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India's E-waste Crisis: Why We Must Act Now


The Need to Address India’s E-waste Problem

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


 

1.Introduction


The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, launched in 2014, improved sanitation in India, with over 50% of villages now open defecation free. India also banned single-use plastics in 2022. However, the country remains the third-largest e-waste producer, with uncollected e-waste posing environmental and health risks. E-waste generation increases at a 30% CAGR, making it crucial to address this issue for environmental benefits and employment opportunities in a cleaner and greener economy.




2.So what is E-waste?


E-waste encompasses various discarded electrical and electronic devices powered by electricity, including household appliances, office equipment, consumer electronics, lighting, tools, toys, and recreational devices.



2.1The current scenario in India:


India as a country has seen rise in growing volumes and is the third largest producer of e-waste in the world behind USA and China.


The graph below depicts a consistent increase in India's projected e-waste generation, attributed to the country's growing economy, rising disposable incomes, and increased purchases of smartphones and electronic gadgets. The estimated e-waste volume by 2025, as per the CSE, is 7.59 million metric tons (MMT).



The above graph also depicts the states the contribute towards e-waste generation. Maharashtra (13.9%) and Tamil Nadu(9.1%) are the top most contributing states respectively followed by Andhra Pradesh (8.7%), Uttar Pradesh (7.1%), West Bengal(6.9%), Delhi(6.7%) and Karnataka (6.2%).


Current Infrastructure:


E-waste infrastructure is vital for effective treatment. India has 468 authorized recycling units with a 1.3 million tonne capacity, insufficient for the 5 million tonnes of waste generated. With such large amounts of volume, comes the need to have the requisite infrastructure to handle and extract the precious metals that are very much reusable. Inadequate infrastructure leads to several issues:


1) Lost economic opportunities: E-waste management can be a potential source of livelihood for thousands of Indians if not millions.


2) Environmental Impact:


a. Water: Insufficient infrastructure results in e-waste dumping in improper landfills, risking surface and groundwater contamination as toxic chemicals can leach into the water supply.


b. Air: Insufficient infrastructure leads to burning low-value plastics, releasing toxic fumes. Improper desoldering for valuable metals like gold and silver can also be highly polluting.


c. Soil: Research by Jamia Millia Islamia University shows that the topsoil near e-waste sites in India contains significantly higher concentrations of heavy metals compared to standard agricultural soil samples.A study analyzing 28 e-waste recycling sites in India detected high levels of toxic PCBs, PCDDs, and PCDFs in the soil samples.


3) Pollution due to additional extraction of metals: Due to inadequate usage of metals as a result of poor infrastructure to extract and reuse metals, there is further burden drawn to the mining industry, which is currently responsible for 26% of global CO2 emissions.


4) Public Health Hazards: Inadequate e-waste management, primarily in the informal sector, results in health risks like thyroid problems, adverse neonatal outcomes, behavioral changes, decreased lung function, and significant DNA damage due to the absence of regulations and extended exposure.




3. Informal Sector vs Formal Sector


3.1Formal Sector


In India, the formal sector manages just 5% of the total e-waste, mainly through manual sorting and mechanical dismantling. These facilities receive e-waste from service centers or environmentally compliant companies but are not the primary disposal method despite reaching capacity daily.



3.2Informal Sector


In India, 95% of e-waste management is handled by the informal sector, which faces several issues. The lack of recycling knowledge leads to inefficient precious metal recovery. Unregistered workers make it challenging to monitor their rights, safety, and compensation, hindering dignified labor opportunities.






4. Why do we need to tackle this problem?


India is the third-largest global e-waste producer, generating 32 lakh tonnes, with a recycling rate of just 1%, far below the 22.5% global average. India possesses approximately 20% of the required recycling infrastructure. Preparing for the anticipated increase in e-waste production is essential to address this deficit.


Addressing this issue can lead to:


1) Employment opportunities: The IMF predicts job opportunities for over 500,000 people by 2025.


2) Reduced Climate Impact: Effective e-waste management will lower CO2 emissions and reduce pollution in landfills and water bodies.


3) Improved Public Health: Cleaner air, water, and soil will positively impact public health.


This paper will delve into government initiatives, and non-profit, corporate, and startup efforts to tackle this problem.




