Onus on manufacturers, retailers to ‘scientifically’ recycle e-waste

He Environment Ministry has tightened rules by putting the onus on manufacturers, dealers, retailers and refurbishers of electronic goods to ensure that electronic or e-waste goods are collected and “scientifically” recycled.

The new norms include fines, a greater involvement of states in policing and collection as well as bringing exhausted compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and other mercury-containing lamps in to the purview of electronic waste.

A worker sorting e-waste at a newly inaugrated collection center at Vile parle, Mumbai. Photo: Vijay Bate

“The rules are stricter and better than what we now have and our main aim is to ensure that those involved in collecting e-waste do it more safely and scientifically,” Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, told reporters.

The actual date of the rules and quantum of fines would be announced later this year after discussions with states, the minister said.

With nearly 1.7 million tonnes of e-waste reportedly produced in India in 2014 and increasing annually at between four and five per cent, a variety of experts have warned of its dangers to the environment as well as health.

This is because defunct laptops, phone and other electronic goods are usually broken down by hand for precious metals and hacked down manually or crudely burnt.

The residue is frequently thrown in rivers, drains and/or disposed in solid waste dumps that over time can contribute to degraded land and water quality as well neurological and skin diseases, genetic defects and cancer in the workers who deal with them, the environment ministry added.

The rules governing electronic, or e-waste, have been in place since 2011. The new rules say that producers will have to ensure 30 per cent e-waste collection, based on their projected sales, by 2018 and 70 per cent by 2023.

They can do this through a variety of ways such as a deposit refund scheme, an e-waste exchange and they also have to pay for publicity and awareness programmes.

Later this year, when the rules come into effect, state will have to set up e-waste dismantling and recycling units in industrial park as well as register the workers involved with the e-waste business and finally, take up industrial skill development activities and ensure health and safety of workers.

“Though states are involved, equipment manufacturers will only need to take a single-point clearance from the Central Pollution Control Board to get their collection centres approved,” said Javadekar.

Independent experts said this was a significant move. “It’s a paradigm shift in the way India views e-waste though it’s extremely ambitious and we’ll have to wait and see how effectively it’s implemented,” said Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxics Link, an environmental organisation that works in e-waste management.

Industry sources, however told The Hindu that some of the provisions were too stringent.

“We’ve been working with the government on this and have placed our concerns to the environment ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Radhika Kalia, spokesperson for the Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturer’s Association.