By 2050, India will likely stare at a pile of a new category of electronic waste, namely solar e-waste, says a study.
Currently, India’s e-waste rules have no laws mandating solar cell manufacturers to recycle or dispose waste from this sector.
Solar waste in India
India is among the leading markets for solar cells in the world, buoyed by the government’s commitment to install 100 GW of solar power by 2022.
So far, India has installed solar cells for about 28 GW and this is largely from imported solar PV cells.
India’s PV (photovoltaic) waste volume is estimated to grow to 200,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 1.8 million tonnes by 2050 said the study by Bridge To India (BTI), an energy consultancy firm.
What are these modules consisting of?
Solar cell modules are made by processing sand to make silicon, casting silicon ingots, using wafers to create cells and then assembling them to make modules.
India’s domestic manufacturers are largely involved in assembling cells and modules.
These modules are 80% glass and aluminium, and non-hazardous. Other materials used, including polymers, metals, metallic compounds and alloys, and are classified as potentially hazardous.
What worries India?
While the solar sector continues to grow robustly, there is no clarity on solar waste management in India.
India is poorly positioned to handle PV waste as it doesn’t yet have policy guidelines on the same.
A lack of a policy framework is coupled with the fact that even basic recycling facilities for laminated glass and e-waste are unavailable.
Despite the e-waste regulation being in place for over seven years, only less than 4% of estimated e-waste is recycled in the organised sector as per the latest estimates from the Central Pollution Control Board.
Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: E-Waste Management Rules 2016
Mains level: Problem of e-waste and ways to tackle it
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
Reasons for rising e-waste
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
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
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
An additional problem arises when developed countries export their e-waste for recycling and/or disposal (legally or illegally) to developing countries, including India
Poor recycling & associated health hazards
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
Measures that can be taken
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 the collection, setting up collection centres and buyback 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
Wire stripping units can be set up at the points of aggregation and burning, funded by wire and cable manufacturers
Similarly, producers can offer attractive buyback prices for circuit boards and channelise their recycling to the formal sector
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
A rapidly growing e-waste crisis needs rapid official decision making and time-bound responses
Mains Paper 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
From UPSC perspectives, following things are important:
Prelims level: Highlights of the report, E-Waste
Mains level: Hazards of high e-waste generation and their management.
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, according to a report
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
Among states, Maharashtra contributes the largest e-waste of 19.8% but recycles only about 47,810 tonnes per annum (TPA)
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
E-waste typically includes discarded computer monitors, motherboards, Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT), Printed Circuit Board (PCB), mobile phones and chargers, compact discs, headphones, white goods such as Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD)/ Plasma televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators etc.
Arsenic, Barium, Brominated flame- Casing, Cadmium, Chrome , Cobalt, Copper, Lead, Lithium, Mercury, Nickel Alloys, Selenium, Zinc, Steel, Brass alloys etc are some of the pollutants or toxins in the e-waste that can harm human, animal and plant life
High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of nervous systems, blood systems, kidneys and brain development, respiratory disorders, skin disorders, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage
Over 95% of e-waste generated is managed by the unorganised sector and scrap dealers in this market, dismantle the disposed products instead of recycling it
About 4-5 lakhs child labours between the age group of 10-15 are observed to be engaged in various e-waste (electronic waste) activities, without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops
Despite the Indian government stringent law to regulate e-waste trade, destitute children still face hazards picking apart old computers, TV etc.
Health: About 2/3 of e-waste workers in India suffering from respiratory ailments like breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing, choking, tremors problem
Need: To bring out effective legislation to prevent entry of child labour into its collection, segregation and distribution
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a term for electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, and have essentially reached the end of their useful life
Because technology advances at such a high rate, many electronic devices become “trash” after a few short years of use
In fact, whole categories of old electronic items contribute to e-waste such as VCRs being replaced by DVD players, and DVD players being replaced by blu-ray players.
E-waste is created from anything electronic: computers, TVs, monitors, cell phones, PDAs, VCRs, CD players, fax machines, printers, etc.
