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Context: A proposed framework by the Centre for regulating e-waste in India has upset a key link of India’s electronic waste collection system and threatens the livelihood of thousands.
- Electronic waste, or electronic goods that are past their shelf life, is largely handled by India’s vast informal sector.
- Spent goods are dismantled and viable working parts refurbished, with the rest making their way into chemical dismantling units. Many of these units are run out of unregulated sweatshops that employ child labour and hazardous extraction techniques.
- This electronic detritus also contributes to contaminating soil as well as plastic pollution.
- To address all of this, the environment ministry brought the E waste (Management) Rules, 2016, that introduced a system of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) compelling makers of electronic goods to ensure a proportion of the goods they sold every year was recycled.
- They are expected to maintain records annually demonstrating this. Most companies however didn’t maintain an in-house unit in charge of recycling and this gave rise to network of government-registered companies, called Producer Responsibility Organisations (PRO) who acted as an intermediary between manufacturers of electronic goods and formal recycling units, that were technologically equipped to safely and efficiently recycle end-of-life electronic goods.
- PROs typically bid for contracts from companies and arrange for specified quantities of goods to be recycled and provide companies certified proof of recycling that they then maintain as part of their records. Several PROs work on consumer awareness and enable a supply chain for recycled goods.
- As of March, the Central Pollution Control Board has registered 74 PROs, and 468 authorised dismantlers who have a collective recycling capacity of about 1.3 million tons.
- The Environment Ministry estimated 7,70,000 tons of e-waste to have been generated in 2018-19 and around one million tons in 2019-20 of which only a fifth (about 22% in both years) has been confirmed to be “dismantled and recycled.”
- Environment Ministry issued a draft notification that does away with PRO and dismantlers and vests all responsibility of recycling with authorised recyclers, only a handful of whom exist in India.
- Recyclers will source a quantity of waste, recycle them and generate electronic certificates. Companies can buy these certificates equivalent to their annual committed target and thus do not have to be involved with engaging PROs and dismantlers.
- Several PROs have mailed their objections to the Environment Ministry arguing that dismantling a fledgling system was detrimental to the future of e-waste management in India.
- Under the new rules, recyclers will likely establish their own supply chains and companies will no longer bear any responsibility for ensuring that their produce is recycled.
- Five years of investing and putting in place a system to collect and channelise waste was under threat as about 25,000-30,000 were employed in this sector.
- PROs provide check and balance and this is necessary because in the current system there is a lot of unauthorised recycling and we are an important element in the chain to ensure verifiable recycling
- The Centre hasn’t explained its rationale for dismantling the existing system in its draft notification.
- According to Global E-waste Monitor 2020, Global e-waste will increase by 38 per cent in the decade between 2020 and 2030.
- There was 6 million tonnes of electronic waste in 2019 which is an average of 7.3 kg per capita. That is a nearly 21 per cent increase in just five years
- Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019.
- Most E-waste in 2019 consisted of small equipment, large equipment and temperature exchange equipment.
- Less than 18 per cent of the e-waste generated in 2019 was collected and recycled.
- The number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation has increased from 61 to 78 and includes India. It is far from the target set by the International Telecommunication Union to raise the percentage of countries with an e-waste legislation to 50 per cent.
- The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 is a collaborative product of the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, formed by the United Nations University, International Telecommunication Union, International Solid Waste Association, UN Environment Programme.
- E-Waste is short for Electronic-Waste and the term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded electronic appliances.
- It is categorised into 21 types under two broad categories: Information technology and communication equipment and Consumer electrical and electronics.
- E-waste includes their components, consumables, parts and spares.
- E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR), CFCs and HCFCs.
- The increasing levels of e-waste, low collection rates, and non-environmentally sound disposal and treatment of this waste stream pose significant risks to the environment and to human health.
- International E-Waste Day has been observed on 14th October since 2018.
- There are 312 authorised recyclers of e-waste in India, with the capacity for treating approximately 800 kilotonnes annually.
- About 90 per cent of the country’s e-waste is recycled in the informal sector.
- India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing and disposal of waste from household and commercial units has been set-up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
- According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generated more than 10 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2019-20, an increase from 7 lakh tonnes in 2017-18. Against this, the e-waste dismantling capacity has not been increased from 7.82 lakh tonnes since 2017-18.
- Toxicity: E-waste consists of toxic elements such as Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, Polybrominated biphenyls and Polybrominated diphenyl.
- Effects on Humans: Some of the major health effects include serious illnesses such as lung cancer, respiratory problems, bronchitis, brain damages, etc due to inhalation of toxic fumes, exposure to heavy metals and alike.
- Effects on Environment: E-waste is an environmental hazard causing groundwater pollution, acidification of soil and contamination of groundwater and air pollution due to the burning of plastic and other remnants.
Challenges Related to Management of E-Waste in India:
- A key factor in used electronic devices not being given for recycling was because consumers themselves did not do so.
