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Issue 35
, 2012
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India chips at e-waste mountain

Pia Heikkila
Source: The National, Date: , 2012

There is a growing mountain of electronics waste in India that the government is trying to tackle with a recycling law that aims to force high-tech manufacturers to clean up the toxic rubbish their customers discard.

But the manufacturers do not want to carry the can alone.

India's ministry of environment and forests' new e-waste legislation, which will be effective from May, lays out procedures for manufacturers, waste collectors and consumers.

But computer hardware manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard say that it is not just the responsibility of companiesbut that everyone should share the burden of managing electronic waste.

"It is the responsibility of consumers to discard their electronic waste appropriately, the responsibility of government to provide adequate collection and 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, an environmental manager at HP India. "Within this model of shared responsibility, manufacturers must provide for the recycling of their products, and have an option to do this collectively or individually."

According to a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, India generates 350,000 tonnes of electronics waste every year and additionally imports another 50,000 tonnes. But only 19,000 tonnes is currently being recycled.

India's new legislation is following a global trend in which the producers must become more responsible and not leave recycling up to the consumer. The new rules state that financing and organising a recycling system will make the manufacturer accountable for the lifespan of the product. In the new proposal, companies would also be obliged to introduce environmentally friendly treatment and disposal of their products.

The waste pile is ever-increasing. India's middle classis gadget-crazy, and with the increase in wealth and economic growth, the number of electronic devices people own for work and entertainment has been on the rise. According to recent estimates by the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology, sales of personal computers including PCs, notebooks and tablets are expected to reach a total of 12.6 million units last year this year. The number of mobile phones is 851 million for the same period.

Nokia says it started its recycling initiative in India in 2009, encouraging consumers to drop their unused mobiles, chargers and accessories, irrespective of the brand, into recycling bins at resellers. "We received an overwhelming response," said a company's spokesman. "Over 1.5 million pieces of old phones and accessories weighing over 70 tonnes have been already been collected for recycling so far."

But campaigners say the new rules are not enough to encourage consumers and corporations to make sure e-waste is recycled.

"The law is a step to the right direction, but there are loopholes," said Priti Mahesh, a project manager at Toxics Link, a non-governmental organisation in New Delhi. "There are no real targets set nor financial incentive for companies to do this. There is no obligation for companies to do anything. The legal compliance alone is not enough because it leaves lot of room for producers to do what they want."

Campaigners say that for the new law to be effective, there should be financial rewards.

"There should be incentives for both consumers and producers," Ms Mahesh said. "[The] Indian consumer is very different to those in the West who are used to recycling out of conscience. Until the consumer gets a reward for assisting the recycling of a gadget, people are not willing to do it."