Everything you need to know about electronic waste!

Like some of the other developing countries, e-waste management in India is dominated by the informal sector with estimates of more than 90 per cent of the waste being processed in this sector. 

E-waste contains several precious metals, rare earth metals, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic, wood and glass. Unscientific practices in the processing of e-waste are associated with several environmental and health externalities. 

In response to these concerns, many developed and developing countries have, over the past few decades, introduced regulations. 

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and E-Waste 

EPR, one of the more widely used approaches for regulating e-waste globally, places the responsibility of the end-of-life management of products on the manufacturers or the producers. Conceptually, EPR is designed to make the manufacturers internalize the external costs associated with the end-of-life disposal of their products. 

First, the EPR shifts part of the burden of waste management from the local governments to the upstream producers. Second, by forcing the internalization of the external costs of disposal, the EPR is expected to provide incentives for producers to take environmental considerations into their product design. For example, the producers would have an incentive to design their products using materials that are more recyclable or less toxic if EPR makes the producers internalize the social costs of disposal after the useful life.

Under the EPR approach, the producers can be made responsible in four distinct ways.

  • Economic responsibility makes the producers pay, typically a tax, towards the costs of e-waste processing (e.g., collection, recycling, disposal).

  • Physical responsibility involves mandating, for example, take back of the products from the consumers, after their useful life. The product take back requirements may also enforce collection rate targets.

  • Information responsibility might mandate providing information on the attributes of the products (e.g., toxicity, recyclability), including such requirements as product labelling.

  • Finally, liability rules might specify financial liability for environmental damage and clean up. EPR regulations may include any one or a combination of these four types of producer responsibilities.
Early evaluation of these rules showed that while they may have created demand for new formal dismantling and recycling centres, the rules have largely been ineffective in improving the existing practices.

E-Waste Management: Issues and Challenges for Policy

  • Poor information on e-waste generation rates
  • Environmentally unsustainable informal sector practices
  • Frictions in markets for the end-of-life products
  • Inadequate regulatory design and enforcement

Summing up—

The informal sector has played a critical role in managing e-waste in India with its vast reach and access to waste from both urban and rural areas. Their ability to collect and aggregate must be recognized as a unique strength and an advantage India can leverage to benefit the environment and the urban poor. The challenge lies in finding the right connect between the law and the sector, and this can happen only if the law acknowledges the existence and contribution of the informal sector. 

The MoEFCC needs to review the current regulation to more explicitly recognize the role that the informal sector plays in e-waste management. The government can also play a role in generating awareness which can be a critical driver in changing the status quo in consumer behaviour. The campaign can be modelled along the lines of the Swachh Bharat Mission which raised the level of awareness on waste management. 

—Taken from E-Waste Management in India: Issues and Strategies in Vikalpa: The Journal for Decision Makers