E-waste Sector and Gender Justice

Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Environment & Biodiversity |Climatic Change Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia
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Why in News?

  • According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, out of the total 56.3 million tonnes of discarded e-waste products generated in 2019, only 17.4 percent was officially recorded as being collected and recycled. The rest end up in landfills, in scrap trade markets or are recycled by the informal markets.

E-waste in India:

  • Third largest contributor: India is the third largest contributor to this great wall of waste after China and the United States (US) with a whopping 1,014,961.21 tonnes generated in 2019-2020, out of which only 22.7 percent was collected, recycled or disposed of.
  • More than 12 million workers: For the 12.9 million women working in the informal waste sector, Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE’s) are lifelines as it contains valuable recyclable metals notwithstanding the detrimental effects it can have on health and the environment.

E-waste and Burden on women:

  • Less women in value chain: Inequalities are particularly pronounced in this largely gender-neutral sector across the value chain which is heightened by the barriers in decision-making roles.
  • Negligible percent of women: With reliable data hard to come by from this sector recent reports indicate that an estimated 0.1 percent of waste pickers account for India’s urban workforce with women populating the lower tiers in this economy as collectors and crude separators at landfill sites.
  • Men at skilled position: Men unsurprisingly dominate the entire spectrum of skilled positions as managers, machinery operators, truck drivers, scrap dealers, repair workers and recycling traders.
  • Women mostly from poor background: Workers in this ‘grey sector’ are some of the most marginalised, poverty-stricken, uneducated people from vulnerable backgrounds with little social or financial security. They remain unprotected at their workplaces, and often are victims of sexual abuse with no bargaining power in selling their goods. All of these factors then act upon their exclusion as cities begin to formalise the waste sector to effectively control discarded goods.

E-waste Impact on Health:

  • Incineration and leaching: Open incineration and acid leeching often used by informal workers are directly impacting the environment and posing serious health risks, especially to child and maternal health, fertility, lungs, kidney and overall well-being.
  • Occupational health hazards: In India, many of these unskilled workers who come from vulnerable and marginalised are oblivious to the fact that that what they know as ‘black plastics’ have far reached occupational health hazards especially when incinerated to extract copper and other precious metals for their market value.
  • Exposures to children: This ‘tsunami of e-waste rolling out of the world’, as described in an international forum on chemical treaties, poses several health hazards for women in this sector as they are left exposed to residual toxics elements mostly in their own households and often the presence of children.
  • Constant contact with organic pollutants: According to a recent WHO report, a staggering 18 million children, some as young as five, often work alongside their families at e-waste dumpsites every year in low- and middle-income countries. Heavy metals such as lead, as well as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), like dioxins, and flame retardants (PBDEs) released into the environment, have also added to air, soil, and water pollution.

Laws and regulations related to E-waste

  • India’s E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016: Released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) flagged e-waste classification, extended producer responsibility (EPR), collection targets, and restrictions on imports of e-wastes containing hazardous substances.
  • Amendment to Rules: The amended Electronic Waste Management Draft Rules 2022, expected to come into effect by early next year has also emphasised on improving end-of-life waste throughout the circular economy.
  • Lack of clear guidelines: These progressive measures, however, lack clear guidelines on the role of informal recyclers and have particularly blind sighted the role of women creating a lacuna in equitable growth.
  • The Beijing Platform of Action: It is worth mentioning that The Beijing Platform of Action clearly maintains that a properly designed e-waste processing system can meet both economic and environmental goals to improve the status of women in the informal economy. Sculpting this blueprint in a variegated social and cultural milieu can perhaps play out to examine best practices and success stories around the world.

How to make E-waste sector more gender inclusive:

  • Ownership of supply chain: The social stigma attached to this sector progressively manifests in discrimination and loss of dignity. Women lack ownership at the end of the value chain as business owners of material processing units nor have access to capital for starting business ventures.
  • Separate policy for ground workers: Educating the un-educated takes more than simply designing training modules, skill development and generating awareness about e-waste should be tailored to run at ground-zero where workers operate without disrupting their daily work schedules.
  • Gendered data collection: All of these factors compounded by the severe lack of gender-disaggregated data necessitate earmarked gender budgeting to shape an inclusive e-waste management system.


  • The concept of the 3R’s, Reduce, Reuse, recycle as envisaged under Mission LiFE will have to invest in women as drivers of a responsible waste management economy, rec
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