The Significance of E-Waste Management In the backdrop of Current IT Boom
Action has to be taken before the problem of e-waste becomes an epidemic
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Today, as an emerging IT/ Digital Superpower, India is at the centre of several innovations, discoveries and fast paced developments. However, according to an ASSOCHAM-KPMG survey, with approximate 18 lakh metric tonnes of E-waste generated in 2016, amounting to about 12% the global production, India is also gaining negative popularity as the fifth largest E-Waste generator in the world!
Growth in the IT sector:
The IT, IT enabled services (ITeS) and electronics has been one of the fastest-growing industries in India, both in terms of production and exports. The Indian electronics products demand worldwide is expected to grow at a CAGR of 41% during 2017-20, and expected to reach US$ 400 billion by 2020. According to NASSCOM, exports in the IT-BPM sector is set to grow at 7-8% while domestic market is set to grow at 10-11% adding 130,000-150,000 jobs by FY2018. Additionally, India being the second largest mobile phone producer in the world after China, annual production of mobile phones in the country has increased from 3 million units in 2014 to 11 million units in 2017, according to data shared by Indian Cellular Association (ICA).
The above rise in manufacturing of electronics is supplemented with the massive "Digital India' push, where day to day services, from Banking, Travel, Retail, Healthcare, F&B etc., have all gone digital. Further, with widely spreading digital literacy and greater push for non- English language support for access to technology, the use of electronics and IT enabled services is becoming a household phenomenon, with presence beyond just the urban population.
The Backlash: E-Waste
With the sudden and sharp increase in the consumption of Electronics like Laptops, smartphones etc. the frequency of older models being discarded to replace newer versions is a fast catching trend, adding to E-Waste. E-Waste, comprising of waste electronics/ electrical goods, including Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Computers, Monitors, Servers, Printers, Television sets, Refrigerators, Air conditioners, Washing Machines, Computer Monitors etc., have been steadily building up to become a substantial problem. Further, the lethal environmental and health hazards associated with informal handling of E-Waste is a looming threat that needs to be addressed urgently. Further, being the fifth largest producer of E-waste in the world, India currently recycles less than 2% of the total E-waste it produces annually.
Unsustainable and unscientific handling of E-waste has resulted in huge health problems for people involved in the process. In India alone, two-third of the people handling E-waste recycling are suffering from respiratory ailments, tremors, cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders due to improper safeguards and unsafe ways of recycling. Apart from the dangerous dumping of waste products, there is also a wastage of crucial natural resources.
Effective recycling of E-waste could be a solution to control pollutants like Chromium, Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Beryllium and plastics to enter the ecosystem. Instead, these can be conserved and recycled through processes like "Urban Mining'.
Currently most E-waste in India is disposed of either through auction (usually a route adopted by and limited to various Government establishments) or sold to the scrap dealers, who in turn sell it to recyclers in the informal sector. In contrast to developed countries such as Switzerland, where consumers pay a recycling fee, in India it is the scrap dealers who pay consumers a positive price for their obsolete E-Waste. This acts as an incentive for consumers to dispose their E-Waste through informal waste collectors, leading to higher collection rates and several social and economic benefits to the poor strata of the country.
While the world has already taken adequate steps to effectively process and manage E-waste, India is now waking up to the significance. As per the E-waste (Management) Rules rolled out by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2016, the government introduced Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) which makes producers liable to collect 10 % cent to 70 % (over seven years) of the E-waste they produce. Also, the E-Waste Management Handling Rules 2011 & 2016 notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) makes it mandatory for all generators, commercial establishments to get their E-Waste recycled through authorized E-Waste Recyclers only.
However, the E-waste recycling sector in India is divided into the organized and the unorganized sector, with 95% of the E-waste being handled by the unorganized sector, which lacks the technology to process E-waste in a responsible manner and ends up polluting the environment. However, as the huge size of the population and rising electronics users in the country, managing an unorganized sector to achieve such high targets may not be feasible. The ASSOCHAM-KPMG study accordingly suggests that the government may look at collaborating with the industry to draw out formal/standard operating procedures and a phased approach towards the agenda of reducing E-wastes to the lowest.
With a strong focus on development and an intelligent lifestyle, it is vital for government, corporate and citizens to focus on the impact on environment and health to ensure a balanced ecosystem. Thus, just like the strong awareness and push on general cleanliness and waste management, it is vital for the community to wake up and take notice of the serious E-waste problems we have upon us. With proper guidelines, awareness, policy incentives and environmental and economic benefits, E-waste management can be easily adapted as one of the key business practices for Indian companies.