Managing electronic waste, or e-waste, is a fast-growing challenge for India, says a new report by Assocham. All the e-waste in India goes through low-quality processing, and government and industry stakeholders treat this as the biggest threat to e-waste management in the country.

India is the fourth-largest producer of e-waste, which is manually dismantled and recycled by untrained workers who work without protective equipment. The unorganised sector processes 90% to 95% of e-waste in India using rudimentary methods such as incineration, breaking, dismantling, dumping, etc., instead of technically advanced methods such as industrial recycling, the report said.

In 2016, India produced 2 million metric tonnes of e-waste, out of which 79% (1.58 million metric tonnes) went into the unorganised sector. The report projects that the figure is expected to grow to 3 million metric tonnes in 2018.

At the centre of e-waste are discarded mobile phones. According to the Indian Cellular Association (ICA), India is the second-largest mobile phone producer in the world after China. The annual production of mobile phones in India increased from 3 million units in 2014 to 11 million in 2017. Also, while the growth in India’s IT sector has created many jobs, it has often been linked to growing e-waste recycling issues.

“India is going to be a very large destination for electronic products as we have a very successful mobile and component manufacturing industry,” says Pankaj Mohindroo, national president, ICA.

“Any disruption is a big pain for the industry, but it can also be a good opportunity. With its huge numerous population and demographic dividend backed with easy technology, India can be the world leader in e-waste processing. We have to look at how we can channelise this opportunity.”

The demand for Indian electronics products worldwide is expected to grow at an annual rate of 41% in 2017-20, and reach $400 billion by 2020, says a joint study by Assocham and Japanese firm NEC Technologies.

Industry experts believe India’s increasing digital appetite has led to improper disposal of e-waste. “The consumer mindset and the parallel economy in the form of the informal sector allows for a certain monopolistic behaviour, aggravating the problem,” said Ritu Ghosh, head, corporate affairs and CSR, Panasonic India.

“In such a scenario, every stakeholder who is a part of the e-waste ecosystem should be regulated. Our waste generation is 4.5 times of the waste that is recycled,” added Ghosh, who is also the chairperson of Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturers Association.

The dumping of e-waste in India from developed countries has aggravated the problem. As in Japan or Taiwan, manufacturers of electrical appliances in India should be made to take back used goods to decrease the overall e-waste in the country, the report reads.

“This problem is going to be huge in India. The government’s initiatives have brought the producers, manufacturers, and recyclers together. E-waste should be marketed like Swachh Bharat,” believes Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman, Greenscape Eco management, India’s largest e-waste recycler.

Litigations resulted in the formulation of e-waste rules in 2011 for organisations, mandating manufacturers of electrical items to build e-waste collection mechanisms to improve recycling capacity. In 2016, new rules introduced e-waste management targets for companies. The government has set an ambitious goal of collecting and recycling 70% of e-waste by 2023.

“India is on the cusp of transforming the manufacturing sector. The 2016 norms have set some kind of standard, but some things are still missing, such as auditing of the recycling sector,” said Sandip Chatterjee, scientist F, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. “If you are selling electronic waste to a recycler at a higher price, that is also a cost to the environment.”

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