E-Waste Environmental Problems and the Current Management by the Government
Written by: Eshti Kapoor
We only think of waste in terms of garbage or solid/semi-solid waste when we think about waste. E-waste has become a global issue in the last ten years. Every year, India produces a considerable amount of electronic waste or e-waste. Unfortunately, e-waste does not receive much media attention, and as a result, public awareness of e-waste is limited. In India, e-waste recycling is a non-existent notion. As a result, electronic debris is frequently thrown into rivers or landfills without being properly recycled or treated.
This is dangerous on a number of levels, both for the environment and for human health. Mercury, lead, and brominated flame-retardants are just a handful of the dangerous compounds found in e-waste. These compounds cause damage to practically all major bodily systems after continuous exposure during dangerous e-waste recycling activities, including neural systems, blood systems, brain development, skin problems, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage.
The EPR technique was used to draft India’s e-waste legislation, which went into force in May 2012 and was updated in 2016. The country’s broader e-waste management system has had little impact after seven years of installation. On the plus side, the laws may have resulted in the construction of hundreds of new recycling and dismantling facilities that have been formally registered with regulatory agencies.
The 2016 changes, which set collection rate targets for electronic product manufacturers, appear to have increased companies’ commitment to complying with the requirements. The regulations may be credited with bringing the e-waste problem to the attention of numerous parties. Clearly, we are still a long way from establishing a policy framework that will allow the country to construct a viable e-waste management system.
E-Waste Management: Issues and Challenges for Policy
- Poor information on E-Waste generation rates
The 2012 laws recognised the lack of waste inventories as a restriction and tasked state pollution control boards with compiling state-by-state e-waste inventories (SPCBs). To our knowledge, no SPCB has released an inventory in the seven years since these regulations were enacted. Electronic product sales data, which is a key input in estimating e-waste quantities, is frequently available at the national level of aggregation, making state-level inventories difficult to create.
E-waste is imported from industrialised economies, frequently illegally, in addition to domestic generation. There is a lack of knowledge of the type and quantity of e-waste coming into the country. System design for efficient trash collection, transportation, and processing necessitates a reasonable understanding of waste generation, composition, and flows.
- Environmentally unsustainable informal sector practices
Despite the fact that the formal dismantling and recycling sector is expanding (in terms of the number of facilities), the amount of garbage processed in this sector is still quite low. According to anecdotal information, most of these formal facilities are running significantly below their allowed capabilities due to a lack of waste sources.
Household and institutional consumers are less willing to return their garbage to the official sector due to a lack of understanding about e-waste and the cost of returning end-of-life equipment to formal collection centres. Most crucially, in comparison to the official sector, which has yet to invest in effective collection and processing systems, the informal sector, through the ease of household pickup and monetary incentives (even if nominal), makes it more appealing for consumers to return their garbage.
Millions of individuals, many of whom are members of the most marginalised groups, rely on the informal e-waste sector for a living. Yet, the sector’s waste management techniques pose major environmental and health risks to both employees and the general public. This poses a possible moral issue for policymakers, and the long-term viability of any e-waste management system will be determined by our ability to overcome it.
- Frictions in markets for end-of-life products
The incapacity of private players, such as PROs, to build up e-waste management systems in the formal sector is hampered by the inability to reliably source e-waste amounts that produce economies of scale. Employing effective e-waste recycling methods, for example, may necessitate considerable upfront capital investments, which may not be justified for private firms due to the lack of assurance about e-waste supply. These markets are also hampered by a lack of information.
First, because e-waste recycling is such a new industry, a lack of knowledge about cost-effective recycling methods could be a market obstacle.
Second, market functioning is harmed by a lack of consumer knowledge, which is partly due to a lack of credible information on e-waste disposal. Beyond the current e-waste restrictions, public policy may need to play a bigger role in enabling improved e-waste markets.
- Inadequate regulatory design and enforcement
The required take back mechanism for manufacturers under the 2012 legislation, without associated collection targets, provided few incentives for producers to take responsibility and consequently resulted in no progress in e-waste management procedures. This was rectified in the 2016 revisions, which provided greater regulatory certainty by establishing progressive and progressively stringent collection targets. Nonetheless, the regulatory structure throws a substantial strain on regulatory agencies that are already understaffed.
Producers’ EPR plans are likely to be reviewed by regulators, who will then give authorization and enforce the plan’s conditions. Other entities, including collectors, dismantlers, recyclers, and bulk consumers, were also subjected to detailed rules and protocols, which the agencies were required to implement. Environmental regulatory enforcement in India has long been plagued by regulatory capture by groups that profit from bad enforcement, a lack of transparency, and a refusal to openly share information on compliance and regulatory proceedings, and e-waste policies are no different.
This offers a presents public policy dilemma for the country’s future e-waste management.
Government Management the Current Management by the Government
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoFE) is establishing a public-private partnership scheme to give financial help for the establishment of hazardous waste treatment, disposal, and storage facilities, as well as integrated recycling facilities for e-waste.
According to Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests, the ministry has notified the e-Waste (Management and Treatment) Rules, 2011, for the management and handling of e-waste, which went into effect on May 1, 2012.
‘E-waste’ is defined as trashed electrical and electronic equipment, in whole or in part, or rejects from their manufacture and maintenance processes that are intended to be discarded under these rules. These regulations include the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Producers are expected to collect e-waste created from the end of life of their products under these rules, either individually or collectively, by setting up collecting facilities or take-back systems. Only facilities that are authorised and registered with State Pollution Control Boards/Pollution Control Committees can recycle e-waste.
Producers are expected to collect e-waste created at the end of the life of their products under these rules, either individually or collectively, by setting up collecting facilities or take-back systems. Only facilities that are authorised and registered with State Pollution Control Boards/Pollution Control Committees can recycle e-waste.
Recycling e-waste is vital, but it must be done in a safe and consistent manner. The acceptable risk levels for hazardous, secondary e-waste chemicals in developing and industrialised countries should not be different. Given the physical distinctions and evident vulnerabilities of children, acceptance criteria should be set differently for children and adults.
About the Author
Student at Vivekananda School of Law and Legal Studies, VIPS.
She has participated in various academic events at VSLLS including successfully completing the Legal Drafting and Office Management Course at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies. She has a keen interest in writing and has written many articles for various legal blogs. She is an author of “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Research Paper published at Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR)
 E-Waste Management in India: Issues and Strategies, Rama Mohana R. Turga, Kalyan Bhaskar ( https://greene.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/2020120983.pdf ) (Last Visited: 16.08.21)
 E-Waste Management in India: Issues and Strategies, Rama Mohana R. Turga, Kalyan Bhaskar ( https://greene.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/2020120983.pdf ) (Last Visited: 12.08.21)
 Government Implements E-Waste Disposal Scheme, Bhanu Pande, ( https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/govt-implements-e-waste-disposal-scheme/articleshow/15585137.cms ) (Last Visited: 17.08.21)
Read the Previous Article