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E-Waste Management in India- An Overview

Context:

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has recently directed the Uttar Pradesh government to resolve the issue of e-waste lying on the banks of river Ramganga in Moradabad.

What is e-waste?

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a term for electronic products that have become unwanted, obsolete, and have reached the end of their useful life. It refers to 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

E-Waste -The magnitude of the problem:

According to United Nations’ “Global E-waste Monitor”, 2017:

  • Globally, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2016 and only 20% was recycled through appropriate channels. China was the top e-waste producer in the world, generating 7.2 Mt.
  • India generated about 2Mt of electronic waste in 2016. According to the report, India’s electronics industry is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and plays an “important role” in the domestic generation of e-waste. The report also highlighted the issue of imports of electronic waste to India from developed countries.

According to the study ‘Electricals & Electronics Manufacturing in India’ conducted by ASSOCHAM-NEC

  • E-waste generation was 1.8 million metric tonnes (MT) per annum in 2016 and would reach 5.2 million metric tonnes per annum by 2020.
  • Maharashtra is the biggest contributor to e-waste generation followed by Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh

Environmental and health impact of E-waste

Impact on Human Health:

Pollutants, their sources and effects on human health (Table: 1)

PollutantSourcesEffect
ArsenicSemiconductors, diodes, microwaves, LEDs, solar cellsBlack-foot disease
BariumElectron tubes, filler for plastic and rubber, lubricant additivesneurodegenerative diseases, lung diseases
CadmiumBatteries, pigments, solder, alloys, circuit
boards, computer batteries
Contain Carcinogens; causes Itai-Itai disease which affects kidneys and softens bones
CobaltInsulators
LeadLead rechargeable batteries, solar,
transistors, lithium batteries, PVC
chronic kidney disease, neurological problems
LithiumMobile telephones, batteries
MercuryComponents in copper machines and
steam irons; batteries in clocks and
pocket calculators, switches, LCDs
Affects the central nervous system, kidneys and immune system; causes Minamata disease
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)Transformers, capacitors, softening
agents for paint, glue, plastic
Cardiovascular diseases, neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children
SilverCapacitors, switches (contacts),
batteries, resistors
Inhalation of silver dust can cause respiratory problems
ZincSteel, brass, alloys, disposable and
rechargeable batteries, luminous
substances
Metal fume fever, respiratory diseases
BerylliumSwitch boards and printed circuit boards.Carcinogenic and causes lung diseases.
Plasticcircuit boards, cabinets and cablesContain carcinogens, harms reproductive, gastro-intestine and immune system
ChromiumUsed to protect metal housings and plates in a computer from
corrosion
Affects liver and kidneys, bronchitis, asthma

Environmental Impact:

Air:

  • E-waste when dismantled and shredded, release dust or large particulates into the immediate environment and affects the respiratory health of workers.
  • Further, unregulated burning of e-waste releases toxins, such as dioxins which are potent and damaging to both human (neurological disease and impact on immune system) and animal health.

Water:

  • Water is contaminated by e-waste via landfills that are not properly designed to contain e-waste and due to improper recycling and subsequent disposal of e-waste. Heavy metals from e-waste cause toxification of surface water.
  • Ground water is polluted by e-waste as heavy metals and other persistent chemicals leach from landfills and illegal dump sites into ground water tables.

Soil:

  • Soil is contaminated by e-waste through direct contact with contaminants from e-waste or the by products of e-waste recycling and disposal and indirectly through irrigation through contaminated water.
  • Contaminated soils have adverse impact on microbes and plants and the pollutants pass to higher animals and humans along the food chain.
Guiyu- China: Case study
Guiyu in China is major hub for the disposal of e-waste and is widely considered to be the largest e-waste disposal site in the world.
Guiyu receives shipments of e-waste, both from domestic sources and from other countries
According to U.N. report "E-Waste in China," Guiyu suffered an "environmental calamity" as a result of the wide-scale e-waste disposal industry in the area. Unregulated and improper management of e-waste in the region has caused tremendous damage to the environment and pose a great threat to human health in the region

International Conventions:

  1. Basel Convention on the Control of the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, 1992 (entered into force)
  • Originally the Basel Convention did not mention e-waste but later it addressed the issues of e-waste in 2006 (COP8). The convention seeks to ensure environmentally sound management; prevention of illegal traffic to developing countries and; building capacity to better manage e-waste.
  • Nairobi Declaration was adopted at COP9 of the Basel Convention. It aimed at creating innovative solutions for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes.
  1. Rotterdam Convention, 2004
  • The Convention seeks to promote exchange of information (through Prior Informed Consent) among Parties over a range of potentially hazardous chemicals (includes pesticides and industrial chemicals) that may be exported or imported.

Government Initiatives:

Legislation:

  • Prior to 2011, e-waste was covered under the Hazardous Waste Management (HWM) Rules.
  • In 2011, under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 were enacted
  • In 2016, the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 were enacted which replaced the 2011 Rules. The Rules were amended in 2018
  1. A) E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016- Key features
  2. Applicability:
  • The rules extend to Producer, consumer, collection centre, dismantler and recycler manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher and Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO). However, micro and small industries are exempted.
  • The applicability of the rules extends to various electronic equipments/products, components, consumables, spares and parts of EEE. Further, Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and other mercury containing lamp brought under the purview of rules.
  1. Collection:
  • The Rules adopt collection-based approach to include collection centre, collection point, take back system etc for collection of e – waste by Producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Note: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle.

