E-waste has been defined as "waste electrical and electronic equipment, whole or in part or rejects from their manufacturing and repair process, which are intended to be discarded".
The main factors identified to be responsible for the increased consumption and productions of electrical and electronic equipment are rapid economic growth, coupled with urbanization and industrialization. The Indian Information Technology (IT) sector is one of the major contributors to the global economy. At the same time, it is responsible for the generation of the bulk of E-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in India. Although the global E-waste problem has been able to attract attention across the world, not much emphasis has been given to the E-waste engendered in developing countries. Developing countries like India, today, is burdened with the colossal problem of E-waste which is either locally generated or internationally imported, causing serious menace to human health and environment. The hazardous components in electrical and electronic equipment are a major concern during the waste management phase. In the context of India, recycling of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment is not undertaken to an adequate degree.
Environment concerns and Health hazards
E-waste is highly complex to handle due to its composition. It is made up of multiple components some of which contain toxic substances that have an adverse impact on human health and environment if not handled properly. Often, these problems arise out of improper recycling and disposal methods. This underlines the need for appropriate technology for handling and disposal of these chemicals.
Pollutants or toxins in e-waste are typically concentrated in circuit boards, batteries, plastics, and LCDs (liquid crystal displays). The waste from electronic products include toxic substances such as cadmium and lead in the circuit boards; lead oxide and cadmium in monitor cathode ray tubes (CRTs); mercury in switches and flat screen monitors; cadmium in computer batteries; polychlorinated biphenyls in older capacitors and transformers; and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, plastic casings, cables and PVC cable insulation that releases highly toxic dioxins and furans when burned to retrieve copper from the wires. Many of these substances are toxic and carcinogenic. The materials are complex and have been found to be difficult to recycle in an environmentally sustainable manner even in developed countries.
E-waste typically contains complex combinations of materials and components down to microscopic levels. The wastes are broken down in not just for recycling but for the recoverable materials such as plastic, iron, aluminium, copper and gold. However, since e-waste also contains significant concentration of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment, even a small amount of e-waste entering the residual waste will introduce relatively high amount of heavy metals and halogenated substances. Such harmful substances leach into the surrounding soil, water and air during waste treatment or when they are dumped in landfills or left to lie around near it. Sooner or later they would adversely affect human health and ecology.
Unless suitable safety measures are taken, these toxic substances can critically affect the health of employees and others in the vicinity - who manually sort and treat the waste - by entering their body through respiratory tracts, through the skin, or through the mucous membrane of the mouth and the digestive tract.
When burnt or land-filled, these PVCs release dioxins that have harmful effects on human reproductive and immune systems. Mercury (Hg), which is used in lighting devices in flat screen displays, can cause damage to the nervous system, kidneys and brain, and can even be passed on to infants through breast milk.
Management of E-waste in Indian Context
The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 70 per cent of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 15 per cent; the rest being contributed by manufacturers. Though individual households are not large contributors to waste generated by computers, they consume large quantities of consumer durables and are, therefore, potential creators of waste.
In India, it has been observed that in most of the cases, electronic items are stored unattended because of lack of knowledge about their management. Such electronic junks lie in houses, offices, warehouses etc. Generally, these wastes are mixed with household wastes, which are finally disposed of at landfills. This necessitates implementation of appropriate management measures including stringent regulations. The management practices currently in operation in India have severe health and environmental implications.
In India, primarily two types of disposal options based on the composition are in practice. These are Landfilling and Incineration. However, the environmental risks from landfilling of E-waste cannot be neglected because the conditions in a landfill site are different from a native soil, particularly concerning the leaching behaviour of metals. In addition it is known that cadmium and mercury are emitted in diffuse form or via the landfill gas combustion plant. Landfilling does not appear to be an environmentally sound treatment method for substances, which are volatile and not biologically degradable (Cd, Hg, CFC), persistent (PCB) or with unknown behaviour in a landfill site (brominated flame retardants). As a consequence of the complex material mixture in E-waste, it is not possible to exclude environmental (long-term) risks even in secured landfilling.
Advantage of incineration of E-waste is the reduction of waste volume and the utilization of the energy content of combustible materials. By incineration some environmentally hazardous organic substances are converted into less hazardous compounds. Disadvantage of incineration are the emission to air of substances escaping flue gas cleaning and the large amount of residues from gas cleaning and combustion. Waste incineration plants contribute significantly to the annual emissions of cadmium and mercury. The assessment of E-waste recycling sector in India indicates that E-waste trade starts from formal dismantling sector and moves to informal recycling sector. The entire E-waste treatment is being carried out in an unregulated environment, where there is no control on emissions.
