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e-waste supply chain management in India: Opportunities and Challenges

India is at crossroads with tremendous growth in the electronics industry but also faces the exponential growth of electronic waste (e-waste). India generates about 400,000 tonnes of waste annually which is increasing at the rate of 10-15% and 70% of which comes from government institutions and business houses. High obsolescence of electronic products and the necessity for supporting upgrades compound this problem.

Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules 2, 2008, currently covers the management of e-waste in India. However it does not mention guidelines to handle e-waste differently from any other electrical waste. Government has issued a voluntary guideline to demarcate IT products from other electrical products but it is insufficient to initiate actions from enterprises. Therefore, a set draft rules were prepared and submitted to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB).

The informal sector mostly referred to as kabadiwalas carry out almost 90% of the e-waste management in India. They are primarily involved in the dismantling rather than recycling disposed products. Formal reverse supply chain management of e-waste did not happen until 2004 which brings out the issue of health and safety of the informal recyclers. It also highlights the delayed response of the Indian government caught without any policy on e-waste management and the business opportunity in the unexplored market.

The sourcing happens by different bidding methods for various lot sizes followed by the logistics of transportation. Other than bidding, sourcing is through tie-ups with various corporate consumers. Currently, some innovative methods of collection exist which are mostly done through breaking a particular area into clusters and then placing a bin to collect recyclable products.

In-plant Processes of e-Waste Recycling

The process initiates with the dismantling of the components like motherboards, hard drives, cartridges, cabinets, cables etc. Manual labour separates metal, glass and plastics from the components followed by shredding of printed circuit board (PCB). Glass dismantling is done in a protective semi-automatic environment and adhering to the pollution control measures.

Closure of Reverse Supply Chain Loop

The formal recycling processes indeed helps in the reutilization of extracted materials for making another product that need not be fully electronic in nature. Videocon makes CRTs of television using glass cullets. Secondary metal refiner uses metal scraps for smelting processes and makes pure steel, aluminium and copper for manufacturing of metallic appliances. Umicore Metal Refining (an integrated material recycling firm in Belgium) extracts metals like gold, silver, nickel, copper, bismuth, palladium and vanadium8. Plastic granules help in making moulding and investment casting. The reverse supply chain of e-Waste indeed exhibits an opportunity to create a new market where further investment will only lead to a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

Implementation Challenges for Better e-Waste Management in India

The challenges of e-waste management can be classified as lack of appropriate infrastructure, legislation and framework for end-of-life products. The following describe the implementation challenges for better e-waste management in India:

  • Due to diversion of large chunk of e-wastes from retail consumers to informal recyclers and demand-supply mismatch organised e-recyclers are not getting adequate e-wastes to recycle.
  • Lack of legislation has been the core concern for e-waste management. There is no centralized mandatory or strict legislation in this regard. For better management, the legislation must clearly define e-waste and the limitations in terms of quantities of e-waste generated.
  • Collection centres are currently present only in a few cities in India and the collection process for these facilities are restricted due to logistical and geographical problems.
  • Lack of motivation for the top management of producers is one of the major concerns and is unable to drive the e-waste management initiative. 90% of Indian electronic producing companies and IT companies are not in favour of the EPR concept.
  • Donation of obsolete equipment by companies to schools without any monitoring as to what happens to the donated material when it reaches its end of life. Hence the loop of reverse supply chain is unable to function in an organized manner.
  • There is no recycler for materials of lamps (CFL bulb, tube light etc.) in India because of cheaper sources in China and also for Ni-Cd batteries, Alkaline batteries and Dry cell batteries within the country. Such materials are either dumped in landfills resulting in loss of resources or exported to authorized recyclers in foreign countries resulting in logistic costs.
  • There is a lack of authorized recyclers for Ni-MH batteries and Li-ion batteries in the country. There are some back-yard recyclers for batteries but are unregistered with the MoEF. Therefore formal intermediate recyclers (like E-Parisaraa) are unable to dispatch them.

Formal e-recyclers have to be supported by the central and the state governments to avoid the bottlenecks in building a better reverse supply chain of E-waste. In the long run formal e-recyclers have to be merged and have to make a presence of an influential body in this industry. They can do lobbying with the government to promote some innovative methods of collecting e-waste from retail consumers and promote awareness of the environmental impact of e-waste.

Prof J. Hazra,

Production and Operations Management area at IIM Bangalore

Abhijit Sarkar, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur

Vishal Sharma, IEM, Kolkata


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