E-Waste Management

OCT 27

Mains   > Environment & Ecology   >   Pollution   >   E waste

IN NEWS:

  • Each year, International E-Waste Day is held on October 14, an opportunity to reflect on the impacts of e-waste and the necessary actions to enhance circularity for e-products.

MORE ON NEWS:

  • This day was initiated by WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment ) Forum (a Brussels-based association representing 43 producer responsibility organizations worldwide) in 2018.
  • This year’s (2022) slogan is ‘Recycle it all, no matter how small!’.
  • According to Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum roughly 5.3 billion mobile/smartphones will drop out of use in 2022.

WHAT IS E-WASTE?

  • 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.

TYPES:

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STATISTICS:

  • Data shared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) with the NGT shows India generated more than 10 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2019-20, an increase from 7 lakh tonnes in 2017-18.
  • Against this, the e-waste dismantling capacity has not been increased from 7.82 lakh tonnes since 2017-18.
  • As per the environment ministry, 95 per cent of e-waste in India is recycled by the informal sector and scrap dealers unscientifically dispose it by burning or dissolving it in acids.

HARMFUL EFFECTS OF E-WASTE:

  • Effects on Air:
    • Contamination in the air occurs when e-waste is informally disposed by dismantling, shredding or melting the materials, releasing dust particles or toxins, such as dioxins, into the environment that cause air pollution and damage respiratory health.
    • E-waste of little value is often burned, but burning also serves a way to get valuable metal from electronics, like copper. Chronic diseases and cancers are at a higher risk to occur when burning e-waste because it also releases fine particles, which can travel thousands of miles, creating numerous negative health risks to humans and animals.
    • Higher value materials, such as gold and silver, are often removed from highly integrated electronics by using acids, desoldering, and other chemicals, which also release fumes in areas where recycling is not regulated properly.
    • The negative effects on air from informal e-waste recycling are most dangerous for those who handle this waste, but the pollution can extend thousands of miles away from recycling sites
    • Over time, air pollution can hurt water quality, soil and plant species, creating irreversible damage in ecosystems.
  • For example, an informal recycling hub in Guiyu, China that was formed by parties interesting in extracting valuable metals from e-waste, and subsequently has caused the region to have extremely high lead levels in the air, which are inhaled and then ingested when returned to water and soil. This can cause disproportionate neurological damage to larger animals, wildlife and humans in the area.

 

  • Effects on Soil:
    • When improper disposal of e-waste in regular landfills or in places where it is dumped illegally, both heavy metals and flame retardants can seep directly from the e-waste into the soil, causing contamination of underlying groundwater or contamination of crops that may be planted nearby or in the area in the future.
    • When the soil is contaminated by heavy metals, the crops become vulnerable to absorbing these toxins, which can cause many illnesses and doesn’t allow the farmland to be as productive as possible.
    • The amount of soil contaminated depends on a range of factors including temperature, soil type, pH levels and soil composition. T
    • These pollutants can remain in the soil for a long period of time and can be harmful to microorganisms in the soil and plants.
  • Effects on Water:
    • After soil contamination, heavy metals from e-waste, such as mercury, lithium, lead and barium, then leak through the earth even further to reach groundwater.
    • When these heavy metals reach groundwater, they eventually make their way into ponds, streams, rivers and lakes. Through these pathways, acidification and toxification are created in the water, which is unsafe for animals, plants and communities even if they are miles away from a recycling site.
    • Acidification can kill marine and freshwater organisms, disturb biodiversity and harm ecosystems.
  • Effects on Humans:
    • Electronic waste contains toxic components that are dangerous to human health, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium and lithium.
    • The negative health effects of these toxins on humans include brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage.
    • It can also considerably affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body, leading to disease and birth defects.
    • To avoid these toxic effects of e-waste, it is crucial to properly e-cycle, so that items can be recycled, refurbished, resold, or reused.