5. Current Efforts to Reduce E-waste Disposal


5.1 Indian Government's E-waste Disposal Policies


a) E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016: Introduced by MoEF&CC in 2016, these rules focus on responsible disposal, recycling, and handling of electronic waste. They establish roles for producers, consumers, and recyclers, and enforce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to make manufacturers accountable for their product waste.


b) Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Under the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, manufacturers are required to manage the electronic waste generated from their products. They are responsible for setting up collection centers, take-back systems, and environmentally sound recycling facilities.


c) National Green Tribunal (NGT): The NGT has issued various orders and directives related to E-waste management, including monitoring compliance with the E-Waste (Management) Rules and regulating the illegal import of electronic waste.


d) Hazardous and Other Wastes Rules, 2016: This is another important regulation by the MoEF&CC, which addresses the environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, including certain types of electronic waste.


e) Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification: The Government of India has introduced a mandatory BIS certification for electronic products to ensure their quality and safety. This measure helps reduce the generation of substandard or non-functional electronic waste.



5.2 Effectiveness of Indian Policies and regulations for E-waste disposal


Some of the key aspects of the effectiveness of these policies are as follows:


a) Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Introduced in the 2016 E-Waste Rules, EPR makes manufacturers accountable for their product's end-of-life management. While it has raised awareness, its consistent enforcement and implementation remain a challenge, particularly for smaller producers.


b) E-waste Collection Infrastructure: EPR provisions created E-waste collection centers nationwide, enhancing disposal access. However, establishing collection centers in rural areas has been challenging, resulting in improper disposal in some regions.


c) Formalization of the Recycling Sector: Regulations formalized E-waste recycling, decreasing informal practices, improving hazardous material handling, and enhancing worker conditions. Nonetheless, informal recycling persists due to awareness, accessibility, and monitoring challenges.


d) Enforcement and Monitoring: Enforcing E-waste regulations varies by state. Some are proactive, but others struggle due to resource limitations. Enhanced monitoring and inter-agency coordination are necessary for improvements.


e) Public Awareness and Participation: Policies increased public awareness about responsible E-waste disposal and recycling benefits. Yet, efforts to reach a broader audience and create lasting behavior change are needed.


f) Challenges in Illegal E-waste Trade: India struggles with illegal E-waste imports. Strict border controls and robust penalties are essential to deter unlawful activities and complement existing regulations.



5.3 India Success Story: Dell India E-waste Recycling program


Background: Dell, a global tech company, is committed to sustainability. In India, recognizing significant E-waste, Dell has taken responsibility for its products' end-of-life management. They've recovered 2.1 billion pounds of E-waste and used 100 million pounds of sustainable materials in product development worldwide.


Key Steps and Achievements:


a) Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Dell India embraced E-waste (Management) Rules in 2016, adopting EPR to manage the collection and recycling of its products' end-of-life electronic waste.


b) Collaboration with Government: Dell collaborated with the Indian government for E-waste recycling. Dell's EPR includes partnering with Karo Sambhav Private Limited, a PRO, for awareness, meeting collection targets, fostering a sustainable ecosystem, and supporting policy development.


c) Establishment of Collection Centers: Dell established collection centers in Indian cities for easy, eco-friendly disposal of old electronics by consumers.


d) Responsible Recycling: Dell prioritized eco-friendly recycling by transporting collected electronic waste to authorized facilities that followed environmental policies. They focused on responsible dismantling and valuable material extraction.


e) Education and Awareness: Dell India invested in awareness and education campaigns to highlight responsible E-waste disposal and recycling facility options for consumers and businesses.


f) Recognition and Awards: Dell's E-waste and sustainability efforts garnered awards and recognition from industry associations, highlighting the company's commitment to environmental responsibility.


Positive Impact: Dell's E-waste recycling program in India has had several positive impacts:


Environment: Dell's proper E-waste recycling prevented hazardous materials from entering landfills, reducing environmental impact. They have 24 drop-off points for non-working electronic devices.


Sustainable Practices: The program promoted sustainable practices in the electronics industry and served as a model for other companies to follow. Dell has set up sustainable targets.

1) By 2030, for every metric ton of our product a customer buys, one metric ton will be reused or recycled

2) By 2030, 100% of our packaging will be made from recycled or renewable material, or will utilize reused packaging.

3) By 2030, more than half of our product content will be made from recycled, renewable or reduced carbon emissions material.


Job Creation: Establishing collection centers and recycling facilities also contributed to job creation, especially in the formal recycling sector.



