Related Topics

Right to Repair
2022 JUN   23
2020 JUL   7

E-Waste Management

2024 MAR 25

Mains   > Environment & Ecology   >   Pollution   >   E waste


GS 3 > Environment & Ecology   >   Pollution   >   E waste


  • According to the recently released 'Global E-Waste Monitor 2024' report by the International Telecommunication Union and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, in 2022, the world produced a staggering 62 billion kg of e-waste. Projections indicate this number will increase to 82 billion kg by 2030. This represents a significant rise from the 34 billion kg generated in 2010.


  • Formal Recycling Lagging: The increase in e-waste generation is nearly five times faster than the increase in formal recycling rates, demonstrating a critical gap in handling e-waste efficiently and sustainably.
  • Underlying Causes: Growth in e-waste attributed to technological advancements, increased consumption, fewer repair options, shorter product lifetimes, more electronics use, and insufficient management infrastructure.
  • Recycling and Collection: Only 13.8 billion kg of the 62 billion kg generated in 2022 was formally recycled, a slight increase from 8 billion kg in 2010.
  • E-waste Composition: Includes 31 billion kg of metals, 17 billion kg of plastics, and 14 billion kg of other materials. Releases 58,000 kg of mercury and 45 million kg of brominated flame retardant plastics annually.
  • Regional Disparities: Europe leads with a 42.8% recycling rate; Africa struggles with rates below 1%; Asia, generating half of the world’s e-waste, shows limited progress.
  • Per Capita Generation and Recycling: Europe (17.6 kg), Oceania (16.1 kg), and the Americas (14.1 kg) lead in e-waste generation per capita and recycling rates.
  • Policy Landscape: 81 countries have e-waste policies. Of these, 67 countries have legal provisions on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for e-waste, 46 have set collection rate targets, and 36 have recycling rate targets.


  • The term "e-waste" is an abbreviation of "electronic and electrical waste".
  • E-waste is any electrical or electronic equipment that has been discarded without the intent of re-use.
  • Composition of e-waste:
    • The composition of e-waste is very diverse and differs in products across different categories.
    • It contains more than 1000 different substances, which fall under ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ categories.
    • Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards (PCB), concrete and ceramics, rubber and other items.
    •  Iron and steel constitute about 50% of the E-waste followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents.
    • Non-ferrous metals consist of metals like copper (Cu), aluminum (Al) and precious metals, e.g. silver (Ag), gold (Au), platinum, palladium, etc.
    • The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium and hexavalent chromium and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities of e-waste classifies them as hazardous waste.


  • As per the information available with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the e-waste generated in India in the financial year 2021–22 was estimated at approximately 16.01 lakh metric tonnes, an increase from 7 lakh metric tonnes in 2017–18.


  • Air Pollution from E-Waste:
    • Toxic Releases: Dismantling, shredding, or melting e-waste releases dioxins and dust, causing air pollution.
    • Burning Practices: Burning low-value e-waste for metals like copper emits fine particles, raising health risks.
    • Chemical Exposure: Extracting gold and silver with acids releases harmful fumes, especially in poorly regulated areas.
In Guiyu, China, an informal e-waste recycling center focused on extracting metals has resulted in extremely high lead levels in the air. This pollution spreads, affecting water and soil, leading to significant neurological damage among humans and wildlife in the region.
  • Soil Contamination from E-Waste:
    • Leaching of Heavy Metals: Incorrect disposal of e-waste in landfills or illegal dumping grounds allows heavy metals and flame retardants to permeate the soil, risking groundwater contamination and affecting nearby crops.
    • Impact on Agriculture: Contaminated soil leads to crops absorbing toxins, which can trigger various illnesses and diminish agricultural productivity.
    • Long-term Soil Degradation: Factors such as temperature, soil type, pH levels, and composition influence the extent of soil contamination. Pollutants can linger in the soil for extended periods, posing threats to microorganisms and plant life.
  • Water Pollution from E-Waste:
    • Groundwater Contamination: Heavy metals from e-waste, like mercury, lithium, lead, and barium, seep through the soil to groundwater, eventually reaching ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes, causing acidification and toxification of water bodies.
    • Ecological Harm: The contamination of water sources leads to the death of marine and freshwater organisms, disrupts biodiversity, and harms ecosystems, affecting communities even miles away from the source of pollution.
  • Human Health Effects from E-Waste:
    • Toxic Component Exposure: E-waste components such as mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium, and lithium pose significant health risks, including damage to thebrain, heart, liver, kidneys, and skeletal system.
    • Systemic Health Risks: Exposure to e-waste toxins adversely affects the nervous and reproductive systems, potentially leading to disease and birth defects.


