India generates about 2 million TPA (tonnes per annum) of electronic waste per annum.[i] With the rapid growth of technology and the fast rate at which things become obsolete, the amount of e waste generated is expected to increase by leaps and bounds. It is necessary to safely dispose e-waste as it contains hazardous chemicals. If they aren’t disposed of safely, those chemicals can pose a safety hazard to people, animals and the environment. In addition to contaminating soil, hazardous wastes can pollute the air and leach into water sources.[ii] Further, e-waste contains some precious metals like gold and platinum which can be salvaged and used further. There is 100 times more gold in a ton of mobile phones than in a ton of gold ore.[iii] A UN report cites that one recycler in China already produces more cobalt (by recycling) than what the country mines in one year. Recycled metals are also 2 to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will use precious metals salvaged from e-waste to make medals. It has been suggested India being highly deficient in precious mineral resources (whereas untreated e-waste goes to landfill), a well-designed, robust and regulated e-waste recovery regime would generate jobs as well as wealth.
Improper disposal of e-waste not only causes wastage of resources but, pollutes the environment. About 95 per cent of India’s e-waste is recycled in the informal sector in an improper manner.[iv] Informal recyclers also known as backyard recyclers do not have wastewater treatment facilities, exhaust-waste gas treatment, and personal health protection equipment. This leads to the release of high concentrations of heavy metals in dust and air pollution.[v] There is a widespread network of informal workers who are employed to dismantle e-waste without knowing the perils to their health. For the dismantling of one computer piece, these workers only get Rs. 5 or 10.
In India, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 were enacted and became effective from 1st May, 2012. Thereafter, the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 were enacted to replace the 2011 Rules and came into effect from 1st October, 2016. These rules made under Environmental Protection Act, 1986 is based on “extended producer responsibility” a concept which has emerged from polluter’s pay principle. An analysis of the act will be covered in the second half of this article. It will also discuss where e-waste management stands today.