5.4 EPR Efforts Made by NGOs and MNCs in India


In India, NGOs and MNCs participate in EPR initiatives, promoting responsible E-waste disposal. They focus on raising awareness, executing recycling programs, and partnering with the government. Here are some examples of their EPR efforts.


a) NGO: Toxics Link: Toxics Link, a Delhi-based environmental NGO, promotes E-waste management in India through recycling and awareness campaigns for consumers and businesses. They focus on school awareness programs, considering children as influencers of change. In 2011-12, they reached 1,400 schools in ten states, educating 193,000 students and 6,500 teachers.


b) MNC: HP India: HP India, a prominent tech company, is engaged in EPR initiatives, with recycling programs and collection centers for responsible disposal of their products. In 2020, they recycled 118,000 tonnes, including 106,000 tonnes of hardware, 10,600 tonnes of toner cartridges, and 1,300 tonnes of ink cartridges.




6. Challenges/Issues of Implementing the Policies and Regulations


The challenge in e-waste management is the absence of legislation in many developing countries. In 2014, 61 countries covering 44% of the world's population had e-waste laws, and by 2019, 78 countries covered 71% of the global population. Below are some of the challenges and issues faced in implementing policies and regulations :


  • Informal Sector Dominance: In India, a significant amount of e-waste is handled by the informal sector, including scrap dealers and waste pickers. Due to a lack of training and infrastructure, they handle hazardous materials improperly. The integration of the informal sector into the formal e-waste management system presents challenges.

  • Limited Collection Infrastructure: In India, despite regulations requiring collection centers, many regions lack accessible e-waste collection points, impeding proper electronic device disposal and recycling.

  • Economic Challenges: In India, formal e-waste recycling and disposal costs more than informal methods like landfills or selling to scrap dealers. This economic factor can discourage compliance with e-waste regulations, particularly among small businesses and individuals.

  • Weak Enforcement Mechanisms: Enforcement of e-waste regulations in India is frequently weakened by limited resources, corruption, and a lack of dedicated enforcement agencies. Strengthening these mechanisms is crucial to ensure compliance with responsible e-waste disposal practices.

  • Lack of Technological Capacity: India encounters hurdles in adopting advanced e-waste recycling technologies, essential for safely extracting valuable materials and reducing environmental impact. These challenges impede sustainable e-waste management in the country.

  • Unorganized Supply Chain: The electronic device supply chain in India lacks coordination and standardization, hindering the tracking of devices and responsible disposal from manufacturers to consumers.

  • Legal and Regulatory Challenges: India's E-waste policies are governed by various laws and rules, leading to potential conflicts and confusion. To ensure effective policy implementation, streamlining the legal framework and harmonizing regulations are essential steps.



7. Circular Economy


Indian businesses are addressing e-waste problems with technology, innovation, and sustainable business models. The report explores how entrepreneurs are contributing to solving India's e-waste challenges and highlights their key initiatives.


  • Platforms for E-Waste Collection and Recycling: Startups create digital platforms connecting users, businesses, and e-waste collectors for convenient scheduling of responsible electronic device disposal. The collected e-waste is recycled or refurbished, reducing environmental impact.

  • Revolutionary Recycling Technologies: Startups are innovating to enhance e-waste recycling efficiency, recovering valuable materials from electronic devices while reducing hazardous waste generation, thus minimizing the ecological impact of e-waste disposal.

  • Circular Economy Models: Startups are embracing the circular economy by refurbishing and reselling used electronic devices, prolonging their product lifecycles. This reduces the demand for new device production and, consequently, minimizes e-waste generation.

  • Raising Awareness and Educating: Numerous startups focus on educating people about the risks of improper e-waste disposal. They use campaigns, workshops, and digital content to raise awareness among individuals, businesses, and communities about responsible e-waste management and recycling.

  • Data Security Solutions: Startups are addressing data security concerns in electronic device disposal by offering secure data erasure services, ensuring personal and sensitive data is removed before recycling or refurbishing, thus enhancing privacy protection.

  • Engaging with Local Communities: Certain startups are engaging with local communities to raise e-waste awareness and collection. They create neighborhood, school, and workplace collection centers to simplify responsible e-waste disposal.

  • Partnerships with Manufacturers: Startups collaborate with electronic device manufacturers to establish take-back programs, allowing consumers to return old devices for responsible disposal or recycling, promoting comprehensive e-waste management throughout the product's life cycle.

  • Innovations in Green Technology: Innovative startups are developing eco-friendly technologies and products, like modular devices for easy upgrades and repairs, reducing the need for frequent replacements and curbing e-waste generation.





