[Editorial Analysis] The afterlife of e-goods

Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology

Prelims level: e-goods, e-waste

Mains level: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights


• Risky and rudimentary ways of metal recovery from the open burning of e-waste components such as circuit boards and wires have choked the city.

• All this has serious repercussions for the health of the residents, besides being environmentally unsafe.

• There are fears that a Moradabad-like polluted e-waste hub may be in the making in Jamnagar, next to the brass industry cluster there.

• A study by Assocham and NEC finds that a mere 5 per cent of India’s e-waste gets recycled, much less than the global recycling rate of only 20 per cent;

• 95 percent of India’s e-waste is managed by the unorganised sector (kabadiwalas, scrap dealers and dismantlers) using dangerous methods to recover metals from circuit-boards and wires.

E-waste problem in India

• E-waste is generated when electrical or electronic equipment (EEE) is discarded, or returned within warranty, by consumers, and also from manufacturing and repair rejects.

• Discarded laptops, desktops, cellphones and their batteries, air conditioners and television sets, cables and wires, tubelights and CFLs which contain mercury, are some examples of e-waste.

• E waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. The Global E-Waste Monitor estimates that 44.7 million tonnes (mt) of e-waste was generated in 2016.

• India was the fourth-largest generator (2 mt) after China (7.2 mt), the US (6.3 mt) and Japan (2.1 mt) in 2016.

• As Indians spend more on electronic items and appliances with rising incomes, e-waste is expected to continue to grow rapidly. While technology obsolescence creates e-waste (for example, landline phones, 2G vs 4G), power supply voltage surges which damage electronics are a major factor contributing to India’s e-waste.

• An additional problem arises when developed countries export their e-waste for recycling and/or disposal (legally or illegally) to developing countries, including India.

About the recycling process

• A study by ASSOCHAM and NEC finds that a mere 5 per cent of India’s e-waste gets recycled, much less than the global recycling rate of only 20 per cent;

• 95 percent of India’s e-waste is managed by the unorganised sector (kabadiwalas, scrap dealers and dismantlers) using dangerous methods to recover metals from circuit-boards and wires.

• Since electrical wires are almost invariably encased in PVC, which contains 57 per cent chlorine, the act of burning produces deadly dioxins.

• The smoke from such burning is known to cause cancer, damage the nervous system, and also poses several other health hazards.

• The National Green Tribunal has advised a ban on single-use PVC and short-life PVC products but not on wires and cables.

• The workers themselves ignore safety measures needed for their work.

• Not all e-waste is hazardous to manage when dismantling or recycling is carried out by the informal sector.

• It is usually a minuscule proportion of the total but has disastrous consequences for the environment and public health and for their own health if not carried out with due precaution.

• Only the metal recovery process from a 40 gm circuit board in a discarded clothes washing machine weighing 100 kg poses a challenge.

• The major portion of the discarded machine goes into the usual recycling streams, such as aluminium, iron, plastic and glass.

• India enjoys a frugal hand-me-down culture with a long line of re-users from a younger sibling to a maid to her village.

• As a result, our e-waste takes a lot longer to reach end of life.

What can we do with our end of life products?

• Cities should organise quarterly collection drives or provide drop -off centres. Producers should set up collection centres for EEE.

• Ideally, we should all purchase new products turning in our old ones for a discount, so that dealers become aggregators for channelising e-items to authorised dismantlers.

• Meanwhile, we as users can reduce e-waste by buying long-life items, and supporting repair and refurbishment.

• Producer responsibility organisations like Reverse Logistics Group and Karo Sambhav are paid by EEE producers to source and pay for e-waste.

• They should be encouraged to network with kabadiwalas. California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act achieves this through an E-waste Recycling Fee on purchases of EEE.

• That helps reimburse numerous recycling centres offering free services to businesses and consumers.

Way forward

• Management of e-waste requires its dismantling, refurbishment or recycling and safe disposal The E Waste Management Rules 2016 address these issues.

• Extended producer responsibility is mandated to ensure effective plans for collection, setting up collection centres and buy back mechanisms or a deposit refund scheme.

• But the Rules need to be backed by enforcement of the regulatory framework, provision of the necessary infrastructure, and an enabling environment for compliance.

• There are close to 200 e-waste recyclers in India which are licensed by the CPCB, but most of them are also just dismantlers.

• Formal sector recyclers face stiff competition from informal operators who get away without following the regulations.

• Authorised recyclers incur large overhead costs for mandatory infrastructure for construction and equipment and the official and unofficial costs of compliance with multiple regulations.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Which of the following are the main contributors of the e-waste in the world?

I. Refrigerators/freezers, washing machines, dishwashers

II. Small household appliances (toasters, coffee makers, irons, hairdryers)

III. Personal computers, telephones, mobile phones, laptops, printers, scanners, photocopiers

IV. Gas cylinder, chimneys & home appliances

A.Only I, II, III

B.Only I & II

C.Only I, III, IV

D.All of the above

Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) What is an e-waste? What are the steps needed to control rapidly growing e-waste crisis?

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