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Prelims Capsule


Electronic Waste in India, Why rich nations are dumping toxic e-waste in India?

Electronic Waste in India, Why rich nations are dumping toxic e-waste in India?


  • GS-3 || Environment || Environment & Ecology || Pollution

Why in news?

  • India generated 10,14,961.2 tonnes of e-waste last year, a massive 31.6 percent increase from the previous year, Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey informed the Rajya Sabha.

What ise-waste?

  • E-Waste is short for Electronic-Waste and the term is used to describe old, end-of-life, or discarded electronic appliances. It includes their components, consumables, parts, and spares.
    • It majorly includes electronic equipment, completely or in part discarded as waste by the consumer or bulk consumer as well as rejects from manufacturing, refurbishment, and repair processes.
  • E-waste is considered the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.

e-Waste generation

  • Electronic waste is emerging as serious public health and environmental issue in India. India is the “fifth-largest electronic waste producer in the world”; According to Global E-Waste Monitor 2017approximately 2 million tons of e-waste are generated annually and an undisclosed amount of e-waste is imported from other countries around the world.
    • India ranks fifth among E-waste producing countries, after theUS, China, Japan, and Germany.
  • In 2019, an enormous volume of e-waste (53.6 Mt, with a 7.3 kg per capita average) was generated globally.
  • In 2018, an estimated 50 million tonnes of e-waste was reported, thus the name ‘tsunami of e-waste’ given by the UN.
  • Seelampur is the largest e-waste dismantling market in India. Each day e-waste is dumped by the truckload for thousands of workers using crude methods to extract reusable components and precious metals such as copper, tin, silver, gold, titanium, and palladium. The process involves acid burning and open incineration, creating toxic gases with severe health and environmental consequences.

Developing countries as dumping yards

  • The developing countries have become toxic dump yards of e-waste. Developing countries receiving foreign e-waste often go further to repair and recycle forsaken equipment. Yet still, 90% of e-waste ended up in landfills in developing countries.
  • According to 2015, United Nations Environment Programme up to 90 percent of the world’s electronic waste is illegally dumped in India; this is on top of the estimated 1.8 million metric tonnes of e-waste produced domestically each year.
  • Developing countries utilize methods that are more harmful and more wasteful.
  • An expedient and prevalent method is simply to toss equipment onto an open fire, to melt plastics, and burn away non-valuable metals. This releases carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air, contributing to an acrid, lingering smog. These noxious fumes include dioxins and furans. Bonfire refuse can be disposed of quickly into drainage ditches or waterways feeding the ocean. or local water supplies.
  • Out of the 53.6 Metric tons generated e-waste globally, the formally documented collection and recycling was 9.3%, and the fate of 44.3% remains uncertain, with its whereabouts and impact on the environment varying across different regions of the world.
  • A case study- Guiyu, China
    • Guiyu, China, is a major hub for e-waste disposal and is widely regarded as the world’s largest e-waste disposal site.
    • Guiyu receives shipments of e-waste from both domestic and international sources.
    • According to the United Nations report “E-Waste in China,” Guiyu suffered an “environmental calamity” as a result of the area’s large-scale e-waste disposal industry. Unregulated and improper e-waste management in the region has caused tremendous environmental damage and poses a significant threat to human health in the region.

Impact of e-Waste on Environment and health

  • Health
  • E-waste consists of toxic elements such as Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, Polybrominated biphenyls, and Polybrominated diphenyl.
    • They are harmful to the environment because of the presence of harmful chemicals like brominated flame retardants and toxic heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, lead, etc.
    • Non-Disposal and burning of e-waste can have serious implications on human health and can cause air, soil pollution, and groundwater contamination.
  • Air –E-waste when dismantled and shredded releases dust or large particulates into the immediate environment and affects the respiratory health of workers.
    • Further, unregulated burning of e-waste releases toxins, such as dioxins which are potent and damaging to both human (neurological disease and impact on the immune system) and animal health.
  • Water-Water is contaminated by e-waste via landfills that are not properly designed to contain e-waste and due to improper recycling and subsequent disposal of e-waste. Heavy metals from e-waste cause the toxification of surface water.
    • Groundwater is polluted by e-waste as heavy metals and other persistent chemicals leach from landfills and illegal dumpsites into groundwater tables.
  • Soil-Soil is contaminated by e-waste through direct contact with contaminants from e-waste or the by-products of e-waste recycling and disposal and indirectly through irrigation through contaminated water.
    • Contaminated soils harm microbes and plants and the pollutants pass to higher animals and humans along the food chain.