8. How startups are solving this issue?


The rising worry over electronic trash (e-waste) has prompted the appearance of creative solutions from Indian businesses. Such firms are addressing the issues created by inappropriate e-waste disposal by utilizing technology, innovation, and long-term business structures in the following spaces:


8.1 E-Waste Collection Platforms:


  • Startups create digital platforms connecting users, businesses, and collectors for scheduled e-waste pickups.

  • Streamlining responsible disposal, collected items are either recycled or refurbished, minimizing environmental impact.



8.2 Revolutionary Recycling Technologies:


  • Startups focus on inventive technologies enhancing e-waste recycling efficiency.

  • Aiming to recover valuable materials while limiting hazardous waste, these techniques reduce the ecological footprint.



8.3 Circular Economy Models:


  • Startups align with circular economy principles by refurbishing and reselling used electronic devices.

  • Repair and refurbishment extend product life cycles, decreasing the need for manufacturing new devices and reducing e-waste.



8.4 Raising Awareness and Educating:


  • Startups disseminate knowledge about hazards related to improper e-waste disposal.

  • Educational campaigns, workshops, and digital content enlighten individuals and businesses about responsible e-waste management.



8.5 Data Security Solutions:


  • Startups address data security concerns in electronic device disposal.

  • Providing services to securely erase personal data before recycling or refurbishing, they alleviate privacy breach concerns.



8.6 Engaging with Local Communities:


  • Startups focus on grassroots engagement, collaborating with communities for e-waste awareness.

  • Establishing collection centers in neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces simplifies responsible e-waste disposal.



8.7 Partnerships with Manufacturers:


  • Startups forge partnerships with device manufacturers for take-back programs.

  • Enabling consumers to return old devices for proper disposal or recycling fosters responsible e-waste management throughout the product life cycle.



8.8 Innovations in Green Technology:


  • Innovative startups design environmentally friendly technologies and products.

  • This includes modular devices for easy upgrades or repairs, reducing the need for frequent replacements and curbing e-waste generation.


Indian startups are key players in tackling e-waste challenges through innovative collection, recycling, education, and technological solutions. Their efforts not only help reduce environmental impacts but also drive economic growth and job creation. Here are some noteworthy startups:



8.9 Karo Sambhav: Karo Sambhav operates as an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) organization, partnering with electronic manufacturers to create collection and recycling networks. They educate consumers, set up collection points, and ensure proper recycling of e-waste.


Problems Addressed:


● Escalating E-Waste Generation: Rapid technology advancement results in increased e-waste.

● Lack of Awareness: Many consumers don't know about e-waste hazards.

● Absence of Recycling Infrastructure: Inadequate facilities lead to improper disposal.


Solution:


● Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Partner with manufacturers to manage product lifecycle.

● Consumer Education: Raise awareness about responsible e-waste disposal.

● Establishing Collection Networks: Set up convenient collection points.

● Ensuring Proper Recycling: Process e-waste in eco-friendly, compliant facilities.

● Vision: Expand the network, increase awareness, advocate for regulations, and innovate recycling for a sustainable future.



8.1.0 GreenTek Reman: GreenTek Reman focuses on refurbishing and remanufacturing electronic devices to extend their lifespan. They repair and upgrade used devices to reduce the demand for new products and subsequent e-waste generation.


Problems Addressed:


● Electronic Waste Proliferation: The constant cycle of upgrading and discarding electronic devices increases electronic waste.

● Resource Depletion: Manufacturing new electronics consumes valuable resources and energy.

● Environmental Impact: E-waste disposal poses environmental and health risks due to hazardous materials.


Solution:


● Device Refurbishment and Remanufacturing: GreenTek Reman specializes in reviving used electronic devices by repairing and upgrading them.

● Extending Device Lifespan: By refurbishing and remanufacturing, they extend the useful life of electronic gadgets, reducing the demand for new products.

● Sustainable Electronics: GreenTek Reman promotes sustainability by giving older devices a second life and mitigating e-waste generation.

● Vision: Their vision is to lead the way in the circular economy for electronics, expanding their refurbishment efforts and inspiring consumers and industries to prioritize sustainability by extending the life of electronic devices.



8.1.1 EcoR Recycling: EcoR Recycling provides e-waste management solutions for businesses, offering collection, transportation, and responsible recycling services. They emphasize data security and compliance with regulations.


Problems Addressed:


● Businesses Need E-Waste Solutions: Many businesses struggle to manage their electronic waste while complying with data security and environmental regulations.

● Lack of Responsible E-Waste Options: Companies need reliable e-waste collection, transportation, and recycling partners.

● Data Security Concerns: Protecting sensitive data during e-waste disposal is critical.


