The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is updating its E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, making them more stringent and comprehensive to effectively dispose of and monitor the unprecedented amount of waste generated by the use of electronic devices.
In June, the MoEFCC posted the new draft policy on its website, inviting suggestions and comments on the same.
“The phenomenal rise in the number of electronic devices, especially mobile handsets, has deepened our concern for effective electronic waste management. The 2011 guidelines are being updated as the current situation demands more stringent laws,” said a source in the MoEFCC.
A report released by the United Nations Environment Program in May revealed that close to 90% of the world’s E-waste, worth nearly $19 billion, is “illegally exported” or essentially dumped in countries like China, Pakistan, Malaysia and India. Not only electronic wastes but other household wastes like metals, textiles and tires are exported to India and Pakistan, says the report “Waste Crimes, Waste risks: Gaps and Challenges in the Waste Sector”. According to the study, exporting E-waste to Asia is 10 times cheaper than processing it within countries generating the waste — primarily the US and Japan.
Following the report, a parliamentary panel had noted that many foreign companies bring refurbished products under the garb of “used goods” and sell them in India to avoid the steep cost of recycling in the developed countries. In July, the Environment Ministry denied permission to Apple, IBM, Nokia, Honeywell and Hewlett-Packard, among others, for importing used equipment and parts into India because it said that the residual life of such refurbished electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) imports would later add to the E-waste burden of the country. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan last year, the government-recognised electronic waste recycling industry was hopeful that it would be brought under the Abhiyan’s ambit.
But sources at the MoEFCC confirmed that “E-waste management is primarily the responsibility of the Environment Ministry”.
As per the present electronic waste management rules, the onus of recycling waste lies squarely on the producers of the electrical and electronic equipment. This feature is called the “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) as described in the 2011 E-waste management guidelines.
Several producers have waste collection and treatment programmes in place, with collection centres across the country where consumers can drop off their used products. Samsung, for instance, also offers to pick up the End of Life (EOL) product from the customer’s location once she/he drops a request via a dedicated hotline number. “Samsung has 552 drop-off locations pan India and plans to increase the number off drop-off locations to 1,000 by the end of this year,” said a spokesperson for Samsung, India.
Authorised recycling companies that this newspaper spoke to agreed that the main challenge to E-waste management was the slack attitude of the corporate sector, which generates maximum waste, besides absence of awareness among the public.
“Corporates generate 90% of the E-waste and it is important that they dispose of their scraps in an environment friendly manner. Individuals are also clueless about what to do with the E-waste they generate at home. We try to raise awareness by doing in-house promotions with our contractors in order to reach out to the employees,” said Tarun Bahuguna, assistant manager, branding, Greenscape Eco Management.
“Corporations usually sell off their E-waste to unauthorised recyclers. Recycling is a costly affair and the lack of mass awareness is particularly debilitating for the business,” Bahuguna added.
A 2014 UN study “Global E-waste Monitor” reported that the top three E-waste generating countries in Asia were China (6.0 million tonnes, Mt), Japan (2.2 Mt) and India (1.7 Mt). India also ranked fifth globally, after US, China, Japan and Germany.