You are at Toxics Alert > News > India lays down e-waste management rules
Toxics Alert, an environment news bulletin from toxics link Toxics Link
Issue 34
, 2012
View issue number:
  Home  |  Editorial  |  Feature  |  Interview  |  News  |  Policy  |  Updates  |  Reports / International News  |  Partner


India lays down e-waste management rules

Venkatesh Ganesh
Source: Indian Express, Date: , 2012

Increasing incidents of malpractice involving electronic dumping in the absence of regulation have triggered the need for e-waste rules, which first saw an initial draft in 2010. After much deliberation and some further amendments, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has come out with some new proposals that will go into effect in May 2012.

For the first time, the MoEF has put the onus of recycling e-waste squarely on the producers'a step in the right direction. While e-waste was earlier broadly clubbed under hazardous substances, the Indian government has understood the gravity of the situation.

It is in line with global standards, although there is room for improvement. "The government has based its rules on joint recommendations from civil society and manufacturers," said Abhishek Pratap, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

Going beyond lip service
The e-waste 2011 rules lay down the responsibilities for various stakeholders from producers to the collection centers, consumers, recyclers, refurbishers as well as dismantlers for cradle-to-grave management of waste. Where the 2011 rules score over the earlier version is in the addition of a clause, which holds producers responsible for their products. "This goes beyond manufacturing and warrants a producer to take ownership right from producing a good to managing its end-of-life in an environment-friendly manner," said Priti Mahesh, Project Manager, Toxics Link, India.

The EPR is perceived to be a welcome move since the producers would now be held accountable for the entire lifecycle of products and would also have to take initiatives to introduce changes in product design and technology for the efficient and environmentally friendly treatment and disposal of the same. Making the producers financially responsible for the management of end-of-life of products will also encourage them to use less hazardous and more eco-friendly materials in the process of manufacturing, opined industry watchers. EPR policies for electronics are important because the number of devices available on the market is growing rapidly and these devices can be hazardous when mishandled, having a significant impact on the environment when resources are extracted to manufacture them. For India the problem is an important one that needs addressing. With steady economic growth, the consumption of electronic devices for work and entertainment has been on the rise. According to MAIT's recent estimates, sales of personal computers including desktops, notebooks and netbooks were expected to cross 12.6 million units during 2011-12 and TRAI estimated that India had 851.7 million mobile phones.

Add entertainment devices such as TVs, DVD players and household devices like washing machine, air conditioners etc. to the mix and the danger of disposing them off becomes apparent.

Also, the components in these devices can contain various toxic substances such as cadmium, lead, mercury and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Exposure to these substances can cause a range of health effects from kidney damage to impaired development of the central nervous system. In general, electronic products are safe when used as intended; however, they can pose problems if not managed properly when discarded.

Initiatives from manufacturers like Dell, Cisco, Nokia and others have started to address this issue. According to Dell India officials, the company was the first in India to introduce recycling programs dating back to November 2006. "The company's policy is to offer consumers free recycling for any Dell branded product at any time and free recycling for other branded products against purchase of new Dell product. As a part of Dell's free recycling policy, Dell actually picks up the unit to be recycled from the consumer location at a designated, pre-fixed mutually convenient time. Here, we also offer an Rs 1,000 discount voucher to customers that return their Dell non-working laptop to us for recycling," said Mahesh Bhalla, Executive Director & General Manager, Consumer & SMB, Dell India. This voucher can be redeemed on the next purchase of a Dell laptop or desktop through the company's online store.

Similarly, while Cisco did not have policies specific to India, it followed global guidelines when it came to the management of e-waste from product design, to packaging, to documentation, through end of useful life. The company claimed that its products were designed for easy disassembly, to make recycling of components easier and more efficient. It also worked to make packaging parts out of one material or easily separated materials in order to simplify the task of recycling. The networking vendor offers customers trade-in, take back and recycling opportunities, to extend the life of some products and encourage responsible recycling and disposal of others.

HP accepts the principle that all manufacturers along with governments and customers share the responsibility for treating electronic products in an environmentally responsible manner at the end of its useful life. "We believe that it is the responsibility of consumers to discard their electronic waste appropriately, the responsibility of government to provide adequate collection/drop off facilities for end-of-life products and the responsibility of manufacturers to manage the treatment and recycling of their products," said Upasana Choudhry, Environmental Manager, HP India. Within this model of shared responsibility, manufacturers must provide for the recycling of their products and have the option to do this collectively or individually. In this regard, HP supports the concept of Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) in e-waste legislation, an approach that makes producers responsible for recycling their own products once they have been collected.

Lenovo is tackling this problem in a different way. According to company officials, it chooses all its suppliers, including recyclers and refurbishers, with high compliance standards.

