Electronic waste management and policy in India
Electronic waste, commonly referred to as e-waste, is produced when electronic and electrical equipment no longer performs its original function or has reached the end of its useful life. Computers, servers, mainframes, monitors, CDs, printers, scanners, copiers, calculators, fax machines, batteries, cell phones, transceivers, televisions, iPods, medical equipment, washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners are all examples of ‘e- waste (when they are unfit for use). These electronic equipment are quickly replaced by newer equipment due to rapid technological developments and the manufacture of newer electronic equipment. As a result, the amount of electronic waste produced has increased exponentially. People are likely to switch to newer models, and the life of the product has also decreased.
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Metals, plastics, cathode ray tubes (CRT), printed circuit boards, cables and other materials are commonly found in electronic waste. If electronic waste is scientifically treated, precious metals such as copper, silver, gold and platinum could be recovered. If electronic waste is dismantled and treated crudely using rudimentary techniques, toxic substances such as liquid crystals, lithium, mercury, nickel, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), selenium, arsenic, barium, brominated flame retardants, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper and lead are present.
Electronic waste is extremely dangerous to humans, animals and the environment. Even in trace amounts, heavy metals and highly toxic substances such as mercury, lead, beryllium and cadmium pose a danger to the environment.
According to a report published at the World Economic Forum 2018, India ranks 177th out of 180 countries and is among the bottom five countries in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index. This was linked to poor performance in environmental health policy and deaths from air pollution. Besides, India ranks fifth in the world among major e-waste producing countries, behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany, and recycles less than 2% of the total electronic waste produced each year.
Since 2018, India has generated over two million tonnes of e-waste per year, while importing massive amounts of e-waste from other countries around the world. The informal sector dominates the collection, transport, treatment and recycling of electronic waste. The industry is well connected but not controlled. Often all of the materials and value that could be salvaged are not salvaged. In addition to this, there are serious concerns about the leakage of toxins into the environment as well as the safety and health of workers.
Electronic waste initiatives and policies in India
Since 2015, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) collaborated with industry associations to launch an e-waste awareness program under Digital India to educate the public on the dangers of recycling e-waste by the unorganized sector and educate them on alternative methods of disposal of their electronic waste.
The program emphasizes the importance of respecting the environment e-waste recycling practices and adopted the best e-waste recycling practices available around the world so that this sector can create viable jobs as well as business opportunities for residents.
The 2023 e-waste roadmap is an initiative of the IFC “Indian Program on Electronic Waste”, and it is supported by the government of Japan and the “The World Bank Group Korea Green Growth Trust”. The objectives of the Program are as follows:
- Facilitate the establishment and scale-up of a responsible industry-led solution for e-waste management in India that will serve as a long-term cost-effective solution
- Make all stakeholders aware of the risks of not managing electronic waste responsibly;
- Create a toolkit to help key stakeholders in the sector; and
- Evaluate the growth, bankability and investment potential of the sector in order to mobilize investments.
Many developing countries, including India, are grappling with serious e-waste management issues. It quickly becomes a huge public health problem, and it’s getting worse and worse. To collect, process and dispose of e-waste separately, as well as divert it from landfills and open burns, it is necessary to combine the informal and formal sectors. In emerging and transition countries, competent authorities should establish procedures for the safe and long-term treatment and disposal of electronic waste.