E-waste Management in India and Role of Technology

What is e-waste?

E-waste is any electrical or electronic equipment that’s been discarded. They are electronic products that are unwanted, not working, and nearing or at the end of their “useful life.” Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are everyday electronic products. 

E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in India with 3.2 million tonnes of e-waste generated a year, third highest after China and USA (According to ‘Global E-waste Monitor 2020’). Fast growing ICT sector is one of the prominent contributors to this increasing number of e-wastes. Upgradation and faster obsolescence of electronic products make consumers discard their products quickly, which in turn accumulate huge e-waste to the solid waste stream. Another challenge is that major recycling of e-waste is handled by the informal sector. The methods used for recycling are primitive and hazardous. This adds to the problem of climate change and pollution in India. These prevailing challenges make e-waste sector a major focal point for both government and industry.

Ecosystem 

E-waste management rules were introduced in India in 2011, keeping in mind the dominant role of informal sector and the health and safety challenges that come along with informal handling of e-waste. These rules came into effect from 1 May 2012. Later, e-waste management rules were notified in 2016 in response to implementation issues and other shortcomings of 2011 rules. These rules came into effect from October 2016. These rules were further amended in March 2018.

Objectives

  1. Environmentally sound and safe management of e-waste
  2. Promote sustainable technologies through authorized dismantlers and recyclers.
  3. Implement Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) (as mentioned in 2016 rules). The EPR mechanism lays emphasis on producers’ responsibility for environmentally sound management of e-waste.
  4. Control and minimize e-waste handling and recycling by the informal sector.
  5. Promote the establishment of an efficient e-waste collection mechanism, through buy-back and take-back systems.

Stakeholders

The Rules specifies various stakeholders and their respective responsibilities and activities that each of them needs to perform, right from seeking authorization to maintaining records and filing annual returns.

  1. Producers 
  2. Dismantlers, recyclers, manufacturers and refurbishers
  3. Dealers


E-waste recycling process and role of technology

The process of e-waste recycling primarily involves two stages – 

  1. Manual collection and processing – sorting, separating, cleaning, emptying, dismantling and segregation
  2. Mechanical processing – shredding, grinding etc. and selective treatment

Given that e-waste recycling involves many such stages and processes, role of technologies in this space becomes crucial to ensure sustainable and timely recycling of e-waste. 

Many public R&D labs in India such as CIPET, CSIR-NML, C-MET Hyderabad, CSIR-NEERI etc. are working in this space and have also developed various technologies focusing on dismantling and segregation, processing of printed circuit boards, recovery of rare earth metals, plastic recycling etc.

One of the premier research institutions, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed several highly energy efficient and cost-effective e-waste recycling technologies, making them commercially viable. Some of these technologies include separation of high purity individual rare earths from primary as well as secondary resources, production of rare-earth value-added products such as RE metals, alloys and phosphorous and several technologies for recovery of REEs from recycling of electronic waste. 

Many of these technologies by BARC are ready for transfer to any organization/company operating in the e-waste management space. This endeavor aims to fulfill our ambitious e-waste recycling goals and contribute towards an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Way Forward

AGNIi Mission, a flagship initiative of the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Government of India, under the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC), is actively supporting BARC in bringing these e-waste technologies to market. For more information on these technologies or to discuss potential commercialization opportunities, please reach out to us at support.agnii@investindia.org.in.

This article is authored by Garima Raj.