  • Provision for Pan India EPR Authorization by CPCB has been introduced replacing the state wise EPR authorization as provided in 2011 rules.
  1. Deposit Refund Scheme:
  • Deposit Refund Scheme has been introduced as an additional economic instrument wherein the producer charges an additional amount as a deposit at the time of sale of the electrical and electronic equipment and returns it to the consumer along with interest when the end – of – life electrical and electronic equipment is returned.
  1. Liability for damages:
  • Liability for damages caused to the environment or third party due to improper management of e – waste including has been introduced. The Rules also provide for provision of financial penalty in case of violation of rules
  1. Role of State and Urban Local Bodies:
  • State should ensure effective implementation of the rules. Urban Local Bodies have been assigned the duty to collect and channelized the e-wastes to authorized dismantler or recycler.
  1. B) Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management &Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016

The rules seek to ensure management, trans boundary movement, resource recovery and disposal of hazardous waste in environmentally sustainable manner. Under the rules Waste electrical and electronic assemblies scrap are prohibited for import.

  1. C) The CPCB (Central pollution Control Board) has also issued guidelines Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste (on Collection, Storage, Dismantling & Segregation, Recycling, and Treatment & Disposal of E-Waste)

Programmes:

  1. Awareness Program on Environmental Hazards of Electronic Waste
  • The project initiated by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology aims to provide training, tools and films aimed at creating awareness and reducing the impact of e-waste on the environment and health.
  1. Creation of Management Structure for Hazardous Substances
  • The programme seeks to raise awareness among people about the 2016 Rules and its implementation.
  1. Swachh Digital Bharat:
  • The programme seeks to create awareness among the public about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganised sector, and to educate them about alternate methods of disposing of their e-waste.
  • The general public is encouraged to participate in the programme, by giving their e-waste to authorised recyclers only.
  1. Greene: It is a dedicated website which seeks to spread awareness about e-waste through social media

E-Waste Disposal and Recycling Practices in India:

Unorganized sector/ Informal:

  • Around 90% of the recycling of E-Waste in India is done by the non-formal/unorganized sector. Non-formal units of e-waste recyclers are distributed all over India.
  • Informal 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 and non-recoverable materials are disposed in landfills

Organized /Formal:

  • Organized recycling units are very few in India. Unlike the informal sector, the organized sector uses environmentally sound methods to recycle e-waste

Issues and Challenges:

  1. Lack of formal infrastructure: There is huge gap between present recycling and collection facilities and quantum of E-waste that is being generated. There is no proper collection and take back mechanism.  According to ASSOCHAM study only 5% of the e-waste is formally recycled.
  2. Imports: Cross-border flow of waste equipment into India is a major issue. India has been the destination of the hazardous and industrial wastes like mercury, electronic and plastic wastes from the United States; asbestos from Canada; defective steel and tin plates from the E.U., Australia and the U.S; zinc ash, residues, lead waste and scrap, used batteries etc. from European nations. Loopholes in legislations, porous ports and lack of checking facilities, are major reasons for uncontrolled e-waste imports

  1. Issues with informal sector:
  • Child Labour: According to ASSOCHAM report (2014), about 4.5 lakh child labourers are observed to be engaged in various E-waste activities and that too without adequate protection and safeguards.
  • Occupational Health Hazard: Unscientific method of recycling and lack of proper safety gear pose serious health hazard to those employed in the informal sector.
  1. Gaps in Legislation:
  • E-waste rules are also violated at a regular basis and the informal sector remains unregulated.
  • There is no mechanism to verify whether all companies have achieved their EPR targets; verification is only done through random checks by CPCB.  
  • Further, according to the law, the responsibility of producers is not confined to waste collection, but also to ensure that the waste reaches the authorised recycler. However, there is no mechanism to ensure that the waste collected by producers has gone to unauthorised recyclers.
  1. Lack of incentives:
  • There is a lack of incentive schemes to encourage people to adopt a formal path of recycling
  • The GST imposed a huge 12% tax on electronic recyclers which has further proven to be deterrent to formal recycling
  1. Poor awareness and sensitization: There is limited awareness regarding disposal, after determining end of useful life. Further, the lack of awareness leads to poor segregation of waste.
  2. Environmental concerns: Informal recycling and dumping of e-waste in landfills or burning of e-waste pose a severe danger to the environment and has far-reaching on animal and human health

Best Practice:

‘Take-back’ and ‘Planet ke Rakwale’ campaign- Nokia:

Nokia began its e-waste management campaign in 2009. Nokia set up drop boxes across the country to take back used phones, chargers and accessories, irrespective of the brand, at Nokia Care Centres. The campaign was a great success and the total quantity of mobile phones and accessories collected from this campaign from 2009 to 2015 was 160 tonnes. In the second phase (2009), Nokia launched “Planet Ke Rakhwale” take-back and recycling campaign which extended to 28 cities across India.

Green Warriors -Telangana:

“Green Warriors” in Telangana have been a part of the recycling / refurbishing chain, and has contributed towards the successful implementation of measures to control e-pollution. Their efforts have also been recognized by the Telangana government in its Telangana e-waste management policy, 2017

Way Forward:

  1. There is a need to strengthen the domestic legal framework to address the issue of unregulated imports of e-waste
  2. Steps should be taken to formalize the informal sector by integrating it with the formal sector.  Government should introduce vocational training programs to rightly skill the current unorganized sector employees to ensure their smoother transition to working with organized sector
  3. Governments must encourage research into the development of better environmentally-sustainable e-waste recycling techniques
  4. There is urgent need for a detailed assessment of the E-waste including quantification, characteristics, existing disposal practices, environmental impacts.
  5. There is need of more recycling facilities and development of infrastructure to handle e-waste effectively. The government should encourage Public-Private Partnership for establishment of e-waste collection, exchange and recycling centres.
  6. There is need of an effective take-back program providing incentives to producers.
  7. Mass awareness programmes should be initiated to encourage consumers to reuse/ recycle electronic products and also educate them about the environmental and health hazards of e-waste
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