• Electronic waste (e-waste), that is, waste arising from end-of-life electronic products such as computers and mobile phones, is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world today.
  • Used electronics which are destined for refurbishment, reuse, resale, salvage recycling through material recovery, or disposal are also considered e-waste. Informal processing of e-waste in developing countries can lead to adverse human health effects and environmental pollution.

Current Status

  • Annual global production of e-waste is estimated to surpass 50 million tons in 2020.
  • India is among the top five e-waste producing countries in the world with estimated annual production of 2 million tons.
  • Like some of the other developing countries, e-waste management in India is dominated by the informal sector with estimates of more than 90 per cent of the waste being processed in this sector.
  • E-waste contains several precious metals, rare earth metals, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic, wood and glass.
  • Unscientific practices in the processing of e-waste are associated with several environmental and health externalities. 

Importance of e-Waste and its sound management

  • All e-waste is valuable as it is highly rich in metals such as copper, iron, tin, nickel, lead, zinc, silver, gold, and palladium. Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) contain rare and precious metals such as ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum – which are together referred to as the Platinum Group Metals (PGM).
  • E-waste, if handled and disposed of in an inefficient manner can lead to extremely damaging impact on human health and the environment.
  • This is mainly because e-waste comprises hazardous constituents such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that contaminate soil, water and food.

The problem of e-Waste Management

  • Primarily conducted by informal sector:
    • Unfortunately, the collection and recycling of e-waste is predominantly being done by the informal or unorganised labour through highly environmentally degradative ways, which cause serious health hazards.
  • High rate of collection but low recovery: 
    • The rate of e-waste collection is very high in India owing to its valuable content.
    • But since most of the e-waste recycling is done by the informal sector in India, wherein recovery of valuable materials ranges between 10–20% only.
  • Exposure of vulnerable section to toxic elements:
    • The informal sector comprises of unskilled workers, sometimes even children who live near dumps or landfills of untreated e-waste and work in dangerous working conditions without any protection or safety gear.
  • Environmental degradation:
    • Non-environmentally sound practices – such as burning cables to recover copper and unwanted materials in open air – caused environmental pollution and severe health hazards to the operators.Practices like disposal of unsalvageable materials in fields and riverbanks have led to leaching of heavy metals/chemicals into land and water.
    • Some of the e-waste is extremely complex in constitution and hence difficult to recycle, while the other does not even have environmentally sound recycling technologies.

Challenges in e-waste Management:

  • Lack of infrastructure:
    • Huge Gap between e-waste that is being collected and recycled by authorized dismantlers/recyclers and total quantum of e-waste being generated.Existing recycling facilities face issues from lack of suitable environmentally sound technologies to lack of steady supply of raw materials.Due to lack of awareness among consumers about hazardous impact of inappropriate e-waste recycling, sell their electronic waste to informal recyclers as it is easier and faster.
    • Thus, registered recycling units are deprived of a regular supply of e-waste which is crucial for their sustenance. Currently, authorized e-waste recycling facilities in India capture only small amount of the total e-waste generated and the rest makes its way into informal recycling.
  • High cost of setting up recycling facilities:
    • Advanced recycling technology is expensive and makes large investments risky, especially when sourcing of e-waste is a challenge.
    • Most of the formal recycling companies in India limit their role to only pre-processing of e-waste, wherein the crushed e-waste with precious metals is exported to smelting refineries outside India. An end-to-end solution for e-waste recycling is still not available in India.

New and Future Initiatives

Since the implementation of the erstwhile E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 (‘Rules 2011’) and the more recent E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016   (‘Rules 2016’) there has been a growing change in perception of e-waste in the waste recycling market in India.

Electrical and electronic waste with its rich content of valuable metals is increasingly being seen as a harvest point for urban mining. Recognizing the potential of the formal e-waste recycling sector in alleviating the environmental issues caused by unscientific methods of handling and disposal of e-waste, GoI has taken the following new initiatives:

Extended Producer Responsibility: The linchpin of Rules 2016 is the provision on extended producer responsibility (EPR). Based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, it brings in producers who have the wherewithal to collect the end-of-life products placed in the market in the past and, thereby, effectively serves to channelise the electrical and electronic product from cradle-to-grave. The collection targets were revised in 2018. So far, 1151 producers of electrical and electronic equipment in the country have been given EPR authorisation by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Boosting the formal e-waste recycling industry: The Amendment to the E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 was made with the objective of channelizing e-waste generated in the country towards authorised dismantlers and recyclers to formalise the e-waste recycling sector.

