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E-Waste In India

India will consume $400 billion worth of electronic goods by 2020 generating a huge growth in end of life products, known as electronic or E-Waste. Electronic Waste creates opportunities for jobs and reducing the country's dependency on imports of metals for manufacturing phones and computers by retaining recycled metals in the country. On the hand the processing of this E-Waste poses huge environmental and health hazards

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Electronic waste or E-Waste is an emerging and fast growing challenge for waste management in India. E-waste, is a term for electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, and have essentially reached the 'end of life', sometimes within just a few short years, given the rapid technological advances within the industry.  E-waste is generated from anything electronic: computers, TVs, monitors, cell phones, PDAs, VCRs, CD players, fax machines, printers and refrigerators and is generally broken into two categories, Information technology (IT) and Consumer electronics (CE) on account of divergent systems and technologies required for recycling these products.

E-Waste has both a positive and negative salvage value. Broadly, the IT category is characterised by positive salvage value where the components can be dismantled and re-used and the CE category is characterised by negative salvage value and lacks the economic incentive for recycling, where products are dumped back in the environment. With the IT sector well incentivised and focused on the recovery of base and precious metals the CE sector, the treatment of aircons, freezers, LCD, CRTs and fluorescent lamps remains largely ignored.  In India the industry as a whole is characterised by a large informal sector that is employed in the extraction of precious metals in hazardous working conditions that post a significant health risk.

Globally systems to address the management of E-Waste are premised on the concept of the circular economy. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. It involves a lifecycle and closed loop approach and encourages innovation at the design stage of products to minimise waste and the negative impacts of material used.  A circular economy approach relies on policy instruments that incentivise the manufacturers (producers) of electronics to take a life cycle approach to products past the factory gate, beyond the point of purchase and post the warranty period.

A common policy instrument applied is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) where producers pay for the costs associated with collecting, recycling and responsibly disposing products at the end of their life. EPR encourages design innovation to make it easier to recycle and dispose of products while minimizing social and financial costs to society as producers are able to integrate the costs associated with recycling without incurring any loss. Producers will often rely on a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) to collect and dispose of waste on their behalf.


In India, on account of the nascent and emerging nature of E-Waste, the responsible disposal and recycling of e-waste is largely regulation driven. As a result of advocacy and litigation by civil society organisations, E-waste rules were first formulated in 2011. These rules introduced the concept of EPR without specifying any targets for producers in order to afford producers/manufactures of electrical items a gestation period for building collection mechanisms and allowing for the growth of recycling capacity. In 2016, as part of a broader effort for waste management and especially hazardous waste management the government introduced the 'e -waste management rules of 2016'. These introduced graded targets for e-waste.  A 2018 amendment reduced targets in the first year but aims for 70% targets of e-waste collected and responsibly recycled post 2023. The intended outcome of the rules is to limit the use toxic substances  in electrical equipment and the ensure the responsible recycling of E-Waste. One Estimate shows that a 70% target would result in 1.265 million tonnes of E-Waste generated juxtaposed against an authorised recycling capacity of just 350,000 tonnes and a recyclers collection mechanism of 265, 734 tonnes. The E-waste sector present both opportunities in terms of investment, infrastructure development and jobs and challenges for health risks and environmental degradation for 2023.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and under it the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB)are the nodal agencies for E-Waste. The CPCB authorises EPR plans for producers and licenses for authorised dismantlers and recyclers to process e-Waste. However, both the CPCB and the SPCB are dealing with competing priorities of environmental degradation with limited resources. Global success stories for EPR showcase the importance of a robust a reliable monitoring and tracking system for EPR plans to calculate the inventory of existing e-waste and minimise leakages as E-Waste as it passes through a value chain of informal and formal actors. The development of a database and tracking systems will give the E-Waste Rules, 2016 the backbone required for reaching the stated targets.  If the E-waste management rules of 2016 are to achieve their stated goals the development of an E-waste oversight data management system is the need of the hour to ensure that the Indian consumers insatiable appetite for electronic products does not result in an environmental and health crises.


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e-waste Electronic waste sustainability
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