- In India, about 5 lakh child laborers in the age group of 10-14 are observed to be engaged in various E-waste activities and that too without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops.
- There is absence of any public information on most State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)/PCC websites.
- No clear guidelines are there for the unorganized sector to handle E-waste.
- Also, no incentives are mentioned to lure people engaged to adopt a formal path for handling E-waste.
- 80% of E-waste in developed countries meant for recycling is sent to developing countries such as India, China, Ghana and Nigeria.
- Lack of coordination between various authorities responsible for E-waste management and disposal including the non-involvement of municipalities.
- End of life computers often contain sensitive personal information and bank account details which, if not deleted leave opportunity for fraud.
International Conventions and government initiatives:
- Originally the Basel Convention did not mention e-waste but later it addressed the issues of e-waste in 2006 (COP8).
- Nairobi Declaration was adopted at COP9 of the Basel Convention. It aimed at creating innovative solutions for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes.
- Rotterdam Convention, 2004 seeks to promote exchange of information among Parties over a range of potentially hazardous that may be exported or imported.
- In India prior to 2011, e-waste was covered under the Hazardous Waste Management (HWM) Rules.
- In 2011, under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 were enacted
- In 2016, the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 were enacted which replaced the 2011 Rules. The Rules were amended in 2018
- CPCB has also issued guidelines Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste (on Collection, Storage, Dismantling & Segregation, Recycling, and Treatment & Disposal of E-Waste)
- Awareness Program on Environmental Hazards of Electronic Waste initiated by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
- Creation of Management Structure for Hazardous Substances seeks to raise awareness among people about the 2016 Rules and its implementation.
- Swachh Digital Bharat seeks to create awareness among the public about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganised sector, and to educate them about alternate methods of disposing of their e-waste.
- Further steps should be taken for scientific enforcement of E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 (EWMR) in the light of the reports of the CPCB.
- It noted gaps in collection targets, as the amount of e-waste collected in 2018-19 was 78,000 tonnes against a target of 1.54 lakh tonnes. There are clear governance deficits on the subject.
- The CPCB may consider steps for compliance of Rule 16 requiring reduction in the use of Hazardous substances in the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment and their components or consumables or parts or spares.
- It took note that a large number of accidents take place in residential areas on account of unscientific handling of e-waste.
- This needs special attention for constant vigilance in such hotspots. This also requires review and updation of siting norms for e-waste by the CPCB which may be done within three months.
- All the state pollution control boards need to identify the hotspots by constant vigil and to coordinate with the District Administration at local levels to prevent damage to the environment and public health and meaningful enforcement of rule of law.
E-Waste Management Rules, 2016:
- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 in supersession of the E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011.
- Over 21 products (Schedule-I) were included under the purview of the rule. It included Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and other mercury containing lamps, as well as other such equipment.
- For the first time, the rules brought the producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), along with targets. Producers have been made responsible for the collection of E-waste and for its exchange.
- Various 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.
- Deposit Refund Scheme has been introduced as an additional economic instrument.
- The role of State Governments has been also introduced to ensure safety, health and skill development of the workers involved in dismantling and recycling operations.
- A provision of penalty for violation of rules has also been introduced.
- Urban Local Bodies (Municipal Committee/Council/Corporation) have been assigned the duty to collect and channelize the orphan products to authorized dismantlers or recyclers.
- Allocation of proper space to existing and upcoming industrial units for e-waste dismantling and recycling.
· ‘Take-back’ and ‘Planet ke Rakwale’ campaign- Nokia: Nokia set up drop boxes across the country to take back used phones, chargers and accessories, irrespective of the brand, at Nokia Care Centres. Nokia launched “Planet Ke Rakhwale” take-back and recycling campaign which extended to 28 cities across India.
· “Green Warriors” in Telangana have been a part of the recycling / refurbishing chain, and has contributed towards the successful implementation of measures to control e-pollution. Their efforts have also been recognized by the Telangana government in its Telangana e-waste management policy, 2017
- There is need for better implementation methodologies and inclusion policies that provide accommodation and validation for the informal sector to step up and help us meet our recycling targets in an environmentally sound manner.
- Also, successfully raising collection rates required every actor to be involved, including consumers.
- There is a need to strengthen the domestic legal framework to address the issue of unregulated imports of e-waste
- Steps should be taken to formalize the informal sector by integrating it with the formal sector.
- Government should introduce vocational training programs to rightly skill the current unorganized sector employees to ensure their smoother transition to working with organized sector
- Governments must encourage research into the development of better environmentally-sustainable e-waste recycling techniques
- There is urgent need for a detailed assessment of the E-waste including quantification, characteristics, existing disposal practices, environmental impacts.
- There is need of an effective take-back program providing incentives to producers.
- Mass awareness programmes should be initiated to encourage consumers to reuse/ recycle electronic products