Tighten up e-waste management

Tighten up e-waste management

e-waste

The country needs to pay urgent attention to the management of its mounting volumes of e-waste. A study by industry lobby Assocham and Ernst & Young predicts that India’s e-waste will touch 5.2 million tonnes (MT) by 2020, up from 2 MT in 2016. E-waste generated is growing worldwide; over 44.7 MT of e-waste was generated globally in 2016 and expected to surge to 52.2 MT by 2021. India’s e-waste generation is growing at a faster rate than the global growth. Among the states, Maharashtra tops, accounting for 19.8% of the country’s e-waste, while Karnataka stands fifth. Growing e-waste is reflective of the digital transformation, social and economic growth and rapid technological advancement in the country. On the face of it, therefore, growing e-waste signifies technological progress.

However, there is an unsavoury side to this. Bengaluru can take pride in being India’s tech capital, but it is among the top e-waste generators, too. What is happening to this waste? Whether our own or dumped here by other countries, e-waste needs to be managed well, recycled and disposed of safely. And that is not happening in India. This is alarming as e-waste is hazardous and improper handling and long-term exposure to it can damage the nervous, endocrine and skeletal systems of human beings. This not only jeopardises the health of the waste handlers but also that of the rest of society, especially when e-waste is simply thrown in rubbish heaps, from where it could enter the food cycle.

The E-Waste Management Rules, 2016, puts producers under Extended Producer Responsibility. It makes producers liable to collect 30-70% of the e-waste they produce by 2018 and 2023, respectively. The rules require state governments to set up e-waste dismantling and recycling units in industrial parks and to provide e-waste workers with training in scientific handling of e-waste. However, state governments are not acting energetically on the matter. The country has only 214 authorised e-waste recyclers/dismantlers. Last year, only 0.036 MT of its 2 MT of e–waste was handled by authorised recyclers, with the bulk of its e-waste handled by the informal sector. It is well-known that the informal sector in the e-waste handling industry lacks the expertise to handle it safely and scientifically. It is time heavy costs were imposed on producers who wash their hands off the e-waste they contribute to in a big way. We need better monitoring mechanisms and public awareness, too.