Unpacking the new set of e-waste rules
01, Mar 2023
Prelims level : Pollution & Waste Management Mains level : GS-III Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
- The burgeoning problem of managing e-waste is a cross cutting and persisting challenge in an era of rapid urbanisation, digitalisation and population growth.
Key provisions of the E Waste Rules:
- Restricted the use of hazardous substances (such as lead, mercury, and cadmium) in manufacturing electrical and electronic equipment that have an adverse impact on human health and the environment.
- Increased the range of electronic goods covered e.g., laptops, mobile, cameras etc.
- Targets fixed: Producers of electronic goods have to ensure at least 60% of their electronic waste is collected and recycled by 2023 with targets to increase them to 70% and 80% in 2024 and 2025, respectively.
- Companies will report these on an online portal.
- Extended Producer Responsibility Certificates (similar to carbon credit mechanism): This will allow the offsetting of e-waste responsibility to a third party.
- ‘Environmental compensation’ to be provided by the companies that don’t meet their target.
- Role of State Governments: They will earmark industrial space for e-waste dismantling and recycling facilities, undertaking industrial skill development and establishing measures for protecting the health and safety of workers engaged in the dismantling and recycling facilities for e-waste.
- Role of manufacturers:
- Make the end product recyclable
- A component made by different manufacturers be compatible with each other
- Role of Central Pollution Control Board: It shall conduct random sampling of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market to monitor and verify the compliance of reduction of hazardous substances provisions.
What is E-Waste?
- E-Waste is short for Electronic-Waste and the term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded electronic appliances.
- It is categorised into 21 types under two broad categories: Information technology and communication equipment and Consumer electrical and electronics.
- E-waste includes their components, consumables, parts and spares.
- E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR), CFCs and HCFCs.
- The increasing levels of e-waste, low collection rates, and non-environmentally sound disposal and treatment of this waste stream pose significant risks to the environment and to human health.
- International E-Waste Day has been observed on 14th October since 2018.
Concerns of E-Waste:
- Toxicity: E-waste consists of toxic elements such as Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, Polybrominated biphenyls and Polybrominated diphenyl.
- Effects on Humans: Some of the major health effects include serious illnesses such as lung cancer, respiratory problems, bronchitis, brain damages, etc. due to inhalation of toxic fumes, exposure to heavy metals and alike.
- Effects on Environment: E-waste is an environmental hazard causing groundwater pollution, acidification of soil and contamination of groundwater and air pollution due to the burning of plastic and other remnants.
What health risks are the children exposed to?
- Toxic substances: Toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and flame retardants, can be harmful if not properly disposed of. Serious skin diseases and chronic lung infections due to continuous exposure to these chemical-laden toxins.
- Disabilities: Even relatively low lead exposure in children can result in a reduction in total intelligence quotient (IQ) and several behavioural abnormalities, including a decrease in attention span and an increase in frustration and disruptive behaviour.
- Exposure to hazardous waste: Like Nickel, Mercury can cause long-term incurable diseases.
- Environmental contamination: Contaminated soil and water potentially affect the health of local populations, including children.
- Loss of access to educational opportunities: In some developing countries, e-waste dumping has caused environmental degradation and health problems, leading to school closures and limiting children’s access to education.
Challenges Related to Management of E-Waste in India:
- A key factor in used electronic devices not being given for recycling was because consumers themselves did not do so.
- In India, about 5 lakh child laborers in the age group of 10-14 are observed to be engaged in various E-waste activities and that too without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops.
- There is absence of any public information on most State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)/PCC websites.
- No clear guidelines are there for the unorganized sector to handle E-waste.
- Also, no incentives are mentioned to lure people engaged to adopt a formal path for handling E-waste.
- 80% of E-waste in developed countries meant for recycling is sent to developing countries such as India, China, Ghana and Nigeria.
- Lack of coordination between various authorities responsible for E-waste management and disposal including the non-involvement of municipalities.
- End of life computers often contain sensitive personal information and bank account details which, if not deleted leave opportunity for fraud.
International Conventions and government initiatives:
- Originally the Basel Convention did not mention e-waste but later it addressed the issues of e-waste in 2006 (COP8).
- Nairobi Declaration was adopted at COP9 of the Basel Convention. It aimed at creating innovative solutions for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes.
- Rotterdam Convention, 2004 seeks to promote exchange of information among Parties over a range of potentially hazardous that may be exported or imported.
- In India prior to 2011, e-waste was covered under the Hazardous Waste Management (HWM) Rules.
- In 2011, under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 were enacted
- In 2016, the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 were enacted which replaced the 2011 Rules. The Rules were amended in 2018
- CPCB has also issued guidelines Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste (on Collection, Storage, Dismantling & Segregation, Recycling, and Treatment & Disposal of E-Waste)
- Awareness Program on Environmental Hazards of Electronic Waste initiated by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
- Creation of Management Structure for Hazardous Substances seeks to raise awareness among people about the 2016 Rules and its implementation.
- Swachh Digital Bharat seeks to create awareness among the public about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganised sector, and to educate them about alternate methods of disposing of their e-waste.