Electronic waste (e-waste) i.e., waste arising from end-of-life electronic products, such as computers and mobile phones, is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world today.
E-waste value chain:
E-waste management is a complicated process even the multitude of actors that are involved in the process.
The major stakeholders in the value chain include importers, producers/ manufacturers, retailers (businesses/ government/ others), consumers (individual households, businesses, Government and others), traders, scrap dealers, dissemblers/ dismantlers and recyclers.
The process involves four stages - generation, collection, segregation and treatment/disposal.
E-waste is generated when the first user of the product concludes on its useful life with no intention of reuse and disposes it off by donating or selling.
This e-waste can be managed either formally through collection or disposal in waste bins or informally through developed e-waste management infrastructure or even without it.
The activities usually fall under the requirements of national e-waste legislation, in which e-waste is collected by designated organisations, producers, Government (such as municipal collection sites), retailer take-back, and producer take-back.
This e-waste is then taken to a specialised treatment facility, which recovers the valuable materials and manages the toxic substances in an environmentally controlled manner. Residuals are incinerated or safely landfilled.
Waste Bin Collections
The disposer resorts to openly dump the product in a waste bin along with other household wastes. Since segregation of such waste is rudimentary, the e-waste ends up being incinerated or landfilled as other domestic waste. As a result, besides losing the resource value it harms the environment.
Some countries may have an established network of individual waste dealers or companies who collect and trade the e-waste through various channels wherein
possible metal recycling may occur at the destination. In others, the e-waste may be picked door-to-door and sold to an informal dealer who may repair, refurbish, or sell again to a backyard recycler.
This recycler dismantles the product through burning, leaching, and melting, thus converting it into secondary raw materials. Irrespective of how the e-waste is disposed of in the two processes, it still runs the risk of not being aptly treated to secure the disposal in an environmentally sound manner.
The demand and supply side gap analysis against the backdrop of the regulatory landscape reveals two major stakeholders in the process – (1) Business advocates and (2) Public and Media gatekeepers.
The Government remains a great catalyst in the entire process. Its role can be discounted to be that of a facilitator and a regulator in a self-propelled market. Rather than taking a Keynesian approach of instigating demand for e-waste recycling through levies and subsidy packages (levies and subsidies impose two distinct challenges for e-waste funding policy), a neo-classical growth method triggering increased supply to formal recyclers and closing the infrastructure deficit to improve dismantling and extraction in the country can go a long way in creating the desired market for e-waste recycling. This is where the current policy framework needs to put in efforts and hence, the Government’s role is essential.
The size and complexity of the e-waste problem is growing at a much quicker rate than the efficacy of our strategies to contain it. This trend is not likely to reverse soon.
One of the viable options to solve the problem is to reduce the generation of waste drastically. Whereas the policy advocates for greater awareness campaigns on the part of producers, it has been sorely lacking in citizen engagement frameworks to encourage responsible consumption and possibly bring down consumption levels altogether.
Immense potential is there in augmenting e-waste recycling in the country. There are some forward movements in this direction. However, lots of ground need to be covered through awareness campaigns, skill development, building human capital, and introducing technology while adopting adequate safety measures in the country’s informal sector.
Since India is highly deficient in precious mineral resources, there is a need for a well-designed, robust and regulated e-waste recovery regime that would generate jobs and wealth. The focus of this analysis is to inform policymaking about measures to improve recycling capacity through market-based mechanisms, unlike the current policy approach of subsidy-based efforts.
Sustainable business solutions and proactive people’s participation can guide the time-bound achievement of EPR targets and breathe a second life for digital debris.