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May , 2012
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Trying to rule out e-waste

Venkatesh Ganesh
Source: The Hindu, Date: May , 2011

Technicians dismantle e-waste from discarded electronic devices such as computer peripherals at Earth Sense Recycle unit in Andhra Pradesh.

While e-waste laws have come into effect from May 1, questions remain on their implementation.

E-waste may not be as glamorous a problem as climate change but it is a prevalent problem nonetheless. In May this year, India joined other countries in US and Europe and laid down e-waste laws, which go into effect from this year. Increasing incidents of malpractice involving electronic dumping in the absence of regulation had triggered the need for e-waste rules, of which an initial draft was made in 2010. According to a Centre for Science and Environment report, India generates 350,000 tonnes of e-waste every year and imports another 50,000 tonnes. This prompted the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to come out with new e-waste rules. The e-waste rules lay down the responsibilities for various stakeholders, from producers to collection centres, consumers, recyclers, refurbishers as well as dismantlers for cradle-to-grave management of waste. The 2011 rules score over the earlier draft version of 2010 in the addition of a clause which holds producers responsible for their products.

Numbers and more

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 has estimated that India had 851.7 million mobile phones. Additionally there are millions of other electronic items that are discarded every year. For India, the problem is an important one that needs immediate addressing. Under the new norms, producers would now be held accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products and would also have to take initiatives to introduce changes in product design and technology for environmental friendly treatment and disposal of the goods that they produce. “This goes beyond manufacturing and puts the onus on a producer to take ownership - from producing to managing its end-of-life in an environment-friendly manner,” said Ms. Priti Mahesh, Project Manager, Toxics Link, India.

Areas of concern

While this is a step in the right direction, it's not going to solve India's e-waste problem immediately. “It is in line with global standards, although there is room for improvement,” said Mr. Abhishek Pratap, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India. It is not only the environmentalists who are scratching their heads over the rules but even e-waste recyclers. As per the rules, the onus is on the state to issue licenses instead of on the centre. This is causing confusion as a number of recyclers have their recycling units in different parts of India and will have to go through the bureaucracy to get new licenses.  “The law does not specify the amount of e-waste to be collected. As a manufacturer, I can just put up a toll-free number and abide by the law,” said Mr Rohan Gupta, COO, Attero Recycling. “For example, a company should collect at least 10 per cent of their products sold by 2012-13, similarly 20 per cent by 2014 and so on,” opined Mr Gupta.

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. The kind of penalty that might be imposed if EPR is not strictly followed by companies does not find a mention in the rules. Analysts were of the view that they had proposed this kind of idea to the government in line with EU laws but they had not considered it. “These kinds of targets can also be used to monitor whether the legislation is being implemented effectively,” said Mr Pratap.

Under the radar

Another significant issue is with regard to the management and disposal of products present in the market prior to the enforcement of rules. There are 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. But a policy at the manufacturing level is also needed, which does not allow 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. “The government should look at enhancing its existing capacity if it is serious about implementing these rules,” said Ms. Mahesh. An email sent to the Karnataka State Pollution Board did not elicit any response. Also, India is a large country and to get a license within every state can be time consuming and riddled with bureaucratic procedures, said Mr Jeevesh Kumar, Founder, Greenscape Eco Management.

Corporate structures

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 per cent increase over fiscal 2010. Corporates like Dell, Lenovo, Nokia and others have take-back programmes but without financial incentives and enough collection centres, it seems to be a token gesture. Emails sent to corporate companies like Dell, Lenovo and Acer about their take-back programmes elicited no response. Mr Narayan PS, VP and Head-Sustainability, Wipro said that the company is extending its sustainability programme to its supply chain, involved in supplying components for its products and plans to double its collections centres from 17 to 34 by end of this year. According to Wipro officials, the company collects 260 tonnes of e-waste from its collection centres. Similarly, Nokia started its take-back and recycling activities in 2008 and has been running 1400 recycling points across its outlets. “In 2011, we collected 60 tonnes of phones and accessories through our take-back programme,” said a Nokia India spokesperson. By 2020, India's e-waste from old computers will jump 500 per cent when compared to 2007, according to an UN report. The e-waste journey has just begun.

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