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E-Waste Management in India

The future of e-waste recycling is bright in India as there is a gap of proper solution providers that can handle the growing demand of electronic appliance consumption. With growing amount of consumers, this sector will keep on giving positive returns in the years to come.

From unlearned to learned

While the majority of the sector is unorganised, with manual workers pulling apart appliances for its most valuable parts and sending the leftover parts to the landfill; methods used for extracting the valuable parts are dangerous and harmful, both to the workers as well as the environment. The unskilled, uneducated and underage labour used in this unorganised sector is harming more than benefiting. An open flame used to roast components of computers for its metals adversely affects the health of the workers, mostly 12 to 15 year old kids, as they are unaware of the nature of the substance they are handling. Gaurav Mardia founder and CEO explained the essentiality of E-Incarnation, “To combat unsafe e-waste recycling and to increase the awareness among the masses, E-Incarnation was established.”

E-waste rules implemented by the government in May of last year states that all e-waste is now classified as hazardous waste. Electronic products contain components like, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, mercury, BFRs, etc., these heavy metals are hazardous in nature. They are also ecologically toxic. When improperly disposed, they leach into the ground water; contaminating it. The very same ground water is then used for human consumption, leading to fatal illnesses.

Sewage System

The Tamil Nadu government has sanctioned 452.77 crore for a comprehensive water supply and sewerage system in the newly added areas of Corporation of Chennai. This is part of a total of 879.78 crore allocated to implement projects under the Chennai Mega City Development Mission (CMCDM) 2012-13. The 452.77 crore will be used to set up infrastructure needed for drinking water supply to nine areas and include these localities in Metrowater’s sewerage network. The estimated cost of the project in these areas is 38.56 crore and it is expected to be completed within 24 months.

Collecting e-Waste

E-Incarnation provides free collection all over India. Gaurav Mardia says, “We have tied up with courier and transport companies. They help in the collection of e-waste and act as channel partners in remote locations, where it may not be possible for our representatives to be present. In Mumbai, Maharashtra, collection bins are set up in some areas. There are bins set up in residential societies, with plans to set up in malls, colleges and other educational institutes. We aim to set up collection bins in major cities across the country, once we scale up the operations.”

Only strict implementation and enforcement of the laws along with government support will help the e-waste recycling sector flourish

– Gaurav Mardia

Recycling E-Waste

After the materials arrive at the recycling plant at Tarapur in Thane, they are decontaminated. A chart is prepared, on what kind of harmful elements are present in each electronic component. “This is an ongoing process. Our engineers are dedicated in conducting research on various electronic components, with information being sourced from the manufacturers as well. A record is prepared on the use of hazardous products in a particular instrument; this allows to undertake precautions in the removal of the components. So when in future an instrument is delivered, the hazardous components can be easily identified and handed over to government facilities for safe disposal.”

After hazardous product components are removed, the rest of the instrument is dismantled and its various components segregated. Magnetic separators, eddy current separators, density separators, etc. are used to segregate the materials. At the end of the recycling line, shred scarp of aluminium, plastics, glass shards, etc., is received in individual bins. This scrap is then sold as raw material in the market.

The machines used at the plant are sourced locally, but the plant is designed as per international standards. Through scientific recycling, almost 95% of the materials can be recovered in the organised sector, with nothing ending up in the landfill. In comparison, in the unorganised market, the rate of recovery is less than 20%.

Government needs to act in time

Making policy is not the only function; government will have to ensure its timely implementation as well. Gaurav adds, “Getting the requisite permission from the government for the recycling plant, took longer than necessary. We had to get the Chairman of MPCB to intervene to expedite the process.”

Along with the policy implementation government needs to set benchmarks for various recycling process. Lack of benchmarks affects the collection of e-waste. The recycling plant receives e-waste in a very inconsistent manner. There are months where there are close to 60 pick ups and then there are months where there are less than five pick ups.

E-awareness: essential part

The patterns on e-waste pick ups cannot be predicated or anticipated, as it depends on the electronic audits that take place in companies. On an estimate, E-Incarnation processes around 800 to 1000 tonnes annually. The figure is quite conservative, but Gaurav hopes it will increase once the scale of operations expands with wider coverage across the country in coming years.

E-Incarnation does not stop at just recycling e-waste; it goes to the grassroots to tackle the root cause of improper e-waste management. It generates awareness by working in collaboration with NGOs, and organises events like e-waste collection days at schools and colleges. “Targeting students is an effective way to generate awareness, as information spreads faster and reaches a wider audience through them.”

The awareness campaign is going on for two years and has covered almost all the colleges in Mumbai. Awareness sessions are also undertaken in residential buildings. These sessions have borne fruits with women in the residential buildings now supporting the e-awareness endeavour. Awareness in itself is not enough, willingness to act on the awareness is also necessary. Many people though aware of the dangers of improper disposal of e-waste still practice the custom of selling them for a few bucks to the kabadiwala.

Getting corporate clients is necessary for the survival of an e-waste recycling plant. Corporate entities are one of the major generators of e-waste apart from government organisations. But getting new clients is tedious as it is difficult to reach the concerned people. It is the people at the top positions that are empathetic towards Gaurav and his team’s efforts; as they understand the goodwill that the company will gain and also the impact of recycling on the bottom line. Since Corporate Social Responsibility is on the verge of becoming mandatory, plans are on to tie it up with e-waste recycling, where environmental sustainability activity is a CSR activity.

Future of e-waste recycling

For e-waste recycling to take off in India, the government has to reconsider its rules. The present rules are guidelines with no monitoring agency to oversee the implementation of the rules. The failure of the government to make sure the rules are being followed nullifies the effect of the rules.

Government support is of vital importance for the e-waste recycling sector to take off. The machineries deployed for recycling are expensive, if subsidies are offered; it will help in promoting the sector. Some state governments do support the recycling cause; one such is the Gujarat Government that provides subsidies for machineries.

E-waste is also imported into India, even though there are regulations in place, restricting the practice. So, now more than ever, the country requires proper implementation of the rules and laws in place, to combat the danger of not only ever rising domestically generated e-waste but also imported e-waste.

Strict enforcement of rules will see that the dubious e-waste recyclers, who sell the collected e-waste to the kabadiwala and dupe the public, will be shut down and honest companies will be encouraged. The companies should be more responsible, more accountable and more transparent. “Only strict implementation and enforcement of the laws along with government support will help the e-waste recycling sector flourish.”

 

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