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E-Waste: Treasure or Threat?

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    25th Oct, 2021

Context

Recently, International E-Waste Day has been observed on October 14 and it has been observed every year since 2018.

About

  • Waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE), a Brussels-based non-profit gave some shocking statistics about the rising tide of e-waste.
  • This year’s WEEE will total about 57.4 million tonnes (MT). This will be greater than the weight of the Great Wall of China, Earth’s heaviest artificial object.
  • Last year’s Global E-waste Monitor reported that 53.6 MT of WEEE were generated in 2019. That represented a 21 per cent jump in the five years since 2014 (with e-waste predicted to reach 74 MT by 2030).

E-Waste

  • E-Waste is short for Electronic-Waste and the term is used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded electronic appliances. It includes their components, consumables, parts and spares.
  • It is categorised into 21 types under two broad categories:
    • Information technology and communication equipment.
    • Consumer electrical and electronics.
  • Laws to manage e-waste have been in place in India since 2011, mandating that only authorised dismantlers and recyclers collect e-waste. E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 was enacted in 2017.
  • India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing and disposal of waste from household and commercial units has been be set-up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

How it can be Treasure?

  • E-waste consists of both hazardous and non-hazardous items including ferrous and non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminium, silver, gold, platinum, palladium, etc. Plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete, ceramics and rubber. These precious earth metals like copper, aluminium, silver, gold, platinum, palladium if extracted and reutilized could prove to be a treasure trove.

How it can be Threat?

  • Out of the 44 Million tonnes (Mt) of e-waste, only 20 % of total global e-waste was collected and recycled sustainably, there is also environmental and health hazard as e-waste contains over 1,000 harmful substances, including lead, mercury, nickel, brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).Mercury for example damages the human brain and or coordination system.
  • E-waste is particularly hazardous as the extraction and recycling of e-waste is largely manually done and the sector is majorly dependent on informal workforce especially in developing or middle income countries. More than 18 million children and adolescents are actively engaged in the informal industrial sector, of which waste processing is a sub-sector, exposing themselves to toxic e-waste risk.

E-waste Generation in India:

  • Asia generated the greatest volume i.e. 24.9 million tonnes (Mt) of e-waste in 2019 with China and India being the two largest contributors ranking first and third globally. India alone generated 3 Mt of e-waste in 2019 and about 95 per cent of India’s e-waste is recycled in the informal sector and in a crude manner.
  • In 2018, the Ministry of Environment had told the tribunal that 95% of e-waste in India is recycled by the informal sector and scrap dealers unscientifically dispose of it by burning or dissolving it in acids.

E-Waste Management Rules, 2016

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 in supersession of the E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011.
  • Over 21 products (Schedule-I) were included under the purview of the rule. It included Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and other mercury containing lamps, as well as other such equipment.
  • For the first time, the rules brought the producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), along with targets. Producers have been made responsible for the collection of E-waste and for its exchange.
  • Various producers can have a separate Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) and ensure collection of E-waste, as well as its disposal in an environmentally sound manner.
  • 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.
  • The role of State Governments has been also introduced to ensure safety, health and skill development of the workers involved in dismantling and recycling operations.
  • A provision of penalty for violation of rules has also been introduced.
  • Urban Local Bodies (Municipal Committee/Council/Corporation) have been assigned the duty to collect and channelize the orphan products to authorized dismantlers or recyclers.
  • Allocation of proper space to existing and upcoming industrial units for e-waste dismantling and recycling.

Why it is difficult to manage e waste in India?

  • The producers/manufacturers do not have adequate information on their website regarding e waste management.
  • Customer care representatives do not have inkling about any take back or recycling programme and even if they have set up collection centres, they are simply not enough for a geographically vast country like India.
  • India being a vast country, setting up collection mechanism is a big challenge. If any of the brands try individually to reach out to all corners of the country, it will economically not be sustainable or feasible.
  • Improper enforcement of the existing laws is another hurdle.

Government efforts in this regard

  • NITI Aayog India’s public policy think tank has put prominent emphasis on e-waste among 11 end-of-life products, recyclable materials, wastes that continue to pose considerable challenges.
  • They have formed 11 committees to be led by the concerned line ministries and comprising officials from MoEFCC and NITI Aayog, domain experts, academics and industry representatives .
  • Greens cape Eco Management is one such company that has been involved in NITI Aayog’s Committee for E-Waste Management Rules and Regulation. They provide end of Life IT asset solutions ranging from collection and disposal to reintegration solutions including re-use, de-manufacturing, brand security and e-waste recycling.
  • The organization actively pursues projects and initiatives that benefit the e-waste industry and the communities that serve the environment.
  • As of now they’re ongoing projects over 427 locations across India. Currently they have collaborated with partners in all parts of India, Singapore and Australia.

Conclusion

The current situation is very hopeful with policy intervention, brand accountability, general public awareness, and technological advance in recycling. However much is yet to be done to achieve desired results.Getting quantifying data on the depth and spread of effort to sustainably process e-waste is necessary to get the actual scenario and increase the scale of momentum.

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