Solution:


● Comprehensive E-Waste Services: EcoR Recycling offers businesses end-to-end e-waste management, including collection, transportation, and recycling.

● Data Security Emphasis: They prioritize data security and ensure that sensitive information is properly handled and destroyed.

● Regulatory Compliance: EcoR Recycling helps businesses comply with environmental regulations for responsible e-waste disposal.

● Vision: Their vision is to become a trusted partner for businesses seeking environmentally friendly and secure e-waste management solutions, contributing to a cleaner and safer digital world.




9.Final Recommendations:


Improving E-waste management in India requires a comprehensive approach that involves multiple stakeholders, including the government, industry, NGOs, and the public. Here are some key recommendations to enhance E-waste management in India:


a) Strengthening Policy and Regulatory Framework:


● Regularly update and strengthen E-waste management policies to keep up with technological advancements and changing consumption patterns.

● Implement strict enforcement measures to ensure compliance with existing regulations. ● Establish penalties and fines for non-compliance to discourage illegal E-waste disposal and trade.


b) Enhancing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR):


● Encourage more producers, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to participate in EPR initiatives.

● Facilitate collaboration between producers and authorized recyclers to ensure effective E-waste collection and recycling.

● Promote eco-design principles that encourage manufacturers to create products with minimal environmental impact and easy recyclability.


c) Promoting Formal Recycling Infrastructure:


● Invest in developing and expanding formal E-waste recycling facilities with state-of-the-art technologies to improve efficiency and safety.

● Encourage public-private partnerships to establish more collection centers and drop-off points for convenient and responsible E-waste disposal.

● Focus on setting up recycling facilities in rural and remote areas to ensure proper E-waste management nationwide.


d) Encouraging Public Awareness and Education:


● Launch extensive awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the hazards of improper E-waste disposal and the benefits of recycling.

● Collaborate with educational institutions to integrate environmental education into the curriculum, promoting responsible E-waste practices from a young age.

● Use social media platforms to disseminate information and encourage public participation in E-waste recycling programs.


e) Promoting Circular Economy Practices:


● Encourage businesses to adopt circular economy models that focus on repairing, refurbishing, and reusing electronic products to extend their lifespan.

● Support initiatives that incentivize consumers to return their old electronic devices for trade-in or recycling when purchasing new products.

● Collaborate with private companies to develop innovative technologies that can pave the way for more efficient and sustainable handling of electronic waste.


f) Supporting the Informal Sector Transition:


● Provide training and capacity-building programs for informal E-waste workers to transition to formal recycling practices and ensure better working conditions.

● Integrate informal recyclers into the formal E-waste management system to enhance resource recovery and reduce environmental and health risks.


g) Research and Data Collection:


● Invest in research and data collection to understand the current state of E-waste generation, recycling rates, and environmental impacts in India.

● Regularly assess the effectiveness of E-waste management policies and initiatives and use data-driven insights for continuous improvement.




Meet The Thought Leader



Vamsi is a mentor at GGI, and has a diverse background that includes being a former McKinsey employee and a graduate of IIT Madras. He possesses a broad skill set encompassing strategy and operations, gained from his various roles and industry exposure.











Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)



Aniket is a socially conscious individual with a strong background in data analysis and business development. His roles include Senior Data Analyst in Family Business: Aniket excels in using data to drive strategic decisions and business growth within his family's enterprise and Consultant for Saunders College of Business: He's a consultant for a sustainability-focused program at Saunders College of Business, where he drives business development and marketing efforts in the ASEAN region. His spare time is dedicated to hiking, trekking, and volunteering with charitable organizations, reflecting his passion for social causes.




Pariket, a 23-year-old social impact professional with a passion for creating positive change. An enthusiastic individual, Pariket thrives on being an impact-driven force in the world. Beyond his dedication to social causes, he is a complex problem solver, navigating challenges with strategic finesse. Off-duty, you'll find him immersed in the world of music or engaging in a spirited game of basketball or cricket, showcasing his diverse interests.





Aakash is currently a student at Duke Fuqua School of Business, specializing in Business Management Studies. He worked in wealth management and leadership development during his last experience at ICICI Bank. He has co-founded three start-ups and worked in many ventures from an early age. Finding creative solutions to problems is something he has always enjoyed. In his role as a social worker, Aakash has collaborated with 7 NGOs, taking on various leadership positions across a wide range of domains. His approach is simple yet powerful: he is always ready to embrace any challenge that comes their way, firmly believing that adaptability is the key to shaping the future.



If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


 

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