Management of E-waste

  • Producers
    • The government has implemented the E-waste (Management) Rules (2016) which enforces the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
    • The producers have been made responsible to collect a certain percentage of E-waste generated from their goods once they have reached their “end-of-life”.
  • State Governments
    • The government has stated that the E-waste produced in India is lower than estimates by international agencies.
    • Maintain industrial space for e-waste dismantling and recycling facilities.
    • Establish measures for protecting the health and safety of workers engaged in the dismantling and recycling facilities for e-waste.
    • The Delhi government is planning to set up three electronic waste parks in each municipal division for dismantling and recycling used products.

Tackling E-waste

  • Laws to manage e-waste have been in place in India since 2011, mandating that only authorized dismantlers and recyclers collect e-waste. E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 was enacted in 2017.
  • India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing, and disposal of waste from household and commercial units has been set up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change notified the E-Waste Management Rules, 2016.
    • The new E-waste rules included Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and other mercury-containing lamps, as well as other such equipment.
    • For the first time, the rules brought the producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), along with targets. Producers have been made responsible for the collection of E-waste and its exchange.
  • Recycling of E-waste
    • Most of India’s e-waste is recycled by the informal sector and under hazardous conditions.
    • A report by the Union Environment Ministry in 2018 found that many of India’s e-waste recyclers couldn’t handle a large quantity of waste.
    • India’s first e-waste clinic for segregating, processing, and disposal of waste from household and commercial units will soon be set up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
  • Deposit Refund Scheme
    • An economic instrument wherein the producer charges an additional amount as a deposit at the time of sale of the electrical and electronic equipment and returns it to the consumer along with interest when the end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment is returned.
    • The role of State Governments has been also introduced to ensure the safety, health, and skill development of the workers involved in dismantling and recycling operations.
    • A provision of penalties for violation of rules has also been introduced.
    • Urban Local Bodies (Municipal Committee/Council/Corporation) has been assigned the duty to collect and channelize the orphan products to authorized dismantlers or recyclers.
  • Swachh Digital Bharat-The programme 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.
    • The general public is encouraged to participate in the programme, by giving their e-waste to authorised recyclers only.
  • Greene:It is a dedicated website that seeks to spread awareness about e-waste through social media

International Conventions

  • Basel Convention on the Control of the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, 1992 
    • Originally the Basel Convention did not mention e-waste but later it addressed the issues of e-waste in 2006 (COP8). The convention seeks to ensure environmentally sound management; prevention of illegal traffic to developing countries and; building capacity to better manage e-waste.
    • Nairobi Declaration was adopted at COP9 of the Basel Convention. It is aimed at creating innovative solutions for the environmentally sound management of electronic wastes.
  • Rotterdam Convention, 2004
    • The Convention seeks to promote an exchange of information (through Prior Informed Consent) among Parties over a range of potentially hazardous chemicals (includes pesticides and industrial chemicals) that may be exported or imported.

Best Practices

  • Nokia’s ‘Take-back’ and ‘Planet keRakwale’ campaigns
    • In 2009, Nokia launched its e-waste management campaign. Nokia set up drop boxes throughout the country to accept used phones, chargers, and accessories from any brand at Nokia Care Centres.
    • The campaign was a huge success, with a total of 160 tonnes of mobile phones and accessories collected from 2009 to 2015. Nokia launched the “Planet KeRakhwale” take-back and recycling campaign in the second phase (2009), which expanded to 28 cities across India.
  • Telangana’s Green Warriors
    • Telangana’s “Green Warriors” have been a part of the
    • recycling/refurbishing chain, and have contributed to the successful implementation of e-pollution control measures. Their efforts were also acknowledged by the Telangana government in its Telangana e-waste management policy, published in 2017.

Mains model Question

  • A strong political will is required to come out with strict regulations to manage e-waste in India. Increased public awareness is the need of the hour. Examine the issues surrounding e-waste management and suggest the steps that need to be taken?