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Issue 34
, 2012
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E-trash recycle: Chips are up

Priyanka Joshi & Piyali Mandal
Source: Business Standard, Date: , 2012

A survey by Nokia reveals that only about three per cent of people recycle their mobile phones. A big reason why old gadgets and electrical appliances gather dust is because of consumer indifference to environment-friendly disposal methods or recycling programmes run by agencies and non-government organisations (NGOs).

All this is going to change soon. Electronic device manufacturers are expected to step up their efforts to ensure that consumers take note of their "take-back" schemes, since they would be responsible for the safe disposal of the electronic goods they produce.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests' (MoEF) new e-waste legislation, to be effective from May 1, has laid out procedures for manufacturers under the Extended Producers' Responsibility (EPR). This holds them responsible for recycling, reducing levels of hazardous substances in electronics and setting up collection centres. An MoEF official underlined, "These rules will apply to every producer, consumer and bulk consumer involved in the manufacture, sale, purchase and processing of electronic equipment or components. The Central Pollution Control Board has already been informed that it would be required to prepare and submit an annual report (based on the data received by state pollution control board) with regard to implementation of these rules every year."

A growing problem
According to a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), India generates 350,000 tonnes of electronics waste (e-waste) every year and imports another 50,000 tonnes. But, only 19,000 tonnes of this is recycled. Data from MoEF and Central Pollution Control Board shows that 10 Indian states generate nearly 70 per cent of the total e-waste in the country. Maharashtra topped the list, followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

B K Soni, chairman and founder of Eco Recycling and member of the expert panel that helped the government draft its e-waste regulations, says, "India's new legislation is following a global trend in which the producers must become more responsible and not leave recycling to the consumer alone." Soni's company has been recycling e-waste for over five years. He believes that consumers need to get proactive about recycling electronics, as against selling them to a local garbage dealer.

Original equipment manufacturers are seeking help from recyclers like Soni to extend their reach across the country. "A large part of the e-waste management business involves collection of e-waste from multiple locations and we have our own network to collect e-waste from locations as well as over 600 collection centres where e-waste can be dumped," says Soni. His organisation recycled about 3,000 metric tonnes of e-waste last fiscal.

Attero Recycling, an end-to-end electronic waste recycling company, has a mobile take-back service,, and Rohan Gupta, COO of Attero, is confident of adding other electronic equipments to the service this year. "We believe consumers have begun to understand the process of recycling and are not always looking to profit from their older gadgets. That gives us the confidence to slate more electronic items for recycling," says Gupta. Attero Recycling has more than 200 clients, including Wipro, HCL, Tata Tele Service, and Google among others. "With official regulations coming into effect, we are seeing electronic manufacturers coming and talking to us to share our recycling infrastructure," he adds.

Typically, clients pay recyclers like Attero and Eco Recycling a nominal service fee. And when recyclers collect gadgets from consumers, they pay a small amount (depending on the gadget's condition), and either refurbish the gadget or send it for extract metals from the same.

But the new legislation does not mention informal recyclers, and activists like Satish Sinha, associate director of Toxic Links (an NGO) feel that it remains a challenge to bring the informal sector into the mainstream. "If organised recyclers create competition for the local kabariwallas, it will be a problem. The issue is how to bring local kabariwallas into the value chain. Then, there is a grey area around the penalty. The regulation says violators would be punishable under the Environment protection Act, but the penalties are not stated clearly," he says.

Welcome signs of change
Mobile vendors like Nokia, who claim to have placed close to 1,400 bins across India to collect unwanted mobile phones and accessories from consumers, is working with 10 companies that have around 80 facilities worldwide in which obsolete electronics can be recycled. "Globally, Nokia has taken this campaign to over 85 cities with 5,000 Nokia Recycle Points. Till date, over 1.5 million pieces of old phones and accessories weighing over 70 tonnes have been collected for recycling," informs a Nokia India spokesperson.

Companies like HP, Dell, Canon and Samsung Electronics, too, are getting aggressive about their recycling programmes in 2012.

HP India has over 15 drop-off points across eight states and about 1,821 enterprise consumer touchpoints comprising 13 per cent of the total in the Asia Pacific Japan region. Upasana Choudhry, environmental manager, HP India informs, "HP aims to increase the number of collection points to over 80 locations across 20 states and is taking various initiatives to promote the same. Even as we encourage consumers to deposit used printer cartridges at our offices spread across the country, bulk users who wish to dispose of the cartridges are even offered a free pick-up from HP." She also adds that HP is discussing the possibilities of engaging recyclers, NGO or other stakeholders on a city-wide basis for pilot initiatives to test different kinds of collection models.

Samsung highlights that users can dispose of their portable products at Samsung service centres in 235 locations across 20 cities.

Some companies like Dell have begun to incentivise consumers in a bid to encourage recycling. The company has diverted more than 68 million kilograms of end-of-life electronics globally from landfills in fiscal year 2011, a 16 per cent increase over fiscal year 2010. Dell is currently on track to recycle more than one billion pounds of e-waste by 2014. Mahesh Bhalla, executive director and general manager (Consumer and Small and Medium Business), Dell India, says, "Dell has launched a free laptop battery recycling programme in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. It will be extended to rest of the cities later this year. When consumers return their non-working lithium ion batteries from the Dell Inspiron, Studio, XPS and Vostro laptop ranges for recycling, we offer a discount of Rs 500 towards the purchase of a replacement Li-ion Dell laptop battery in return." In an effort to encourage recycling of personal computers in India, Dell also launched a special discount coupon programme where consumers could send their old computers to Dell for free recycling and redeem a coupon of Rs 1,000 on the purchase of their next Dell computer.

MAIT President, Alok Bharadwaj, says, "As the consumer, households are the largest warehouse of e-waste. They store old gadgets and attach value to every electronic item that can be sold to the kabariwallas. We have already informed the member companies about the regulations. Most of the big companies have already put in place the mechanism for collection of e-waste. They are also in the process of tying up with authorised recyclers." MAIT, which has around 100 member companies, including Lenovo, IBM, Canon, Xerox, is also setting up an e-waste information portal. The portal will have details about State Pollution Control Board, MoEF, bulk consumers such as public sector units, large banks, and authorised recyclers. "The portal will be up and running before May, 2012," Bharadwaj says.

Nokia's internal consumer survey results show that the awareness on mobile phone recycling among Indian consumers has gone up by over 20 per cent. Nokia has also collaborated with the Energy and Resources Institute to develop comic books that educate children on the problem of e-waste and the importance of recycling it.