India is becoming one of the biggest dumping yards of electrical and electronic appliances. The government has implemented the E-Waste (Handling) Rules, 2016 in effect from March 2016. The rules and norms have been made more stringent to reflect the government’s commitment to environmental governance. For the first time, the rules will bring the producers under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Producers have been made responsible for the collection of e-waste and its exchange. Bulk consumers must collect the items and hand them over to authorised recyclers. Different 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. Compact Fluorescence Lamp (CFL) have been included under the rules.
The rules were introduced to force a reduction in the use of hazardous substances in the electrical and electronic appliances by applying threshold limit for the hazardous materials like mercury, lead, cadmium, etc. This rule applies to every producer, consumer or consumers in bulk, collection centre, dismantler, or recycler of e-waste involved in manufacture, sale, purchasing and processing of electrical and electronic appliances.
The rules have also brought about the concept of ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ through which the major responsibility of e-waste management has been assigned to the manufacturers of electronic and electrical appliances. EPR is a major characteristic of the rules and states that the producers of the electrical and electronic appliances are given the responsibility of managing the equipment after its end of the life for their products when the consumers discarded them.
Under the EPR, the producers are also entrusted with the responsibility to finance and organise a system to meet the cost involved in complying with EPR. Thus the producers are responsible for sectors like telecommunications and information equipment, consumer electrical and electronic appliances falling within specific categories. They must ensure that the products don’t contain lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls or polybrominated diphenyl ethers above a specified threshold.
However the E-Waste (Handling) Rules, 2016 is not applicable to lead acid batteries as they are covered under the batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001, micro and small enterprises as defined in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 (27 of 2006) and radioactive wastes as covered under the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 (33 of 1962).
Disposal of e-waste is in a critical state now as the demand and need for electronic and electrical appliances has increased many folds in the wake of new research and development. India is overloaded with a huge amount of toxic and hazardous e-waste that is estimated to be around 18,00,000 tonnes. On an average, an individual has 3-4 electronic appliances with a lifetime of hardly three years.
The rules outline the responsibilities of the producer, consumer, collection centres, consumer/bulk consumer, dismantler, and recyclers. The e-waste rules assign a clear cut responsibility for the producers to channelize ‘end of life’ products.
Producers have to set up collection centres and take back systems either individually or collectively. They also need to spread full contact details in public sphere about where the consumers could return their products. A comprehensive awareness mechanism through publication, electronic media or other communication media like the Internet, posters, pamphlets, etc. needs to be set up. Producers shall maintain a record for the scrutiny before the State Pollution Control Board and file annual returns on or before June 30 of every year.
Responsibility is assigned to the collection centres to ensure that such wastes shall not cause any damage to the environment during storage and transportation. The rules also assign responsibility for the consumers and bulk consumers to channelize the waste to the authorised collection centres, dismantlers or recyclers. The dismantlers need to shall ensure that the dismantled wastes are segregated and sent to the registered recycling facilities for recovery of materials and no damage to the environment is caused. Along with that, the recyclers need to ensure that that the facility and recycling processes are in accordance with the standards laid down in the guidelines published by the Central Pollution Control Board.
E-waste is 99% recyclable. But the channel of producers, collection centres, consumers/bulk consumers, dismantlers and recyclers have been failing to manage the e-wastes properly. As the consumption of more and more gadgets and electronic devices is increasing so is the waste. When e-waste is thrown into landfills, a significant amount of energy is also lost with it directly or indirectly. While developed nations are trying to make developing countries there dumping yards of the humongous amount of waste they generate, a significant informal sector is seen taking the responsibility of managing it with the intention of extracting money from waste. In past few years, this industry has continuously grown, and concerns of increasing health hazards because of the improper dismantling of e-waste, pollution in air water and soil, child labour and many others have also grown.
It is expected that by 2020 India alone will generate one lakh tonne of e-waste. When this becomes the figures, then it becomes hard to imagine our future. The need to convert this informal sector into a more organised sector in which measures like the proper dismantling of e-waste, precautionary measures towards individual involved in the processing of the extracting process, etc. need to be given wider emphasis. In the unorganised sector several health related problems, as severe as cancer are being noticed as they are an effect of the highly toxic chemicals like furans, CFS and mane. Proper implementation of these policies must be checked.
Since India does not have a full-fledged capability of extracting precious metals like gold, silver and platinum from the e-waste, they have been shipping 200 tons of E-Waste annually to Japan, Belgium and Singapore.
E-Parisara Pvt Ltd is the only government extracting precious metals partially. The firm has a partial capability to extract precious metals from the visible parts of the motherboards and mobile phones. India doesn’t have a full-fledged smelting unit to extract precious metals from e-waste which is not visible to the eyes. Consequently, such non-extractable e-wastes is being shipped to Belgium and Japan for further smelting to remove precious metals. Billions of dollars are required for setting of an advanced smelting unit. India has been working to set up such advanced full-fledged smelting unit to extract precious metals from the invisible microscopic parts of E-Waste. It’s an ambitious public-private project which will be completed within 3-4 years.
Setting up of such full-fledged advanced smelting units to extract precious metal components from e-waste requires tremendous amounts of financial investments.However, the government has so far lost a golden opportunity to set up an extremely profitable business exercise. Despite the need for a substantial investment, the government is well aware of the path from waste to wealth. Investing over such full-fledged installations would not only help us to eradicate the toxic substances but also have a tremendous amount of future economic security.
Hopefully, we will have an organized infrastructural channel from producer to collection centre to consumer/bulk consumer to a dismantler and then the recycler. Major manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment shall strictly work in accordance with the assigned guidelines within the e-waste handling rules. However, India would have to prevent a massive influx of e-waste from the developed countries. Major developed nations are dumping their e-waste in the Arabian Sea. Such mass dumping of e-waste has seriously been affecting the marine ecosystem and its biodiversity.
Consumers are the users of such electrical and electronic appliances. Therefore, they should be made aware of the hazardous impacts of such e-waste over their health and environment. We must introduce new chapters on e-waste in environmental studies so that the abuse of the e-wastes could be mitigated.