Dealing with the discarded: E-Waste management in India

Source: Down To Earth


Relevance: Managing the e-waste problem in India

Synopsis: Technology plays a dominant role in our lives. But the increase in its use, coupled with extreme consumerist behaviour has come with some ill-effects on the environment, like generation of e-waste. Analysis of the e-waste issue, associated problems and measures needed.


India is the third-largest producer of e-waste after China and the United States. More than 95% of this waste is handled by informal sector.

According to a Central Pollution Control Board report, in financial year 2019-2020, India generated 1,014,961.2 tonnes of e-waste for 21 types of EEE. This unprecedented generation of e-waste is a cause of concern.

What is e-waste?

The International Telecommunication Union defines e-waste as,

all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste without the intent of re-use.

Such items include cooling and freezing equipment like refrigerators, televisions, monitors, laptops, notebooks and tablets etc.

  1. First problem lies with the nature of the material used. The e-waste stream contains hazardous substances such as lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), mercury, polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and valuable substances such as iron, steel, copper, aluminum and plastics.
  2. Second, hazardous materials require special treatment and cannot be dumped in landfill sites.
  3. Third, decomposing e-waste is an expensive process.
  4. Fourth, E-waste releases harmful chemicals, such as lead, on burning, which adversely impacts human blood, kidney and the peripheral nervous system.
  5. Lastly, a Comptroller and Auditor General of India report found that over 75 per cent of state bodies were not implementing hazardous waste laws.
Measures needed

By consumers:

  1. Efficient use of electronic devices by regularly maintaining them.
  2. There is a need to break consumerist patterns.
  3. Revaluate choices and use one multi-purpose device.

By Tech-giants:

  1. All tech companies should mandate their customers to buy new technology only after exchanging old electronic products for the new ones.
  2. Hardware stores and companies should offer incentives and discounts to customers who give away their old electronic devices.
  3. Tech companies and sellers should collaborate with e-waste disposing companies for their proper disposal.
  4. Adopt smart ways to recycle old products by outsourcing contracts to e-waste disposal.

By the government:

  1. Activities such as recycling, exchange and incentives can be sanctioned by government laws where in they can provide companies tax benefits for recycling of e-waste.
  2. Implementations of legislations to regulate the disposal and management of e-waste in India, like
    • Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Amendment Rules, 2003
    • Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, 2008
    • E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011.
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