By Daniel Pail
In 2012, the European Union (EU) produced 9.45 million tons of electronic waste. Only 35% of this e-waste was properly disposed and reached certified, local recycling plants. The rest was illegally shipped out and sold to countries such as China, India and the West Africa region. However, the e-waste recycling efficiency varies vastly across the EU.
Austria’s inhabitants, for example, are experts when it comes to separating waste in their homes. In 2015, 96% of the population divided their trash into several different bins, e.g. plastic, paper and biodegradables. Austria´s e-waste is, however, disposed of differently. When a new product, like a refrigerator or a TV, is bought, the company installing the new item also takes care of the unwanted one. This service is demanded by law and puts the responsibility of correct recycling on the companies dealing with electronic devices. Nevertheless, only 40% of their electronic waste reached certified recycling plants, leaving 60% to illegal trades. Austria is generally recognized as one of the countries in the world that has a well operating waste system.
Yet the number of 40% does not seem impressive. There are different ways how this figure could be improved. Norway for example recollects 82% of their e-waste. This is mainly due to the strict law enforcement in the takeback section. Some companies can afford to recycle old devices themselves, and others pay a fee to be part of recycling companies which take care of the take back process for them. According to Eurostat.eu, Norway only recycles 50% of their e-waste properly. Even though the take back process works so well, the illegal trade to other countries flourishes.
One obvious solution to this problem could be stricter law enforcement. Since all the right laws about exporting e-waste are in place, someone needs to enforce them. Other exports are very closely followed and enforced, such as tobacco or alcohol, but not e-waste. Information about the effects of their e-waste trades is not conveyed. Spreading information about the impact of wrongly handling hazardous material might increase the urgency and law enforcement in Europe. When enforcing these laws, the countries need to ensure that there are enough recycling plants at hand to deal with all the e-waste. Doing so will provide several jobs in Europe. Another solution will be the restrictions for different hazardous materials in electronic gadgets the EU is working on right now. These restrictions will forbid the selling of products using certain hazardous materials and force the manufacturer to invent new solutions.
India is being used as dumping ground of e-waste by many developed nations like US, China, Europe, etc. Looking at the country-wise share in India’s e-waste imports, US has a maximum share of around 42%, China at around 30%, Europe at around 18% and rest 10% is from other countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Japan etc.
India’s current e-waste generation exceeds the overall processing capacity by 4.56 times. Consequently, most of the waste is illegally dumped and disposed of, which leads to environmental and health hazards. India’s e-waste production is likely to touch three million tonnes by the end of 2018.
Is it time to wake up and smell the hazards of e-waste for India yet?
About author: Daniel Pail is an exchange student from Austria. He is currently interning with Chintan’s Scavengers to Managers Team.