India is moving rapidly towards digital economy. Information and communication technology based services are making people’s lives easier. But the digital avatar of the economy has brought a new challenge in the form of electronic waste. Apart from household items like coolers, air conditioners, washing machines, mobiles, laptops, digital watches get converted into e-waste after a certain period of time. Before India becomes a big dumping ground for e-waste, arrangements for its disposal will have to be made in time.
According to the Global E-Waste Monitor report, about 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019. By the end of this decade it will reach the level of 74 million tonnes. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, more than 16 lakh tonnes of e-waste was generated in the country in 2021-22. In this, hardly even 30 percent of e-waste is being disposed of. According to the report of the World Health Organization, e-waste is more deadly than other pollutant components. Toxic elements like lead, mercury, cadmium are found in it, which cause respiratory diseases and cancer. New rules for e-waste management are applicable in the country from April 1, 2023. However, its successful implementation is yet to happen. A common consumer usually gives the damaged electronic items at home to the junk dealer. But very little part of e-waste reaches the recycling unit because there is a lack of recycling centers in the country. There are only a few recycling plants even in metropolitan cities and state capitals.
With the rapid increase in e-waste, it would be better to have arrangements for e-waste collection like solid and wet waste. Its entire responsibility cannot be left to the government and local bodies alone. Companies manufacturing and selling electronic components should also strengthen their collection process. According to Pranshu Singhal, founder of ‘Karo Sambhav’, an organization related to e-waste management, e-waste contains many harmful elements apart from expensive metals like gold, silver, nickel, cobalt, palladium, platinum. The entire emphasis of the current recycling system is on recovering expensive metals only. This will defeat the goals of e-waste management. It would be better to prevent the harmful elements present in e-waste from polluting the environment. The practice of making decorative items from electronic items should also be stopped. To increase the period in which electronic goods are converted into waste, attention should also be paid to making the designing of the items durable. According to the International Telecommunication Union, the more environmentally friendly electronic items are, the easier it will be to recycle.
The Union Consumer Ministry is promoting reuse of electronic products through Right to Repair. For this, companies and brands have been asked to share detailed information related to repair of items with consumers. Central Pollution Control Board has introduced Extended Producer Responsibility System. In this, manufacturers have to provide information about e-waste collection, recycling and processing on the CPCB portal. However, due to weak enforcement of e-waste management rules, responsibility of companies and brands is not fixed. Scrap dealers play an important role in e-waste collection in the country, hence there is a need to provide them social and health security. With this, they will be able to keep both themselves and the environment safe while collecting e-waste.
In this direction, Ecowork International has introduced the innovation of shared workplace. In this, people involved in e-waste disposal get the facility of separation under one roof. Best practices for e-waste disposal are being developed at the initiative of the Belgium-based Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEForum). Organizations from 50 countries including India working on e-waste management are members of WeForum. E-waste Day is celebrated every year on 14 October on the initiative of VForum. This year its theme is, ‘You can recycle anything, plug, battery or cable.’
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has taken a commendable initiative by including e-waste in the Life Mission. There should be an initiative to promote re-use of raw materials in the manufacturing sector also. Subsidies on reused raw materials will strengthen the circular economy. There is a need that everyone should understand their responsibilities in disposal of electronic waste. But this will not be possible without the availability of solid regulation and system for e-waste management.