CHALLENGES TO E-WASTE MANAGEMENT IN INDIA:

  • Predominantly an informal sector activity:
    • E-waste recycles in India is predominantly an informal sector activity.
    • More than 95 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.

GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES:

  • India has a formal set of rules for electronic waste management, first announced these rules in 2016 (E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016) and amended it in 2018.
    • The latest rules, which have been put up for public feedback, are expected to come into effect soon.

KEY PROVISIONS OF THE DRAFT E-WASTE MANAGEMENT RULES NOTIFICATION:

  • Target:
    • Consumer goods companies and makers of electronics goods have to ensure at least 60% of their electronic waste is collected and recycled by 2023 with targets to increase them to 70% and 80% in 2024 and 2025 respectively.
  • Electronic goods covered under the rules:
    • A wide range of electronic goods, including laptops, landline and mobile phones, cameras, recorders, music systems, microwaves, refrigerators and medical equipment have been specified in the notification.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) certificates:
    • The rules bring into effect a system of trading in certificates, akin to carbon credits, that will allow companies to temporarily shore up shortfalls.
    • The rules also lay out a system of companies securing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) certificates.
    • These certificates certify the quantity of e-waste collected and recycled in a particular year by a company and an organisation may sell surplus quantities to another company to help it meet its obligations.
      • Companies will have to register on an online portal and specify their annual production and e-waste collection targets.
      • The chief entity that will coordinate the trade of EPR certificates and monitor if companies are meeting their targets is the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  • Circular economy:
    • The earlier rules stressed on collection targets.
    • Now the draft is emphasising on the EPR, recycling and trading.
    • This follows from the government’s objective to promote a circular economy.
  • Environmental compensation:
    • Companies that don’t meet their annual targets will have to pay a fine or an ‘environmental compensation’ but the draft doesn’t specify the quantum of these fines.
  • E-waste exchange facilities:
    • The EPR also requires producers to set up e-waste exchange facilities to facilitate collection and recycling, and assign specific responsibility to bulk consumers of electronic products for safe disposal.
  • Responsibility entrusted with the state governments:
    • The State governments have been entrusted with the responsibility of earmarking industrial space for e-waste dismantling and recycling facilities, undertaking industrial skill development and establishing measures for protecting the health and safety of workers engaged in the dismantling and recycling facilities for e-waste.

 

  • 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.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Planned approach:
    • Structured management of electronic waste (e-waste) in India is nascent. Since India is highly deficient in precious mineral, there is need for a well-designed, robust and regulated e-waste recovery regime which would generate jobs as well as wealth.
  • Circular economy:
    • A circular electronics system - one in which resources are not extracted, used and wasted, but re-used in countless ways- creates a sustainable system and improves cost effectiveness of the industry.
  • Right to repair laws:
    • Many countries have taken initiatives, adopted policies and even tried to enact legislation that recognize the “right to repair” to reduce electronic waste.
    • 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:
    •  Active participation of informal sector into overall system is crucial for the success of any e-waste management initiative. One way of attaining this is by developing a direct linkage between informal workers and the producer companies.
  • Industry status:
    • In view of the strategic nature of this waste on account of inherent material availability, there is a strong need for recognising recycling as an industry and creating conditions for it to become viable and sustainable.
  • Invest in technology:
    • Government should encourage investment in technology that are cutting edge at the same time creates livelihood opportunity for the people. This can be achieved by encouraging establishment of proper collection and logistics infrastructure through entrepreneurship and PPPs.
  • Effective enforcement:
    • Though the rules mandate it, majority of brands operating in India do not have a tangible responsibility to handle waste that is generated by their goods at end of life stage. To avoid this, the competence of agencies such as the CPCB and state pollution control boards must be raised.
  • Awareness generation:
    • Increasing information campaigns, capacity building, and awareness is critical to promote environment friendly e-waste management programmes.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. Discuss the challenges associated with e-waste management in India. Also examine how the provisions in Draft E-Waste Management Rules provide a framework for sustainable e-waste management.

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