India produces almost 400,000 tonnes of e-waste each year, according to
an assessment conducted by the Manufacturers' Association of Information
Technology (MAIT), an Indian hardware trade organisation. But the
larger issue at hand is that only 5 per cent of the country's e-waste is
recycled, while at least 40 per cent of obsolete and unused computers
and electronic products languish in homes and warehouses.
After several years of campaigning by environmental groups, India's
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has introduced E-waste
(Management and Handling) Rules 2010, which will come into effect in May
2012. These measures include Extended Producers' Responsibility (EPR)
for recycling, reducing levels of hazardous substances in electronics
and setting up collection centres.
The new rules will cover
discarded IT and telecoms equipment and consumer electrical goods.
However, medical devices, light bulbs, fluorescent tubes and batteries
are excluded. The legislation will also restrict the use of toxic
substances like cadmium, mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium,
polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated biphenyl ethers in the
manufacture of electronics. Environmental groups are calling for the
government to go further and ban polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated
flame retardants (BFR) in electronics.
Manufacturers have been
given up to three years to start introducing greener products that
exclude or reduce levels of these toxic substances and will have to
ensure that consumers are aware of the hazardous compounds present in
their products. They will also have to provide information on the proper
disposal of e-waste.
Abhishek Pratap, senior campaigner,
Greenpeace India, says that the amount of e-waste India generates may be
much higher as the MAIT study excludes electronic and electrical goods
such as televisions, refrigerators and DVD players. According to
Greenpeace India, the country generated 800,000 tonnes of e-waste in
2008 and this is predicted to double by 2012.
is the first time in India that laws have followed the concept of an
EPR or 'the polluter pays'. In future, manufacturers will be responsible
for the safe disposal of electronic and electrical goods that they
produce. They will be required to set up e-waste collection centres or
introduce 'take back' schemes. Bulk users, such as large corporations,
will need to keep a record of their e-waste disposal.
the new guidelines on e-waste management and recycling but the rules
have been extremely diluted from what was expected from the government,'
says B K Soni, an e-waste recycler in Mumbai. Soni is the chairman and
founder of Eco Recycling, a technologically sophisticated recycler, and
was a member of the expert panel that helped the government draft its
The new legislation does not make any
mention of informal recyclers, which currently collect around 90 per
cent of India's e-waste. The informal sector tends to recycle or extract
metals using rudimentary techniques, such as burning or shredding
e-waste, which poses a health hazard to employees. Several thousand
people are estimated to be employed by the informal sector.
Aggarwal, director of the non-profit Toxic Link, which has been
campaigning for the introduction of rule to govern e-waste, notes that
the guidelines are silent on how to integrate the informal sector into
the proposed e-waste disposal system. Moreover, the livelihoods of
people in the informal sector are likely to be threatened by organised
competition and the legislation provides no help to prepare the informal
sector for the changes ahead.
groups also complain that the rules fail to prevent other countries
dumping their e-waste on India, or India exporting its own e-waste
problem. Currently, e-waste is illegally imported due to loopholes in
the country's export-import policies. For example, a large number of
computers are brought into the country on the pretext of charity.
India's Directorate General of Foreign Trade estimates that illegal
imports of e-waste are around 50,000 tonnes annually.
2012, the biggest challenge will be implementing the guidelines, as
India has a poor track record of enacting environment laws. B R
Balagangadhar, chief scientific officer at the Karnataka State Pollution
Control Board in south Indian says: 'Implementation will be the key to
the success of these rules. Collection of e-waste will be a big
challenge. The rules don't talk about coordinating with local agencies
such as city municipalities, which have specific garbage collection
Another glaring shortcoming is that the legislation
contains no penalties for producers or recyclers for violations of the
law. Environmental groups, recyclers and even the regulatory agencies
are pragmatic and feel that the roll-out of the regulations is going to
take its time. Soni points out India introduced rules on recycling lead
batteries in 2001 and, to date, only 25 per cent of batteries are