E-waste Recycling Cutting the Gordian Knot
TerraGreen|January 2022
In this article, Dhruv Verma discusses some facets of e-waste recycling that will leave you to ponder on this pertinent environmental issue.
Dhruv Verma
Kumar (name changed) sits on his haunches weighing a bundle of old newspapers. His day alternates between manning his 4 feet by 3 feet asbestos roofed waste recycling shop and knocking door to door in the neighborhood to collect all kinds of waste. The pandemic has been brutal for Kumar, largely due to the drop in newspaper waste as newspaper circulation itself has dropped dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kumar has started collecting another category of waste produce–end-of-life electrical and electronic appliances, better known as ‘e-waste’.

According to the Global E-Waste Monitor Report India generated 3.2 million tonnes (MT) of e-waste in 2019, the third largest in the world. India has enacted laws on E-Waste collection and processing as far back as 2012, borrowing the principal of “polluter pays” from European laws, also known as EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility. Simply put, manufacturers are liable for ensuring collection and safe disposal, usually through specialized outsourced agencies called PROs (Producer Responsibility Organization). In 2018, specific targets for e-waste treatment were set, an increasing percentage of production to be treated every year.

In theory, all this sounds logical and should work. If we can control e-waste processing through the fountainhead— at the production—then all downstream activities can be controlled as well.

The numbers tell us that in practice it is not working. As per official estimates, India processed just 10 per cent of the e-waste generated in 2018–19 and only 3.5 per cent of the e-waste generated in 2017–18. A key reason is that a bulk of the e-waste is being processed in the informal sector with primitive methods.

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