  • Predominantly an informal sector activity:
    • E-waste recycles in India is predominantly an informal sector activity.
    • More than 66 per cent of the e-waste generated in India is handled by the informal sector.
    • The heavy reliance on an informal sector for e-waste recycling gives rise to the following key challenges,
  • First, the attempt to impose financial penalties on non-compliance or violation of e-waste handling and processing rules is ineffective.
  • Second, broader public knowledge regarding market prices and health safety costs of e-waste recycling is less because less paid workers who do this work do not have proper training.
  • Third, despite the massive increase in the volume of e-waste generated every year, there is very little investment by large-scale industrial infrastructure for recovery and recycling.
  • Social impact:
  • India’s e-waste is recycled in the informal sector, dominantly by women and child labourers.
  • In India, about 4.5 lakh child laborers in the age group of 10-14 are observed to be engaged in various E-waste activities and that too without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops.
  • The poor management of hazardous e-waste is identified as one of the key reasons for increase in miscarriages, still births and poor infant health among the people working in this sector.
  • Lack of awareness:
  • The people handling the waste are largely illiterate and unaware on how to manage e-wastes. On the consumer side, people are unaware of how to handle e wastes and the rules that regulate the disposal of e wastes. They continue to sell their e-waste to the informal sector, which end up in unscientific handling and disposal.
  • Infrastructure deficit:
    • The number of recycling and collection facilities in India are dismal compared to the amount of e-waste being generated in India. Most of the facilities are heavily reliant on unskilled manual labour and uses crude extraction methods.
  • Ineffective enforcement:
    • There are several inadequacies in the regulatory mechanism. The current framework continues to ignore the informal sector. Also, there is no independent mechanism to verify the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The law mandates random inspections by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and state PCBs, but they are rarely carried out.


  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has introduced the E-Waste Management Rules, 2022, replacing the 2016 E-Waste Management Rules. These new rules came into effect on April 1, 2023, and include several crucial changes aimed at promoting environmentally sound e-waste management practices.
  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had initiated “Awareness Program on Environmental Hazards of Electronic Waste through Digital India Initiative” in 2015 to create awareness for hazards of the recycling methods being used by unorganized sector vis-à-vis best practices available for environment friendly recycling.
  • Hazardous and other wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules 2016:
    • It seeks to ensure management, transboundary movement, resource recovery and disposal of hazardous waste in an environmentally sustainable manner.
    • Under the rules, waste electrical and electronic assemblies scrap are prohibited for import.
  • Swachh Digital Bharat:
    • Seeks to raise awareness among the public regarding the recycling of e-wastes by unorganised sector and to educate them about alternative methods of disposing of their e-waste. The general public is encouraged to participate in the programme, by giving their e-waste to authorised recyclers only.
  • Greene:
    • The programme aims to create effective awareness in various levels of society to reduce the adverse impact on environment and health arising out of the polluting technologies used in recycling e-waste in the unorganized sector.


  • Planned Approach: India needs a regulated e-waste recovery regime to utilize precious minerals efficiently, create jobs, and generate wealth due to its scarcity of minerals.
  • Circular Economy: Implementing a circular electronics system to reuse resources continually enhances sustainability and industry cost-effectiveness.
  • Right to Repair Laws: Countries are recognizing the "right to repair" to reduce e-waste by requiring manufacturers to offer spare parts and repair manuals for electronics.
Right to Repair mandate that electronics manufacturer should provide spare parts and repair manuals for aging electronics. Advocates of ‘Right to repair ‘say this is going to help cut down on the growing e-waste problem.
  • Integration of Informal Sector: Incorporating informal sector workers into the e-waste management system through direct links with producers is vital for success.
  • Industry Status: Recognizing recycling as an industry is essential for strategic waste management, encouraging its viability and sustainability.
  • Invest in Technology: The government should promote investments in advanced technology and infrastructure through entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships (PPPs), creating jobs.
  • Effective Enforcement: Enforcing responsibility on brands for end-of-life product waste management is crucial, alongside enhancing the competency of regulatory agencies like the CPCB.
  • Awareness Generation: Boosting information campaigns and capacity building is critical to fostering environment-friendly e-waste management.


Q. Discuss the challenges associated with e-waste management in India. Also suggest measures for sustainable e-waste management in the country. (15 marks, 250 words)