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Sansad TV: Perspective- Tackling e-waste

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Introduction:

According to an ASSOCHAM-EY report on electronic waste management, India is estimated to have generated five million tonnes of e-waste in 2021, ranking only behind after China and the USA. India is now planning a shift to two standard chargers across mobile phone brands and portable-electronic devices. Recently the Consumer Affairs Ministry held discussion with stakeholders on this aspect and an expert committee will be set up soon to finalsie the norms. This shift towards common chargers will not only simplify things for consumers, but also cut down on massive amounts of e-waste generated in the country. Many advanced economies are already moving toward standard charging devices. The European Union (EU) has ordered the USB-C port as standard for all devices by mid-2024, including Apple’s iPhone, which at present uses its own standard.

E-waste:

  • It is technically all waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) discarded without the intent of reuse.
  • It is one of the fastest growing waste streams in both developed and developing countries.

Current Status:

  • 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 82 lakh tonnes since 2017-18.
  • In 2018, the Ministry of Environment had told the tribunal that 95% of e-waste in India is recycled by the informal sector and scrap dealers unscientifically dispose of it by burning or dissolving it in acids.
  • The volume of E-waste increased by 21% globally in the last 5 years.
  • India, together with China and the United States, accounts for 38 per cent of this volume generated worldwide.
  • E-waste generation in India increased by 43 per cent in just three years.
  • The demand for electronics, especially in the form of information and telecommunication equipment, has been fueled by the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • Today, we are a part of a new work culture where virtual is the new norm.
  • As the demand for electronic equipment increases, so does the amount of E-waste generated.
  • An attractive electronics market with new design and innovation as well as a downward pricing trend allure consumers to purchase new electronic products way before the older ones become dysfunctional.

Factors responsible for the growth of E-waste:

  • Rapid advances in technology.
  • Economic growth
  • Urbanisation processes
  • Increasing demand for consumer electronic equipment
  • Downward trend in prices

Crisis:

  • Experts predict that E-waste gets buried under the ground in landfills for centuries as it is not biodegradable.
  • E-waste contains substances that are hazardous to human health, including, mercury, cadmium and lead.
  • E-waste can pollute water sources and food-supply chains.
  • Findings from many studies show increases in spontaneous miscarriages, still and premature births, as well as reduced birth weights and birth lengths associated with exposure to e-waste.

Challenges :

  • Electronic waste (E-waste) represent a major environmental challenge in the world today.
  • Majority of the progress in the extraction of valuable metals from E-waste or degradation of hazardous compounds through biotechnological or physicochemical processes is yet to travel from the lab to the land.
  • Lack of information and awareness on responsible E-waste management among the populace.
  • E-waste management in India is largely based on informal sector activities for collection, dismantling and recycling.
  • The urban masses lack information about the presence of any recycling center in their respective cities.
  • India notified the E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016, which made ‘extended producer responsibility’ (EPR) mandatory. The implementation of EPR remains extremely poor.
  • The stored E-waste in houses, offices and educational institutes act as a barrier towards exploring the ‘urban mining’ potential.
  • Non-collected e-waste is also a serious health and environmental hazard as it contains several toxic substances.
  • With the absence of “good and credible data” in India, it would be difficult to enforce systems for managing e-waste.

Way Forward:

  • Effective awareness would be the right step for all stakeholders.
  • Need for adopting environmentally friendly e-waste recycling practices.
  • Unless we have effective implementation of the rule, the country would end up creating many informal processing hubs.
  • Strict implementation of the rule, creating adequate awareness and training for requisite skill sets to the informal sector could be a game-changer.
  • This sector needs technological support, from land to capacity building to IT.
  • This sector could generate jobs as well as viable business prospects for locals.
  • Waste pickers should be trained to collect e-waste.
  • More emphasis should be on to reuse the e-waste, for which industries need to design a framework.
  • India has lot to learn from Norway model of e-waste management.