E-Waste in India

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : September 3rd, 2021

E-waste is a global problem and the issue is very important for UPSC IAS Mains GS Paper - III (Science and Technology, Environment).

Electronics are changing the lives of people everywhere. They are touching every part of our lives. We cannot imagine our life today without electronic devices ranging from Mobiles phones to Computers and Laptops, Lamps to Refrigerators, Washing machines to Air conditioners, Ovens to TV sets etc. However, the way we produce, consume and dispose of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is turning unsustainable due to slow implementation of appropriate collection, recycling and disposal methods. This created a lot of challenges to the environment, human health and ultimately the achievement of the SDGs.

Recently the third edition of the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 was launched in July 2020 by the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership. It provides a comprehensive insight to address the global e-waste challenge. The new report has also predicted global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, nearly twice the 2014 figure, driven by higher electric and electronic consumption rates, shorter lifecycles and limited warranty and repair options

According to International Telecommunication Union, “Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste without the intent of re-use.” E-waste is also referred to as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), electronic waste or e-scrap in different counties and under different circumstances in the world.

Six categories

How hazardous is the problem?

According to Global E-waste Monitor 2020 Report, in 2019, the world generated 53.6 Mt of e-waste, an average of 7.3 kg per capita, with a 21% increase in just 5 years. It is estimated to increase by 38% between 2020 and 2030. According to the report:

  • Asia generated the highest quantity followed by the Americas and Europe.
  • Europe ranked first in terms of E-waste generation per capita with 16.2 kg per capita.
  • India is the third-largest e-waste generator in the world after China and the USA. As per a study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), about 2 million tonnes of e-waste is generated every year in India. 


Impact of E-waste

Harmful to human health: E-waste is hazardous to human health as it contains the presence of toxic substances such as liquid crystal, mercury, nickel, lithium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), selenium, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chrome, cobalt, copper, lead and brominated flame retardants. Often, these hazards arise due to the improper recycling and disposal processes used. 

E-waste also contains carcinogens such as carbon black, phosphor and various heavy metals. This toxic mix can cause serious, even fatal, health risks for those who have to handle the waste.

Harmful to Environment: These toxic materials are once released into water bodies, soil, and air pose risk to biodiversity, the health of ecosystems and thereby sustainability of life.


Challenges in implementation

Dumping in Developing countries: Developing countries have become a dumping yard for e-waste generated by the developed countries. Toxics Link, a Delhi-based environment activist group, condemned that the unethical export of e-waste by industrialised nations to developing countries is shifting the onus of development to communities ill-equipped to deal with such waste.

Low recycling capacity: Most of the e-waste generated contain some form of recyclable material, including plastic, glass, and metals, but, due to improper disposal methods and techniques these materials cannot be recovered for other purposes. Only 17.4% of the total e-waste generated globally was collected and recycled.


Measures taken Globally and Nationally

1. At the Global level

Basel Convention:

  • Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes
  • It came into force in 1992.
  • The Convention aims to protect human health and safeguard the environment against the adverse effects caused by the generation, transboundary movements and management of hazardous wastes and other wastes.
  • It regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes (including E-waste). It obligates the member countries to:
    • Minimise generation of hazardous waste;
    • Ensure adequate disposal facilities are available;
    • Control and reduce international movements of hazardous waste;
    • Ensure environmentally sound management of wastes; and
    • Prevent and punish illegal traffic of hazardous waste.
  • Although not legally-binding, technical guidelines provide for the foundation upon which countries can operate at a standard that is not less environmentally sound than that required by the Basel Convention.

2. At the National level

E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011,

  • It is based on Extended Producer Responsibility principle. It requires accountability on producers over the entire life-cycle of their products. Now producers take back products at the end of life and also by adopting EPR, producers will play their part in conserving resources through changes in product design and process technology- more efficient and sustainable products.
  • But, it did not:
    • Set collection targets
    • Include manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher and Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO)
    • Components, consumables, spares and parts of EEE and CFL bulbs in the list, which included only Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE).

Hence, the E-waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2016 have been notified on March 23, 2016, to expand the scope in place of earlier E-waste Rules, 2011. Key provisions include:

  • It expanded the responsibility to manufacturer, dealer, refurbisher and Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) also.
  • The Rules also brings the producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), along with targets.
  • Collection is exclusively the Producer’s responsibility, which can set up a collection centre or point or even can arrange buy-back mechanism for such collection. And no separate authorization for such collection will be required from CPCB/SPCBs, which will be indicated in the EPR Plan of Producers.
  • To ensure efficient channelization of e-waste, an option is given for setting up of PRO, e-waste exchange, e-retailer, Deposit Refund Scheme as an additional channel for implementation of EPR by Producers.

E-Waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018: The E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 was amended in 2018. The amendment seeks to channelize the e-waste generated in the country towards authorized dismantlers and recyclers so as to further formalize the e-waste recycling sector.


Way Forward

  • Effective implementation of the Rules with all stakeholder participation will promise better recycling and disposal of e-waste.
  • Monitoring:
    • Evidence-based policymaking is need of the hour and can only be achieved with better e-waste data- to monitor the quantities and flows of e-waste and accordingly check their progression.
    • Strict monitoring of import of e-waste is warranted to safeguard our people and environment.
  • Design for Recycling:
    • According to Toxic Links, the device must be designed to ensure clear, safe, and efficient mechanisms for recovering its raw materials.
    • Stringent laws on the design of products are critical for reducing e-waste. Properly labelling of equipment components shall be mandatory so as to identify plastic and metal types.
    • Warnings must be placed for any possible hazard in dismantling or recycling and also the product shall be made for rapid and easy dismantling or reduction to a usable form.
  • Consumer Awareness:
    • Manufacturers of e-waste must be responsible for educating consumers and the general public regarding the potential threat to public health and the environment posed by their products and also for raising awareness for the proper waste management protocols.

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