Clean Tech

Holes in the e-waste cart

Preeti Mehra | Updated on March 07, 2021

Bit by bit: E-waste is largely handled by the informal sector   -  BLOOMBERG

How gaps can be plugged for better management of the electronics disposal stream

Come October, it will be five years since the e-waste management rules came into effect. Some progress has been made in terms of consumer awareness building, creation of producer responsibility organisations, and listing of authorised recyclers and dismantlers. Yet, the process is far from streamlined.

Collection of e-waste is still an enormous challenge. And the bulk of e-waste is still handled by the informal sector. Besides, there are unverified reports of large quantities of e-waste being imported for refurbishment and re-exports. These often leak into the un-regularised recycling system.

So, what can be done to regulate the waste stream, ensure safe recycling, and maximise its potential? Atin Biswas and Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh of the Centre for Science and Environment make vital suggestions on the way forward in their latest report ‘E-Waste Management in India: Challenges and Agenda’.

Emphasising that “the role of the informal sector in the recycling business needs to be re-positioned so that it can provide cost-effective opportunities without discounting environmental safety and amenable labour conditions”, the authors chart out a six-point agenda to improve e-waste handling in line with environment goals.

First and foremost, they feel, it is crucial to fill the data gap. For this an inventory of e-waste collected and recycled by authorised recyclers and the amount that’s imported is of utmost importance. Only if every State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) files reports on the generated and recycled numbers can we have an overview of the challenge of managing this waste stream.

The authors point out that under the direction of the National Green Tribunal, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has created an e-waste review portal; in the last update provided by CPCB in February 2020, only 29 SPCBs and Pollution Control Committees had begun filing the required quarterly returns. Besides, none of this data had been released in the public domain. Import of e-waste, too, needs regulation, with details on permissions given and status of recycling available.

For the law to be effective, there is need for stringent enforcement of Extended Producer Responsibility targets. The authors feel that the integration of the formal and informal sectors is a must, as also proper mapping of stakeholders.

Informal e-waste hubs must be monitored to ensure that workers have adequate safety and suitable compensation. Producers of electronic goods must be held liable for environmental toxicity due to improper handling or leakages.

Of equal priority is incentivising recycling schemes. The five per cent GST levied on recyclers in the formal sector must be waived. This and other measures will make recycling economically viable.

Last but not least, consumer awareness campaigns need to be stepped up. It should be mandatory for manufacturers to carry information about safe disposal in advertisements as well as on the packaging.

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Published on March 07, 2021
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