E-Waste Management Rules, 2016
The salient rules are:
- Manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher and Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) have been introduced as additional stakeholders in the rules.
- The applicability of the rules has been extended to components, consumables, spares and parts of EEE in addition to equipment.
- E-waste rules will now include Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and other mercury containing lamps, as well as other such equipment.
- The new Rules will bring the producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), along with targets. Producers have been made responsible for collection of E-waste and for its exchange i.e. the bulk consumers have to collect the items and hand them over to authorized recyclers.
- 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.
- Under the new rules the role of State Governments is to ensure safety, health and skill development of the workers involved in dismantling and recycling operations.
- Provision of penalty for violation of rules has been introduced.
- The process of dismantling and recycling has been simplified through one system of authorization and that the Central Pollution Control Board will give the single authorization throughout the country.
- Toxic constituents present in E-waste and their disposal mechanism affect human health and lead to various diseases thus the transportation of E-waste has been made more stringent.
- 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.
Major Stakeholders/Responsibilities as mentioned in rules
a) Producer is any person who, irrespective of the selling technique used; "manufactures and offers to sell electrical and electronic equipment under his own brand; or offers to sell under his own brand, assembled electrical and electronic equipment produced by other manufacturers or suppliers; or offers to sell imported electrical and electronic equipment" has to take authorization under these Rules for implementation of EPR.
b) Bulk Consumers are bulk users of electrical and electronic equipment such as central government or state government departments, public sector undertakings, banks, educational institutions, multinational organizations, international agencies and private companies that are registered under the Factories Act, 1948 and Companies Act, 1956; who has to maintain records on E-waste generated and channelized to registered/authorized collection centres/recycler/dismantler.
c) Extended Producer Responsibility is a responsibility of any producer of electrical or electronic equipment, for their products beyond manufacturing until environmentally sound management of their end of life products, the scope of which has to be clearly defined while issuing authorization to individual producers.
d) Collection Centre is a centre established individually or jointly or a registered society or a designated agency or a company or an association to collect e-waste who has to obtain authorization under E-Waste Rules, 2011.
e) Dismantler is any person or registered society or a designated agency or a company or an association engaged in dismantling of used electrical and electronic equipment into their components who has to obtain authorization and registration under HW (M, H&TM) Rules 2008 /E-Waste Rules, 2011.
f) Recycler is any person who is engaged in recycling or reprocessing of used electrical and electronic equipment or assemblies or their component, who has to obtain authorization and registration under HW (M, H &TM) Rules 2008 /E-Waste Rules, 2011.
g) SPCBs/PCCs have been given the responsibility as regulatory agencies for implementing the E-waste Rules in respective States
h) CPCB was given the responsibility to evolve the guidelines for implementation, oversee the progress made in implementing the Rules and also to implement RoHSS compliance.
The inclusion of PROs is a welcome initiative in the draft rules. They are professional organisations authorised collectively by producers, but sometimes they also act independently or on a public-private partnership basis. PROs can take the responsibility of a group of producers for collection and channelisation of e-waste generated from the 'end of life' of their products. The concept works well in developed countries where a number of organisations come together to implement take back of e-waste financed by producers.
Another new feature that the draft rules have incorporated is the Deposit Refund Scheme. Under this, a portion of the sale price shall be retained by the producers and be refundable to consumers once the end-of-life products are channelised according to the prescribed methods.
Criticism of rules
- First and foremost, it ignores the unorganized and small and medium sectors where 90 per cent of the e-waste is generated. The law currently does not provide for any plan to rehabilitate those involved in informal recycling.
- The Rules also do not recognize the magnitude of transboundary movement of e-waste under different categories, for example, under the pretext of metal scraps and secondhand electrical appliances.
- Penalty and punishment for non-compliance are in accordance with section 15 and 16 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 which says that whoever fails to comply with the rules will be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years or with fine which may extend to Rs 1 lakh. Stringent penal provisions are a must which can deter erring parties from violating rules.
In India, the amount of E-waste generated is rising rapidly. With the increasing dependence on electronic and electrical equipment, the rise of E-waste generation is well expected in the country. However, the management of the same is a major challenge faced by the country. Indians are still to realize the associations between the cause of generation of E-waste and its effects including detrimental health and environmental effects.