With greater awareness of general waste management through Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Swachta Abhiyan’, the general citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the concept of waste disposal and management. However, the population remains largely unaware of the concept of Electronic Waste or E-Waste. E-Waste, comprising of waste electronics/ electrical goods, including laptops, smartphones, tablets, computers, monitors, servers, printers, television sets, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines and computer monitors etc have been steadily building up to become a substantial problem. Further, the lethal environmental and health hazards associated with the informal handling of E-Waste is a looming threat that needs to address urgently.
According to a joint survey by ASSOCHAM-KPMG, India recorded an approximate 18 lakh metric tonne of e-waste in 2016, which amounts to about 12 per cent the global e-waste production. Further, being the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world, India currently recycles less than 2 per cent of the total e-waste it produces annually. With the sudden and sharp increase in the consumption of Electronics like Laptops, smartphones etc. the frequency of older models being discarded to replace newer versions is a fast-catching trend, adding to E-Waste.
While we delve into the processes to handle this hassle, it is vital to simultaneously arrest the build-up of E-Waste by spreading awareness among the consumers about responsible usage and appropriate measures to handle E-Waste. Some key factors responsible for the lack of efficient E-Waste handling system in the country, include:
Ignorance about E-Waste
Most people do not consider old, un-used electronics as ‘waste’. As a result, they either end up storing it at home or giving it away to a known contact. According to a research paper studying ‘Emerging trends in Consumer’s E-Waste Disposal Behaviour and Awareness: A worldwide Overview with Special Focus on India’, published in the Resources, Conservation and Recycling journal in February 2017, revealed that approximately 75% of obsolete Electronic equipment in India is stored due to ambiguity about how to manage them properly. A study in the IT hub of Pune observed computer waste being stored for up to 14 years.
Ignorance about proper methods to handle and dispose of E-waste
Currently, most E-waste in India is disposed of either through auction (usually a route adopted by and limited to various Government establishments) or sold to the scrap dealers, who in turn sell it to recyclers in the informal sector. In contrast to developed countries such as Switzerland, where consumers pay a recycling fee. In India, it is the scrap dealers who pay consumers a positive price for their obsolete E-Waste. This acts as an incentive for consumers to dispose of their E-Waste through informal waste collectors, leading to higher collection rates and several social and economic beneﬁts to the poor strata of the country.
Further, even if some segments can get to effective identification of E-Waste and understand the significance of the massive build-up, ignorance about the effective disposal of E-Waste is the next big challenge. While there are several unauthorized dealers who indulge in hazardous processes to dispose of E-Waste, the knowledge of the dangers it poses to the environment and the overall health of the community around, is largely unknown to the masses. Unaware of the methods of disposal, many households and institutes dispose of their E-waste with regular household wastes. In Mumbai – one of the highest E-waste generator in the country, for example, a signiﬁcant portion of the E-waste produced is disposed of in the regular bins, which calls for effective E-waste awareness campaigns among manufacturers and consumers.
Lack of information about government policies and guidelines:
As per the E-waste (management) rules rolled out by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2016, the government introduced Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) which makes producers liable to collect 10 percent to 70 per cent (over seven years) of the e-waste they produce. However, as the huge size of the population and rising electronics users in the country, managing an unorganized sector to achieve such high targets may not be feasible. Also, the fact that informal channels of recycling/ reuse of electronics such as repair shops, used product dealers, e-commerce portal vendors, etc. collect a sizable proportion of the discarded electronics for reuse and cannibalization of parts and components, makes the process of recycling more complex. The ASSOCHAM-KPMG study accordingly suggests that the government may look at collaborating with the industry to draw out formal/standard operating procedures and a phased approach towards the agenda of reducing e-waste to the lowest.
While select few corporate and some NGO’s are doing their bit to educate public on the right ways to recycle and effectively manage E-Waste, the need to come together and rise to the enormous task of spreading mass awareness about E-Waste and its hazards, is slowly catching up.