage to neurological disorders. Recycling of e-waste scrap is polluting the water, soil, and the air. Burning to retrieve metal from wires and cables has led to the emission of brominated and chlorinated dioxins as well as carcinogens which pollute the air and, thereby, cause cancer in humans and animals. Toxic chemicals that have no economic value are simply dumped during the recycling process.
These toxic chemicals leach into underground aquifer thereby degrading the local groundwater quality and rendering the water unfit for human consumption as well as agricultural purposes. When e-waste is dumped in landfills, the lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and PCBs make the soil toxic and unfit for agricultural purposes.
Opportunities of E-Waste Management in India
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change rolled out the E-Waste (Management) Rules in 2016 to reduce e-waste production and increase recycling. Under these rules, the government introduced EPR which makes producers liable to collect 30 per cent to 70 per cent (over seven years) of the e-waste they produce, said the study.
The integration of the informal sector into a transparent recycling system is crucial for a better control on environmental and human health impacts. There have been some attempts towards integrating the existing informal sector in the emerging scenario. Organizations such as GIZ have developed alternative business models in guiding the informal sector association towards authorization. By replacing the traditional wet chemical leaching process for the recovery of gold with the export to integrated smelters and refineries, safer practices and a higher revenue per unit of e-waste collected are generated.
E-waste is a rich source of metals such as gold, silver, and copper, which can be recovered and brought back into the production cycle. There is significant economic potential in the efficient recovery of valuable materials in e-waste and can provide income-generating opportunities for both individuals and enterprises. By way of revised targets and monitoring under the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), effective and improved management of e-waste would be ensured.
How Can Governments, City Administration, and Citizens Help?
The ASSOCHAM report (2017) suggests that the government may look at collaborating with the industry to draw out formal/standard operating procedures and a phased approach towards the agenda of reducing e-wastes to the lowest. Alternatively, the government may also refer methods adopted by other countries for efficient collection and recycling of e-wastes. For example, South Korea, one of the largest producers of electronics managed to recycle 21 per cent of the total 0.8 million tonnes of e-waste that it produced in 2015, said the study.
Considering the adverse impacts caused by untreated e-waste on land, water, and air; the government should encourage the new entrepreneurs by providing the necessary financial support and technological guidance. Establishment of start-ups connected with e-waste recycling and disposal should be encouraged by giving special concessions. The unorganized sector has a well-established collection network. But it is capital-intensive in case of organized sector. In this kind of scenario, the government can play a crucial role between the two sectors for successful processing of the e-waste. It is high time that the government takes a proactive initiative to recycle and dispose of e-waste safely to protect the environment and ensure the well-being of the public and other living organisms.
The principle of EPR is increasingly being applied for management of e-waste across many countries, and its relative effectiveness and success has been demonstrated in EU countries. Instruments for implementation of EPR can be a mix of economic, regulatory, and voluntary/informational. While producers are responsible for e-waste management (EPR), consumers, retailers, state governments, municipalities, NGOs, CSOs, Self-Help Groups (SHGs), local collection agencies such as extracarbon.com and others should play an appropriate role in collection, facilitation, and creation of infrastructure to make e-waste management a success.
The citizens have a very important role to play in e-waste management. We casually throw many small gadgets along with dumped waste and many people openly burn those accumulated waste. Several hazardous substances such as dioxins and furans are released in the process which we breathe. This is a very unhealthy practice, which we should immediately stop. Some of the very progressive Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) have separate bins clearly marked for collecting e-wastes. All the other residential societies should follow this practice. Students and Women SHGs can be mobilized for this activity in their respective RWAs.
What Are Ideas for How to Reduce E-Waste?
The challenge of reducing e-waste is something everyone needs to become aware of and make a commitment to doing, and it starts with understanding why we don’t want our used electronics continuously flowing into community landfills.
Electronic waste is defined as discarded electrical or electronic devices that can lead to human and environmental damage if they get put in landfills. These devices contain toxic chemicals like mercury and lead, and while they’re safe to use once they get placed in a landfill those toxins can seep out into the soil and water, contaminating both. If those toxins get into your drinking water, then that presents a health hazard for you and your family. And this is no minor challenge. As technology evolves and keeps improving our electronics, giving us incentives to get rid of our current models for the newest one, there’s been a tendency to just throw away these products. This has created a serious global e-waste problem.
Reducing e-waste isn’t just about eliminating those environmental risks. Minimizing e-waste also helps us to conserve resources and reduces the amount of energy we need to make these products; recycling parts within e-waste uses considerably less energy than creating new ones.
We can also help keep down the cost of new consumer goods by using recycled parts to make new products. This is a far less expensive proposition for manufacturers than having to go mining for virgin ore to make new metals. This means that the cost of making a new smartphone, or any other electronic device, goes down once manufacturers can access the parts, they need from the recycling industry.
So, this is a win-win proposition all around. The challenge, of course, is that not enough people know that e-waste can be recycled. That’s why one of the strongest and most effective ways on learning how to reduce e-waste is to help spread the word about recycling. If you’re someone that already recycles your e-waste, then it’s great that you’re already doing your part to reduce waste. Now it’s time to go the next step and share your knowledge with other people — family, friends, neighbours, co-workers — who may not be aware of the hazards that e-waste poses.
Most of the e-waste is recycled in India in unorganized units, which engage significant amount of manpower. Recovery of metals from PCBs by primitive means is a most hazardous act. Proper education, awareness and most importantly alternative cost effective technology need to be provided so that better means can be provided to those who earn the livelihood from this. A holistic approach is needed to address the challenges faced by India in e-waste management. A suitable mechanism needs to be evolved to include small units in unorganized sector and large units in organized sector into a single value chain. One approach could be for units in unorganized sector to concentrate on collection, dismantling, segregation, whereas the metal extraction, recycling and disposal could be done by the organized sector.
E-waste management is a great challenge for governments of many developing countries such as India. This is becoming a huge public health issue and is exponentially increasing by the day. To separately collect, effectively treat, and dispose of e-waste, as well as divert it from conventional landfills and open burning, it is essential to integrate the informal sector with the formal sector. The competent authorities in developing and transition countries need to establish mechanisms for handling and treatment of e-waste in a safe and sustainable manner.
Increasing information campaigns, capacity building, and awareness is critical to promote environment friendly e-waste management programmes. Increasing efforts are urgently required on improvement of the current practices such as collection schemes and management practices to reduce the illegal trade of e-waste. Reducing the number of hazardous substances in e-products will also have a positive effect in dealing with the specific e-waste streams since it will support the prevention process.
Mobile phone manufacturer Nokia is one of the very few companies that seem to have made serious effort in this direction since 2008. The companies were made responsible for creating channels for proper collection and disposal of e-waste in accordance with a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) approved EPR Authorization plan in India. Recently, the import license of some of the big companies were suspended for violation of E-waste rules.
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