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Problem of e-waste
Aug 07, 2017

[GS Paper III:(Environmental pollution and degradation)]

Why in news?

  • The recycling industry is urging environment ministry to relax the e-waste collection targets as specified under the e-waste management rules, 2016 stating that the targets are unachievable.
  • The targets for collection and recycling were to be implemented from May 2016.

E-waste management rules, 2016

  • It had prescribed a waste collection target of 30% of the e-waste generated under EPR (extended producer responsibility) for the first two years (till 2016) and progressively reaching 70% by 2022-23. 
  • These rules include producers, dealers and Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) as stake holders.
  • These rules have brought producers of electronic goods under “extended producer responsibility”, making them liable for collection and exchange of e-waste with targets.
  • Collection is now exclusively Producer’s responsibility, who can set up collection centres or points or can even arrange buy back mechanisms for such collections.
  • Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has been implementing the e-waste rules for authorized companies.
  • The rules state the average age of various electronic equipments. For example, for smart phones it is 5 years, for printers and cartridges it is 10 years, for refrigerators 10 years, and so on. So all the smart phones, which were sold in 2012, technically become e-waste in 2017, and mobile manufacturers have been mandated to collect 30% of that.
  • Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and other mercury containing lamps have been brought under the purview of rules which were left out by the previous e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011.

What is e-waste?

  • e-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) - is the term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded appliances using electricity. It includes computers, consumer electronics, fridges etc which have been disposed of by their original users.
  • In India, computer devices account for nearly 70% of e-waste, with the contribution of telecom sector being 12%, medical equipment being 8%, and electric equipments being 7% of the annual e-waste generation.
  • Arsenic, Barium, Brominated flame- Casing, Cadmium, Chrome , Cobalt, Copper, Lead, Lithium, Mercury, Nickel Alloys, Selenium, Zinc, Steel, Brass alloys etc are some of the pollutants or toxins in the e-waste that can harm human, animal and plant life, if not disposed of scientifically.
  • When such e-waste ends up at landfills, they leach chemicals into the soil, contaminating soil and groundwater. 

Problems

  • India is the fifth largest producer of e-waste discarding roughly 18.5 lakh tonnes of e-waste each year. 
  • Urban solid waste management policy has been largely focused on cleaning streets and transferring garbage to landfills, ignoring the legal obligation to segregate and recycle hazardous materials safely.
  • About 95% of the e-waste in India is handled by the informal sector in a hazardous and environmentally unsafe manner.

Way forward

  • It is necessary that the informal e-waste collection system be integrated with the formal channels for proper regulation and monitoring.
  • Incentives should be provided to recyclers, producers and consumers as has been done in China which will promote the development of the formal e-waste recycling industry.
  • Those handling e-waste should be provided with safety equipments, training and proper health care facilities.
  • Maintaining a database of e-waste as done by Norway can also facilitate recovery and recycling.
  • With India’s e-waste generation estimated to reach 52 lakh tonnes in 2020, it needs stringent recycling procedures so that majority of the e-waste generated could be recycled properly.


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