Clean Tech

‘The urgency to tackle e-waste is showing on the ground’

Preethi Mehra | Updated on: Oct 09, 2018

V Ranganathan, Managing Director, Cerebra Integrated Technologies

It is India Clean-up Week from October 13 to 19, believed to be the largest e-waste collection drive in the country.

Bengaluru-based e-recycling facility, Cerebra Green, part of Cerebra Integrated Technologies, is organising it, along with the Manufacturers Association of Information and Technology (MAIT), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) and Digital India.

To be executed in seven cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad, it will target three key stakeholders — Resident Welfare Associations, bulk consumers and the public. The idea is to make them aware of the health hazards of e-waste, its impact on the environment, proper recycling and its legislation.

Cerebra Green will also be setting up collection centres, organising home pick-ups and helping citizens and organisations to dispose their e-waste through the right and most environment-friendly channels.

E-waste production in India is estimated to touch three million tonnes by the end of 2018. Industries contribute to 70 per cent of e-waste, while households contribute almost 15 per cent. The rest comes from discarded or ‘end of life’ electrical and electronic equipment.

In an email interview, V Ranganathan, Managing Director, Cerebra Integrated Technologies, answers some of the sticky questions that dominate e-waste recycling and the measures industry and the government are starting to take.

Though India Clean-up Week is a good beginning, do you think targeting just seven cities and only for a week in the year will have the desired effect?

In 2016, out of 18.5 lakh MT of e-waste generation, the targeted seven cities contributed close to 5 lakh MT. Since the campaign is an unprecedented event in India, it is planned to start with a week and in top e-waste generating cities. The learnings from this campaign will be studied and hopefully implemented in many more large cities and for longer duration.

You are partnering with MAIT in this venture, but would things have come to this pass if manufacturers of electronic products had factored in product collection and a systemic clean-up in the first place?

The Government of India is very serious about controlling the menace of e-waste with many initiatives under Swachh Bharat. The urgency shows on the ground as you see corporates like us coming forward to get involved in promoting awareness and educate the public on the various hazards of e-waste.

We now have EWM (electronic waste management) rules in place. Not just the producers, even the bulk consumers, refurbishers, etc, are brought under the new laws to undertake, every year, a certain percentage of end-of-life products that were sold in the past.

Traditionally, all of us associate value to the waste but with all this awareness our mindsets are set to change with time and the stakeholders will have better chance to collect the e-waste and dispose it scientifically.

India imports 50,000 tonnes of e-waste and generates around 350,000. But it has not put in place any kind of norms for its end-of-life disposal, hence endangering the lives of unorganised e-waste collectors. Should not recycling companies like yours be urgently pressing for better infrastructure and policy?

India currently generates close to 2.5 million tonnes of e-waste. Thankfully, importing of e-waste into the country is stopped. It is not just India, many developing nations have this epidemic problem of illegally recycling the e-waste to extract precious materials.

Cerebra has started the largest e-waste recycling factory to formalise the recycling. With the laws in place and more evident enforcement, with many raids on the illegal recycling units, especially in Moradabad, the underbelly of the illegal recycling, we believe that companies like us will play a big part in formalising this sector.

Is it necessary for our country to import so much e-waste? China has stopped doing that, shouldn’t India also take a stand?

India has stopped importing e-waste. Some unscrupulous elements still import e-waste under the guise of importing computing equipment but that is much less compared to the past. China was importing e-waste till lately. They have stopped recently because of the tariff war between the US and China.

How much of a business proposition is e-waste? And if it is, why did China stop recycling it?

E-waste recycling is not just a business proposition, which is quite huge, but it is also for a greener world. Urban mining is not to be underestimated. Today, for example, urban mining gold from the PCB boards, RAM and others is way cheaper than classic mining. Studies show the urban mining costs of gold during 2010-15 ranged $1,591-8,438 per kg and classic mining during the said period had ranged between $36,000 and $55,000 per kg. The circular economy out of e-waste recycling is enormous, it leads to refurbishing, reusing components, extracting precious metals, recycling plastic and metals.

China is a major leader in urban mining. China has stepped up to handle the burgeoning e-waste problem. They have increased e-waste recycling capacities tremendously in the recent past and are continuing to do so.

Why are manufacturers shying away from the ‘polluter pays’ principle and which ways would you suggest to bring them on board?

Under the EWM 2016 rules, the producer has a huge responsibility under EPR (extended producer responsibility) of ensuring formal recycling of e-waste. As we all still sell or exchange our end-of-life products, the producers are paying for this. We at Cerebra are trying to help these producers by collecting and recycling the e-waste.

In your release, MAIT acknowledges malpractices in breaking down of computers, mobiles and other goods. Why have manufacturers not focussed on training in this direction and made recycling a side business?

At times, the social conditions do not yield the results that are desired. Since illegal recycling is a way to make a quick buck, it would not be easy for formal recyclers like us or producers to spread the word on the benefits. Yet, Cerebra does not lose heart, we continue to try to promote responsible recycling. And this initiative is one of such activities that we at Cerebra undertake on a regular basis.

Can we expect more such clean-up drives across the year? And how do you expect to involve the unorganised sector which is, today, recycling 90 per cent of the e-waste?

Cerebra hopes that this initiative, Clean-up Week, becomes successful and it can undertake such initiatives the year round. At Cerebra we have a programme of signing up the illegal e-waste collectors and recyclers and bringing them under our umbrella. We educate the unorganised sector on the new EWM rules and how, once enforced more strictly, it will take away their livelihood. We don’t have great success but we will continue with our efforts.

Published on October 09, 2018
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