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Why India’s E-waste Management Infrastructure Is In A State Of Collapse

Why India’s E-waste Management Infrastructure Is In A State Of Collapse

After China, India Is The Second-Largest Generator Of E-waste In Asia

E-waste is the dark side of technology, the step child of modernisation and development in the electronics field, which no one wants to acknowledge and take responsibility for. It is a by-product of society’s constant need for upgrade to a newest and better high tech product fuelled constantly by the manufacturer’s greed for higher growth.

The staggering numbers of electronic devices or electrical items that are discarded each year constitute to the growing e-waste in the country. Various discarded products, for instance CPUs and PCBs are comprised of a wide range of harmful components, including brominated flame retardants, lead, beryllium and cadmium. Unmitigated discarding and irresponsible dismantling of these electronics adversely affects the environment, the health of workers & nearby communities of dwellers.

To gain further perspective, fathom this: Apple has sold over 1 Bn iPhones; complete sale of personal computers has exceed 2 Bn; around 100 million refrigerators are sold worldwide; we have around 1.6 Bn TVs in use worldwide. In addition, as per the UN report, approximately 42 Mn tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2014, of which only 6.5 Mn tonnes (15-20%) was treated by National Take-Back Systems.

Furthermore, India is the second largest e-waste generator in Asia, second only to China, generating 1.7 Mn tonnes of e-waste which is growing by 21%. While the pile of e-waste is enveloping the entire world alike, the problem is more severe in the developing /under-developed countries, wherein the focus is mainly on development and rules governing responsible e-waste management are either non-existent or irrelevant.

India’s Tryst With E-waste Management

In the report on e-waste tabled by the government in Rajya Sabha, the Government recognised the peril that nearly 90% of e-waste finds its way to the unorganised sector, in the mini-metros and metro-slums, wherein it is dismantled and scrapped for metals manually or by use of crude rudimentary technologies. This not only jeopardises the health of people involved and those in vicinity but also the environment as almost all of the effluents are discarded without any treatment.

Even the 10% which finds the way to the organised sector, also sometimes finds its way to the unorganised sector owing to higher margins and the fact that the organised players have yet to establish a strong last mile connect and have to rely on the unorganised players only, for collection.

State Of Indian E-waste Management Till Sep 2016

The rules for E–waste management for  , producers, and importers until 2011 were detailed but did not define any targets for collection. The responsibilities mentioned appeared more as best practices than strict regulation.

In absence of statutory e-waste regulations, almost all manufacturers and producers were selling their e-waste to the highest bidder and were least bothered on what the buyer did with the e-waste. It was a good money making business which increased the bottom line.

The buyback schemes run by them were only a marketing tool, wherein mostly the collected e-waste was sold to unorganised players by the retailer itself. Very few, manufacturers, owing to their international image, did follow responsible e-waste policies but restricted it to a small percentage of the generated e-waste to keep the costs down. It was according to all prevalent rule – profit drives business and since responsible e-waste management involved costs the same was avoided irrespective to its adverse effect on the environment.

It was thus not surprising that most of the producers who were following responsible e-waste in developed countries; chose not to follow them in India, in total disregard to their declared commitment towards the society.

E-waste Management Post-September 2016

In 2016, the Government came out with E-waste Management Rules 2016. While most of the clauses remained same as previous, one big change which the government incorporated was making implementation of these rules statuary. Targets were defined on basis of products sold and their usable age, collection, transportation and storage mechanism stated and clause of audit included. Each manufacturer, producer and importer had to now fill an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Plan basis his sales and get it approved before a deadline date failing which his License would be cancelled.

The EPR Plan to be submitted was a detailed plan for e-waste management. It included product category collection targets basis sale for past years, the collection mechanism from all generation points, details of transportation and storage plan, details of e-waste partners, details of customer awareness including budget allocated, returns and audit.  The document was in line with process being followed in other developed countries and was step in the right direction; “better late than never.

In line with world best practices being followed in other countries, it allowed the producers to hire the services of a PRO (Producer responsible organisation) which would not only manage this and ensure that even the partner recyclers are following prescribed rules in recycling and not adopting the old route of short cuts. It does was no surprise that most of the Producers collectively got together through their organisation CEAMA and progressed on a bid to select PRO, wherein within 4 months, two were selected to represent the members.

The Present Situation

Notwithstanding CEAMA efforts in finding a suitable PRO who would represent the member producers, owing to the financial burden which producers will have to bear, efforts to dilute the regulations continued in parallel which included legal and also lobbying. The aim was not only to dilute the targets but also shifting the dates for implementation or best both.

Efforts of the entire Manufacturers and Producers lobby did pay dividends and the Government not only shifted the timelines by almost a year but also agreed to review the entire regulations and till then kept the same under suspended animation.

Presently, the rules are under review, with presumably reduced targets and reduced responsibilities on the producers. A step in the right direction, has been retracted and the country’s major e-waste initiative which would have a long lasting positive impact on the people and its environment has been suspended under pressure.

This reprieve from the government which comes as a shot in their arms for producers, however, is a big setback in terms of responsible e-waste management in the country. Diluted regulations lacking the oversight by an independent agency unlike in developed countries (like the PRO,) would not only compromise the quality of e-waste disposal but also ensure that the unholy nexus between the producer’s recycler and unorganised player continue to grow at the cost of irreparable cost to society and environment.