Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Sunday, March 3, 2024

Pay consumers to take back e-waste








The new rules proposed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to manage electronic waste must be implemented with firm political will to close the gap between growing volumes of hazardous trash and inadequate recycling infrastructure. India generates about eight lakh tonnes of e-waste annually, while 151 registered recycling facilities can handle only half of that quantum.



There are no systematic studies on India’s waste generation, a problem that is probably much bigger than commonly believed. Producers and consumers of electronic goods have a responsibility under the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011 to ensure proper disposal, but progress has been slow for various reasons. Now the E-waste (Management) Rules 2016 provide several options to manufacturers — such as collection of a refundable deposit and paying for the return of goods — to meet the requirements of law. Consumers are naturally keen on recovering economic value from waste, creating a thriving informal recycling sector. These units use crude methods such as open burning to extract copper, lead, aluminium and iron.



Studies done at informal recyclers near New Delhi show that concentrated acids are used in an open-air environment to remove copper from printed circuit boards; the corrosive chemicals are then discharged into surrounding lands. Several cities are similarly polluted. This is an unsustainable course, especially at a time when rapid obsolescence of electronic goods is the norm. The Environment Ministry must work closely with the States to implement the tighter rules.




In spite of its growing environmental footprint, sound management of electronic waste has received low priority. Urban solid waste management policy has focussed on cleaning streets and transferring garbage to landfills, ignoring the legal obligation to segregate and recycle. Hazardous materials, including heavy metals, are dumped in garbage yards, polluting soil and water. The new rules have positive measures in this regard: they classify mercury-laden light bulbs as e-waste, which will keep them out of municipal landfills. Bulk consumers have to file annual returns, another welcome move.



An awareness campaign on e-waste will make it easier to implement the rules. Often, consumers do not let go of defunct gadgets. One U.S. study showed that on average a household keeps four small and two large e-waste articles in basements and attics. Several Indian households also stock e-waste items. The success of the new rules will depend on incentivising such consumers to enter the formal recycling channel using the producer-operated buy-back scheme. They will come on board when the repurchase offer is better than that of the unorganised sector and a collection mechanism is available. The Centre and the States have a responsibility to ensure that producers contribute to the e-waste management system, which has been designed with their inputs. The collection targets, that will touch 70 per cent in seven years, are realistic. A healthy environment demands that the targets get more ambitious.







Source: The Hindu