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Issue 31
February , 2011
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* FEATURE

Learning from the EU experience

Priti Mahesh
Source: Toxics Link, Date: February , 2011

E-waste and its management has been a huge challenge for developed and developing nations for more than a decade. Presence of toxic materials, including heavy metals and chemicals like Brominated Flame retardants, lead, Chromium etc, along with growing volumes of waste has put pressure on governments across countries to look for solutions. Though there have been some voluntary initiatives, most countries have tried to evolve a system through a legal mandate.

European Union has been one of first to take initiatives to deal with management of E-waste through a regulatory framework. WEEE directive of the EU, which came into force in year 2003, is based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility and is implemented in all its 27 member states. The directive focuses on separate collection, treatment and recovery of discarded equipments (E waste) and spells out responsibility for financing waste management and reporting on results. (For details refer to http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32002L0096:EN:HTML)

In the seven years of its promulgation, WEEE directive has seen various systems or models evolve in member countries. The basic common thread is that producers are given physical and financial responsibility of managing E-waste, while other mechanisms may differ. The system has had varied success in member countries of the Union.

Despite the directive on collection and recycling, only one third of electrical and electronic waste in the European Union is reported as separately collected and appropriately treated. A part of the other two thirds is potentially still going to landfills and to sub-standard treatment sites in or outside the European Union. Illegal trade of e-waste to non-EU countries continues to be identified at EU borders and countries like China and India are at the receiving end of large amount of this hazardous waste.

In December 2008, the European Commission proposed to revise the WEEE directives based on the successes and drawbacks of the current system. The aim is to increase the amount of e-waste that is appropriately treated and to reduce the volume that goes to disposal.

India is currently on a threshold of issuing a legal framework for managing E-waste. In keeping with different situation in India from developed nations, especially EU, the solution to the problem needs to be unique, for which there is a lot to learn from the WEEE directive and its implementation in EU member states.


Collection network
The WEEE directive experience has enunciated the need for setting up extensive collection system to make it convenient for consumers, especially households or individuals, to dispose off their e-waste.

Compliance system
E-waste management is complex because of different features of different kinds of equipments and due to the large number of producers. The European Union mechanism of setting up compliance system, whereby the producers have to ensure and report fulfilling their responsibility by joining the system, is quite unique and provides a great opportunity to learn. This will be very useful in the Indian context, as implementation and compliance to Rules has been a weakness in environmental laws.

Reporting and monitoring
Transparency and clarity on reporting and monitoring are key to measure effectiveness of a system. Though the WEEE directive has not been completely successful in implementing this, with reports of material leaking out of system, this certainly gives us an opportunity to learn and improve.

Financial clarity
E-waste management requires setting up extensive collection system and also ensuring good recycling standards. Because of the different categories of E-waste, the economics involved in managing these might vary. Though WEEE directive in EU has put the financial responsibilities on producers, different mechanism of managing this have emerged in various member countries. India will also need to evolve this, as the economics of managing e- waste will be crucial to the success of the system.

Recycling
Setting up recycling targets and standards for E-waste, which is collected is very important. This will be important not only to ensure that the toxic material should not leach out, but to also make sure that there is good resource recovery.

Review process
One of the most important lessons from WEEE directive has been to understand the importance of a review process of a Rule/ legal framework. E-waste is a relatively new waste stream and its management will need to be a dynamic process because of the changing design and material sciences involved in its manufacturing. A review process will help in keeping up with the evolving technology and emerging needs.

The WEEE directive of the EU, as stated above, is a dynamic process and is currently under review. But the learnings from the implementation till date have been quite crucial, especially for countries that are now on the brink of setting up such a system. India will also need to look at the Best Practices available and carefully examine its acceptance and adaptability to the Indian context.

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