According to estimates from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), globally, almost around 50 million tons of e-waste is produced annually, and this figure has full potential to rise at a faster rate, as compared to any other form of waste stream. One interesting point to be noted here is that, even after its due use, e-waste is still of great value and significance. Over 92 percent of e-waste is actually recoverable and reusable.

 What is E-waste?

E-waste basically refers to Electronic Waste, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). It includes all kinds of electronic products and equipment that have been discarded as a result of -

  • Advancements in technology
  • Changes in fashion, status or perception
  • Near the end of its functional life

Generally speaking, e-waste refers to any obsolete, old, end of life product using electricity that has been disposed of by its owners. So basically, e-waste would include discarded television sets, old computers, radios, refrigerators, electronic laboratory equipment, and telecommunication equipment, along with other handheld electronic devices – appliances, which have reached their end of life.

E-waste in India:

With the economy of India having recorded a sustained growth rate of around seven percentage points plus during the past, new economic trends have led to a significant rise in disposable incomes, along with the rise of the Indian consumer – a consumer who is willing to spend more. This has consequently resulted in a huge demand for consumer durables.

According to the most recent annual report from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), by the time 2012 ends, India would have produced eight lakh tons of e-waste – a eight fold increase over the past seven years. Environmentalists say that another 50,000 tons of e-waste is imported from other developed nations, in spite of a ban being imposed.

According to reports from the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT), of the total amount of e-waste generated in India, the western region is responsible for the largest proportion (35 percent), which is closely followed by the southern region (30 percent). The regional spread for India’s e-waste generation is depicted in the chart below:

Mumbai is right on top of the list of the 10 most e-waste producing cities, while Delhi is at the second spot, followed by Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur. The state wise break up shows that 70 percent of the total e-waste generated in India comes from the following 10 states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Delhi, MP and Punjab.

E-waste Recycling: The Issues

According to Assocham, of the country’s total e-waste generated, less than five percent gets recycled, primarily due to the absence of the required infrastructure, along with the necessary framework and legislation.

In its analysis, Assocham on the World Environment Day said that India, which is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of around 20 percent, generates over 4.4 lakh tons of e-waste annually. Almost 50 percent of all unused electronic appliances end up in junkyards, landfills and warehouses. And more than 90 percent of the e-waste is managed by an unorganized sector of scrap dealers, who merely dismantle the disposed appliances, rather than recycling it. However, although, the organized sector in recycling is responsible for lower than 1o percent, there is still quite a lot of scope for growth, as recyclers are now engaging with IT giants as well as other enterprises for disposing e-devices efficiently.

Developments in E-Waste Recycling

E-waste recycling is gaining more ground around the world, as greater quantities of electronics end up in the waste stream. In India, on May 1, 2012, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011, was formally placed into effect to help reduce the usage of hazardous substances in electronic and electrical products.

The guidelines, which have been issued by the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board), will apply to all producers, consumers, bulk consumers, as well as collection centers, recyclers and dismantlers of e-waste, basically anyone involved in the production/manufacture, sale, purchase or processing of electronic and electrical equipment.

E-waste Recycling: Why it Makes Economic Sense

The financial benefits associated with recycling or the ability to generate income from recycling e-waste has made it one of the most rapidly growing business opportunities in the US. The recycling industry makes around $236 billion in annual gross sales and about $37 billion in payrolls annually.

Also, the financial benefits associated with recycling e-waste are very much in contrast to incinerating e-waste or dumping e-waste in landfills. Energy savings generated from recycling e-waste also produce indirect benefits, which include lowered dependence on finite fossil fuel reserves, reduced air pollution (which is caused due to energy production), and drop in greenhouse gas emission levels.

Moreover, recycling e-waste also allows for the recovery of precious metals. Most consumer electronics have valuable materials like gold, copper and zinc, which can and should be recycled. Printed Wiring Boards or PWBs contain highest value metals, along with some of the most toxic ones found in electronics and electrical scrap. In fact, there are about 10 to 100 times more valuable metals in a PWB, as compared to an equal weight of metal ore, extracted from a mine. Also, the majority of electronic appliances and products are being recovered today primarily for valuable metals and copper.