THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 26 December 2018 (The afterlife of e-goods)

The afterlife of e-goods

Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology 
Prelims level: e-goods, e-waste 
Mains level:  Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology
and issues relating to intellectual property rights


  • Risky and rudimentary ways of metal recovery from the open burning of e-waste components such as circuit boards and wires have choked the city.
  • All this has serious repercussions for the health of the residents, besides being environmentally unsafe.
  • There are fears that a Moradabad-like polluted e-waste hub may be in the making in Jamnagar, next to the brass industry cluster there.
  • A study by Assocham and NEC finds that a mere 5 per cent of India’s e-waste gets recycled, much less than the global recycling rate of only 20 per cent;
  • 95 percent of India’s e-waste is managed by the unorganised sector (kabadiwalas, scrap dealers and dismantlers) using dangerous methods to recover metals from circuit-boards and wires. 

E-waste problem in India 

  • E-waste is generated when electrical or electronic equipment (EEE) is discarded, or returned within warranty, by consumers, and also from manufacturing and repair rejects. 
  • Discarded laptops, desktops, cellphones and their batteries, air conditioners and television sets, cables and wires, tubelights and CFLs which contain mercury, are some examples of e-waste.
  • E waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. The Global E-Waste Monitor estimates that 44.7 million tonnes (mt) of e-waste was generated in 2016. 
  • India was the fourth-largest generator (2 mt) after China (7.2 mt), the US (6.3 mt) and Japan (2.1 mt) in 2016. 
  • As Indians spend more on electronic items and appliances with rising incomes, e-waste is expected to continue to grow rapidly. While technology obsolescence creates e-waste (for example, landline phones, 2G vs 4G), power supply voltage surges which damage electronics are a major factor contributing to India’s e-waste. 
  • An additional problem arises when developed countries export their e-waste for recycling and/or disposal (legally or illegally) to developing countries, including India.

About the recycling process 

  • A study by ASSOCHAM and NEC finds that a mere 5 per cent of India’s e-waste gets recycled, much less than the global recycling rate of only 20 per cent; 
  • 95 percent of India’s e-waste is managed by the unorganised sector (kabadiwalas, scrap dealers and dismantlers) using dangerous methods to recover metals from circuit-boards and wires. 
  • Since electrical wires are almost invariably encased in PVC, which contains 57 per cent chlorine, the act of burning produces deadly dioxins. 
  • The smoke from such burning is known to cause cancer, damage the nervous system, and also poses several other health hazards. 
  • The National Green Tribunal has advised a ban on single-use PVC and short-life PVC products but not on wires and cables.
  • The workers themselves ignore safety measures needed for their work.
  • Not all e-waste is hazardous to manage when dismantling or recycling is carried out by the informal sector.
  • It is usually a minuscule proportion of the total but has disastrous consequences for the environment and public health and for their own health if not carried out with due precaution.
  • Only the metal recovery process from a 40 gm circuit board in a discarded clothes washing machine weighing 100 kg poses a challenge. 
  • The major portion of the discarded machine goes into the usual recycling streams, such as aluminium, iron, plastic and glass.
  • India enjoys a frugal hand-me-down culture with a long line of re-users from a younger sibling to a maid to her village.
  • As a result, our e-waste takes a lot longer to reach end of life. 

What can we do with our end of life products? 

  • Cities should organise quarterly collection drives or provide drop -off centres. Producers should set up collection centres for EEE.
  • Ideally, we should all purchase new products turning in our old ones for a discount, so that dealers become aggregators for channelising e-items to authorised dismantlers. 
  • Meanwhile, we as users can reduce e-waste by buying long-life items, and supporting repair and refurbishment. 
  • Producer responsibility organisations like Reverse Logistics Group and Karo Sambhav are paid by EEE producers to source and pay for e-waste. 
  • They should be encouraged to network with kabadiwalas. California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act achieves this through an E-waste Recycling Fee on purchases of EEE.
  • That helps reimburse numerous recycling centres offering free services to businesses and consumers.

Way forward 

  • Management of e-waste requires its dismantling, refurbishment or recycling and safe disposal The E Waste Management Rules 2016 address these issues. 
  • Extended producer responsibility is mandated to ensure effective plans for collection, setting up collection centres and buy back mechanisms or a deposit refund scheme.
  • But the Rules need to be backed by enforcement of the regulatory framework, provision of the necessary infrastructure, and an enabling environment for compliance.
  • There are close to 200 e-waste recyclers in India which are licensed by the CPCB, but most of them are also just dismantlers.
  • Formal sector recyclers face stiff competition from informal operators who get away without following the regulations. 
  • Authorised recyclers incur large overhead costs for mandatory infrastructure for construction and equipment and the official and unofficial costs of compliance with multiple regulations.

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General Studies Pre. Cum Mains Study Materials

UPSC Prelims Questions: 

Q.1) Which of the following are the main contributors of the e-waste in the world?
I.  Refrigerators/freezers, washing machines, dishwashers
II. Small household appliances (toasters, coffee makers, irons, hairdryers)
III. Personal computers, telephones, mobile phones, laptops, printers, scanners, photocopiers
IV. Gas cylinder, chimneys & home appliances

A.Only I, II, III
B.Only I & II
C.Only I, III, IV
D.All of the above
Answer: A

UPSC Mains Questions: 
Q.1) What is an e-waste? What are the steps needed to control rapidly growing e-waste crisis?