Developing an online mass balance system: The government is currently in the processof developing an online mass balance systemto monitor the e-waste flow in India. Thiswould enable automated data management,transparency, reduce administrative burden ofauthorities, shift from traditional paper-basedsystems to electronic recording, and betterenforcement of EPR provisions of Rules 2016.

Conducting a national inventory of E-waste: All State Pollution Control Boards/ Pollution Control Committees have been mandated to develop inventories of e-waste in their respective states/union territories.

Facilitating Producer Responsibility Organisations: The e-waste rules provide producers with the option of using Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) to implement EPR.

Some of the future initiatives are listed as follows:

  1. Addressing the informal sector
  2. Bridging the gap between formal and informal sectors.
  3. Improving the working conditions and minimising the work related to toxic exposure at the e-waste collection, processing, recovery and disposal sites.
  4. Access to environmentally sound technologies
  5. Cost-effective technologies for recycling e-waste such as Li-ion batteries, printed circuit boards, etc.
  6. R&D on innovative technologies for
  7. Processing e-waste and effective metal extraction methodologies.
  8. Development of sustainable e-waste business models and implementation of pilot projects for different innovations.

Measures to Manage E waste

  • Formal collection of e waste by designated organizations, producers, and/or the government via retailers, municipal collection points, and/or pick-up services.
  • Recycling e-waste: Recycling e-waste enables us to recover various valuable metals and other materials from electronics, saving natural resources (energy), reducing pollution, conserving landfill space, and creating jobs.
  • The value of raw materials in the global e-waste generated in 2019 is equal to approximately $57 billion USD.
  • E-waste Legislation: Governments around the world are developing national e-waste policies and legislation that lay out plans or courses of action and indicate, in a non-binding manner, what can be achieved by a society, institution, or company.
    • India passed the first law on e-waste management in 2011
  • E-waste data: Understanding the quantities and flows of e-waste provides a basis for monitoring, controlling, and ultimately preventing illegal transportation, dumping, and improper treatment of e-waste.
  • Create awareness: on the environmental benefits of recycling among consumers.
  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has initiated an e-waste awareness program under Digital India about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganised sector and educate about alternate methods of disposing their e-waste.

Following steps have been taken by the government in the direction of finding out solution to the problems related to E-Waste:

  • The management of e-waste is being carried out under the framework of E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 and amendments there off.
  • Applicable to every manufacturer, producer, consumer, bulk consumer, collection centres, dealers, e-retailer, refurbisher, dismantler and recycler.
  • Under the extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime, producers have to obtain EPR Authorization from CPCB for implementing their EPR and details of their dismantlers/recyclers.
  • Under EPR regime, producers of notified Electric and electronic equipment (EEE) have been given annual E-Waste collection targets based on the generation from the previously sold EEE or based on sales of EEE as the case may be.
  • Ministry has notified the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2022 on 2nd November 2022. These rules will replace E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 and will be effective from 1st April 2023. These rules will launch a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regime for e-waste recycling.

The Salient feature of new rules is as under:

  • Applicable to every manufacturer, producer, refurbisher, dismantler and recycler.
  • All the manufacturer, producer, refurbisher and recycler are required to register on portal developed by CPCB. 
  • No entity shall carry out any business without registration and also not deal with any unregistered entity. 
  • Authorization has now been replaced by Registration through online portal and only manufacturer, producer, refurbisher and recycler require Registration.
  • Schedule I expanded and now 106 EEE has been include under EPR regime.
  • Producers of notified EEE, have been given annual E-Waste Recycling targets based on the generation from the previously sold EEE or based on sales of EEE as the case may be. Target may be made stable for 2 years and starting from 60% for the year 2023-2024 and 2024-25; 70% for the year 2025-26 and 2026-27 and 80% for the year 2027-28 and 2028-29 and onwards.
  • Management of solar PV modules /panels/ cells added in new rules.
  • The quantity recycled will be computed on the basis of end products, so as to avoid any false claim. 
  • Provision for generation and transaction of EPR Certificate has been introduced.
  • Provisions for environment compensation and verification & audit has been introduced.
  • Provision for constitution of Steering Committee to oversee the overall implementation of these rules.

Under the E-Waste Management Rules, provision for reduction of hazardous substances in manufacturing of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) has been provided. It mandates that every producer of EEE and their components shall ensure that their products do not contain lead, mercury and other hazardous substances beyond the maximum prescribed concentration.  The E-Waste (Management) Rules also provide for recognition and registration, skill development, monitoring and ensuring safety and health, of workers involved in dismantling and recycling of e-waste.

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