No clarity on targets
One of the biggest holes that industry watchers pointed out in the amended e-waste rules was to do with specific targets set on the collection of e-waste. For effective implementation of EPR, the rules should have fixed some tangible figures for companies to collect their products back. "For example, a company should collect at least 10% of their products sold by 2012-13, similarly 20% by 2014 and so on," opined Rohan Gupta, Chief Operating Officer, Attero Recycling. The rules simply talk about financing and organizing a system for the environmentally sound management of e-waste without any mechanism to check how this system would be put into practice. Nowhere in the rules is it mentioned what kind of penalty will be imposed if EPR is not strictly followed by companies. The companies simply have to fill Form 2 giving details of the e-waste handled or generated by them and Form 3 for filing annual returns.

Targets have had an effect on how companies organize their take back policy. Dell, for instance, has diverted over 68 million kg (150 million lbs.) of end-of-life electronics globally from landfills in fiscal 2011, a 16% increase over fiscal 2010. Since it launched its recycling program globally in 2006, the company has recycled more than 125 million kilograms of electronic equipment and is on track to recycle more than one billion pounds of e-waste by 2014. "Earlier this year we piloted a battery recycling program where a customer gets a discount on their new purchase of a li-ion laptop battery upon the return of an identical non-working one. In addition, for our business customers, we also have our Asset Resale and Recycling program'a value-added service offering targeted at companies with over 20 assets to dispose of," noted Bhalla.

Analysts were of the view that they had proposed this kind of an idea with the government in line with EU laws but they had not considered it. "These kind of targets can also be used to monitor whether the legislation is being implemented effectively else it is like shooting in the dark," averred Pratap. Another significant issue is with regard to the management and disposal of products present in the market prior to the enforcement of rules and non branded or assembled products from the gray market that are cheaper, used on a large scale and comprise a large proportion of the waste stream. The rules have designated Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) with the responsibility to collect and channel the orphan products to the authorized collection centers, dismantlers or recyclers and to take care of such waste. A policy at the manufacturing level is also needed, one that does not allows non-existent brands to do business. However, the regulatory bodies of a large number of states/union territories lack capacity and are burdened with other responsibilities. The urban local bodies or municipalities suffer from a lack of manpower, expertise and resources. Rules should mention that the agencies, organizations having expertise can be engaged in streamlining the entire e-waste management process, opined the industry.

According to Mahesh, the government should engage in capacity building of regulatory bodies. Development of standards, benchmarks and requisite training must be provided to the regulatory bodies and budgets should be specifically set aside for the systemic implementation of rules. Over the past several years, EPA has stepped up enforcement of the CRT rule with respect to exports. "EPA continues to follow up on all tips we receive concerning shipments of CRTs exported without notice to EPA. In those cases where EPA obtains sufficient evidence, we will issue complaints and compliance orders," said a US EPA spokesperson.

Another aspect that the industry felt strongly about was the complete banning of dumping. On the ground, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has upped its vigilance at the ports but scrap still gets through. Better utilization and implementation of technology such as monitoring ports on a real-time basis would help in stopping such seepage. Further, MoEF has banned the 'donation' of electronic equipment, which used to be a loophole that importers and producers had gotten away with in the past.

Handling waste: still a concern
According to industry observers, about 90 recycler licenses have been handed out till date. While that is a decent number for a country of India's size, the kind of facilities and wages to be paid to people who pick up e-waste remain hazy and nebulous. Then there is the fact that licenses would be granted by respective states (and not by the center), which is a departure from past policies. There are few companies with the kind of facilities that Attero has and the business processes that needs to be followed such as auditing and inspection of the facility in a regular manner. "Any person with a one room facility can apply for a license and there is no transparency as to the kind of business process that they follow," said Gupta. Attero has been audited both by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and World Bank.

"India does not have sufficient quality facilities and the majority of existing companies are mere logistical players who can collect and move the scrap but do not dispose it scientifically. To accelerate the introduction of greener products, PVC and all forms of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) should be included in the list of banned substances," said Pratap. The broader issue to look at here is with regard to precious metals recovery, which involves more than mere collection of devices. Dismantling and ensuring that metal is extracted with minimal effect to the environment needs to observed diligently, observed analysts.

Some manufactures had a different point of view. It is not a question only of the number of companies that were required to address the growing e-waste volumes. Rather, it was increasingly about the standards by which these companies operated and their governance, said Bhalla. Dell, for example, has set its Environmental Partner Performance standards and has built governance process around this.

The way ahead

By 2020, India's e-waste from old computers will jump 500% from 2007 levels, whereas South Africa and China will witness a 200-400% rise in computer-related waste, according to a UN report. Recyclers like Attero are trying to address this problem by offering their own take back schemes, akin to the ones that manufacturers offer. A couple of months back, it launched a consumer initiative wherein a consumer can log on to the Web site and request the pickup of a old mobile phone. The company officials will pick it up from the consumer's home and assess a certain value for the device and pay the consumer accordingly.

With regulations lacking teeth, push might never come to shove. Meanwhile, e-waste generation is not showing any signs of slowing down. India, at present, churns out about 400,000 tons of e-waste annually of which only 19,000 tons is getting recycled, according to MAIT. According to a report by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), India generates 3,50,000 tons of electronic waste every year and additionally imports another 50,000 tons.

Well begun is half done, goes the saying. In the case of e-waste in India, the journey has just begun.