Written by Apoorva Girdhar
With the recent ban on the import of solid plastic, the Narendra Modi government has shown that it is keen to crack down on the growing issue of e-waste in India. The county is among the top five sources of e-waste, which comprises all discarded items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts.
According to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, India generates about 2 million tonnes (MT) of e-waste annually and ranks only behind the US, China, Japan and Germany. However, unlike the other countries, just an insignificant 0.036 MT of e-waste could be treated in 2016-17.
Shekhar Sharma from Hindustan e-waste recyclers says the import ban provides a direction to the producers. But Malay Bose, the CEO of ‘Recyclers’, varies that ‘“some unscrupulous elements still import e-waste under the guise of importing computing equipment”, though the practice has come down drastically.
But India’s larger problem is of its own making, quite literally. The existing e-waste disposal facilities lack environmentally sound technologies and still don’t get enough to recycle. “This is mainly because consumers, owing to the lack of awareness about the hazardous impact of inappropriate e-waste recycling, sell their electronic waste to informal recyclers for quick money,” explains Akshay Jain, MD of Namo E-waste recyclers. In his view, government intervention is needed to solve the issue.
About 90 per cent of the total e-waste recycled is done informally in India. Unauthorised recyclers extract profitable metals such as gold, copper and aluminium, but dump toxic substances like lead and mercury.
“Informal recyclers not only extract the profitable metals but also dispose of hazardous substances, which continue to be a problem,” Sharma explains. To prevent this he suggests that the government needs to mandate the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system and not keep it optional.
Malay Bose concurs: “The problem begins with the producer not being aware of the toxic elements like sulphur in the gadgets, which is not only difficult to recycle but also creates pollution when disposed of halfway or without appropriate disposal methods.” He finds it hard to understand how we allow products with so much economic value to not be processed. “We love our phones and computers. But at the end of the spectrum, when all these technologies come to the end of their lives, we have people working under unacceptable conditions to get rid of it. It’s almost ironic that there are two extreme ends of the best and the worst of technology.”
But India also sits on a distinct advantage. “We already have waste collectors and scavengers working at the grassroots level, collecting and separating waste. We just need to give them the technology, deploy (e-waste) micro-factories and teach them how it works. Instead of burning e-waste, these people will be working in a sustainable and safe environment without producing any toxic waste,” Jain explains.
As per the new E-Waste (Management) Rules 2016, it has become mandatory for bulk consumers, producers and manufacturers of all electrical and electronic equipment to abide by their EPR. These rules, Jain says, clearly indicate that a target is set for a bulk producer as per their market share to channelise their e-waste for responsible recycling.
According to Sharma, producers have been forced to get the e-waste from the informal sector and get it recycled. But there is no benefit or incentive being provided to the producers of e-waste as they view proper disposal, recycling as an additional cost. “Extended producer responsibility legislation is a driving force behind the adoption of remanufacturing initiatives because it focuses on the end-of-use treatment of consumer products and aims at increasing the amount and degree of product recovery and to minimise the environmental impact of waste material,” he explains.
(The writer is an intern with indianexpress.com)