Harmful effects of Unscientific Disposal of E-wastes
Electronic waste affects nearly every system in the human body because they contain a plethora of toxic components including Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Polybrominated Flame Retardants, Barium and Lithium.
Even the plastic casings of electronics products contain Polyvinyl Chloride. The health effects of these toxins on humans include birth defects, brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. They can also significantly affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body.
Toxic chemicals from e-waste enter the “soil-crop-food pathway,” one of the most significant routes for heavy metals’ exposure to humans. These chemicals are not biodegradable—they persist in the environment for long periods of time, increasing exposure risk.
Problems facing the E-waste management system in India?
India is the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the World
India generates about eight lakh tonnes of e-waste annually, while 151 registered recycling facilities can handle only half of that quantum.
There are no systematic studies on India’s waste generation, a problem that is probably much bigger than commonly believed.
Producers and consumers of electronic goods have a responsibility under the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011 to ensure proper disposal, but progress has been slow for various reasons.
In spite of its growing environmental footprint, sound management of electronic waste has received low priority.
Urban solid waste management policy has focussed on cleaning streets and transferring garbage to landfills, ignoring the legal obligation to segregate and recycle. Hazardous materials, including heavy metals, are dumped in garbage yards, polluting soil and water.
Key features of the New E-waste Management rules
The new rules will replace previous ‘E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011’ which wasn’t enough to manage this massive problem of e-waste which has the potential to permanently harm our environment.
Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and other mercury containing lamp now included in the new rules, making safe disposal of consumer products containing these elements mandatory.
For the first time the onus of disposing toxic e-waste is now on the manufacturers, dealers and refurbishers. Manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher and producer responsibility organisation (PRO) have been introduced as additional stakeholders. The 2011 rules limited the responsibility to the brand owners of the electronic products, consumers, dismantlers and recyclers.
Every producer of electronic products now has to apply for extended producer responsibility (EPR), within the period of 90 days from the date the rules are ratified. With this, the producers have to make sure that collection points are set up where safe disposal of e-waste containing mercury can take place by the their consumers. From that point, making sure the e-waste is treated and disposed without harming the environment.
Those who fail to get EPR authorisation would not be able to put their products in the market.
The particular provision has also given more teeth to the central pollution control board (CPCB), since EPR authorisation will be certified by the authority, after evaluating the plan submitted by the producer to safely treat its e-waste. CPCB will also ensure proper implementation of the responsibilities with regular monitoring, as mentioned in the rules.
The producers under EPR can also charge extra amount from their customers at the time of sale of electronic products, as a deposit, which has to be refunded when the customer comes for disposing the product.
The rules have assigned a target of 30 percent waste generated under EPR for the first two years, progressively going up to 70 percent in the seventh year of the rule.
States, under the new guidelines, are also bound to undertake skill development activities for the workers, involved in e-waste management process.
Micro enterprises are continued to be exempted from the rules.
Significance of the new Rules
Provides several options to manufacturers — such as collection of a refundable deposit and paying for the return of goods — to meet the requirements of law;
Classifies mercury-laden light bulbs as e-waste, which will keep them out of municipal landfills;
Bulk consumers have to file annual returns, another welcome move;
The collection targets, that will touch 70 per cent in seven years, are realistic.
Challenges in the Implementation of the Rules?
The rules prescribe a waste collection target of 30 per cent waste generated under EPR for the first two years, progressively going up to 70 per cent in the seventh year of the rule.
However unorganised sector in India is estimated to handle around 95 per cent of the e-waste produced in the country and mobile sets account for chunk of e-waste generated in India.
Given the huge user base and vast reach of telecom in India, it is practically difficult and expensive for the handset manufacturers to achieve the targets prescribed in the rules from first year.
What should be done to implement the rules?
Launch an awareness campaign on e-waste
Incentivise such consumers to enter the formal recycling channel using the producer-operated buy-back scheme. They will come on board when the repurchase offer is better than that of the unorganised sector and a collection mechanism is available.
The Centre and the States have a responsibility to ensure that producers contribute to the e-waste management system, which has been designed with their inputs.