[Burning Issue] E-waste problem in India

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According to ASSOCHAM-NEC joint study on “World Environment Day”, India is among the top five e-waste generating countries in the world besides China, the US, Japan and Germany

E-waste –Statistics

  1. The global volume of e-waste is expected to reach 52.2 million tonnes (MT) or 6.8 kg per inhabitant by 2021 from 44.7 MT in 2016 at a compound annual growth rate of 20%, according to the study
  2. Among states, Maharashtra contributes the largest e-waste of 20% but recycles only about 47,810 tonnes per annum (TPA)
  3. Of the total e-waste produced in 2016, only 20% (8.9 MT) is documented to be collected properly and recycled, while there is no record of the remaining, e-waste, the study said

What is E-Waste?

Electronic waste, abbreviated as ‘e-waste’ is a term used to describe old, end-of-life electronic appliances such as computers, laptops, TV’s, radios, refrigerators etc., which have been discarded by users. E-waste comprises of numerous valuable but harmful substances that can cause an adverse effect on human health

What are the harmful effects?

  1. They contain several hazardous substances, such as mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals.
  2. They emit harmful radiation, degrade the soil, and releases toxins to pollute air and groundwater.
  3. Prolonged exposure to these pollutants can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and brain, and can cause respiratory disorders, lung cancer, skin ailments and other health problems.
  4. 2/3rd of the workers in the unorganised e-waste recycling sector suffer from breathing in difficulties, coughing, irritation etc.

E-waste disposal policy in India

  1. The country’s e-waste disposal policy is actually robust.
  2. The e-waste management rules, laid down by the environment ministry, even revolve around the judicious concept of “extended producer responsibility” (EPR).
  3. Manufacturers are mandated to take back 30% of the discarded electronic equipment for appropriate disposal in the first two years of the enforcement of these rules.
  4. This level is to be raised to 70% in the next five years.

Issues related to E-waste in India

  1. India stands fifth in e-waste generation in the world producing around 1.7 lakh metric tons per annum.
  2. About 4.5 lakh child labourers observed to be engaged in various E-waste activities without adequate protection and safeguards.
  3. A huge gap between present recycling and collection facilities and quantum of E-waste that is being generated.
  4. E-waste bearing toxic materials contaminates soil and groundwater, as well as its exposure, causes health issues to the recycler.
  5. No clear guidelines for the unorganized sector to handle E-waste. Also, no incentives provided to lure people engaged to adopt formal path for handling E-waste.
  6. 80 % of E-waste in developed countries meant for recycling is sent to developing countries such as India, China, Ghana and Nigeria.
  7. Lack of coordination between various authorities responsible for E-waste management and disposal including the non-involvement of municipalities.
  8. There is no large-scale organized E-waste recycling facility in India and the entire recycling exists in the unorganized sector.
  9. Management practices are often poorly designed and have a lot of health and environmental repercussions
  10. The lack of public awareness regarding the disposal of electronic goods and inadequacy of policies to handle the issues related to E-waste enhance the problem in India.
  11. People discard E-waste with regular municipal solid waste which is an extremely dicey practice.
  12. End of life computers often contains sensitive personal information and bank account details which, if not deleted leave opportunity for fraud.
  13. The decline in cost of consumer electronics, rise in middle-class incomes, and the increase in frequency at which devices are discarded.

What needs to be done?

  1. There exists an urgent need for a detailed assessment of the current and future scenario including quantification, characteristics, existing disposal practices, environmental impacts etc.
  2. Institutional infrastructures, including e-waste collection, transportation, treatment, storage, recovery and disposal, need to be established, at national and/or regional levels for the environmentally sound management of e-waste.
  3. Establishment of e-waste collection, exchange and recycling centres should be encouraged in partnership with private entrepreneurs and manufacturers.
  4. Model facilities employing environmentally sound technologies and methods for recycling and recovery are to be established.
  5. Policy level interventions should include the development of e-waste regulation, control of import and export of e-wastes and facilitation in development of infrastructure.
  6. An effective take-back program providing incentives for producers to design products that are less wasteful, contain fewer toxic components and are easier to disassemble, reuse, and recycle may help in reducing the wastes.
  7. End-of-life management should be made a priority in the design of new electronic products.
  8. A circular economy model needs to be  built on the idea of,
  •    Designing out waste and pollution
  •    Keeping products and materials in use
  •    Regenerating natural systems

Need changes in E-waste policy and regulation

  1. The Policy shall address all issues ranging from production and trade to final disposal, including technology transfers for the recycling of electronic waste.
  2. Clear regulatory instruments, adequate to control both legal and illegal exports and imports of e-wastes and ensuring their environmentally sound management should be in place.
  3. There is also a need to address the loopholes in the prevailing legal framework to ensure that e-waste from developed countries are not reaching the country for disposal.
  4. The Port and the Customs authorities need to monitor these aspects.
  5. The regulations should prohibit the disposal of e-waste in municipal landfills and encourage owners and generators of e-wastes to properly recycle the wastes.
  6. Manufacturers of products must be made financially, physically and legally responsible for their products

Some Initiatives taken

  1. E-waste Awareness programme under Digital India initiatives
  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, MeitY, has initiated this to along with industry associations from 2015, to create awareness among the public about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganised sector, and to educate them about alternate methods of disposing of their e-waste
  1. E-Waste Mass Awareness Campaign through Cinema has also been initiated for awareness amongst the youth

Lessons to learn from other countries/institutions  

  1. European Environment Agency aims to establish a recycling rate of at least 50% across the 31 countries.
  2. Sweden recently announced tax breaks for repair related activities.
  3. Hong Kong to start ‘producer pays’ scheme for 70,000 tons generated in city annually
  4. Apple operates a number of free Take back and recycling programs.
  5. Norway has an e-waste take-back system in place for more than a decade now


  1. In India, the amount of E-waste generated is rising rapidly. With the increasing dependence
    on electronic and electrical equipment, the rise of E-waste generation is well expected in the
  2. The government schemes offer little relief unless they are implemented and they translate into profitable business there can be no real change.

Practice questions

  1. What is E-waste? Examine the harmful effects of E-wastes on environment and human health.
  2. Discuss various issues regarding E-wastes in India and give suggestions to solve the same.

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