Loopholes in new rules for e-waste make it difficult to regulate informal sector
The e-waste rules, which require manufacturers of electronic wares to introduce mechanisms for collecting and recycling their goods, came into force on May 1—a year after those were notified. The one-year gap was meant to give stakeholders, including manufacturers, collectors or dismantlers and recyclers, a chance to put their mechanisms of e-waste management in place. But their preparations are still incomplete, or as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) puts it, the stakeholders are gearing up.
The E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules of 2011 are accompanied by guidelines. These are meant to act as explanatory notes because “electronic waste and its disposal is a new concept”, says Anand Kumar, senior environmental engineer with CPCB. The guidelines were published on April 1 and were open to comments till April 27.
Manufacturers say the rules and guidelines are lacking in many aspects, including details of environment-friendly technology to be used while disposing of e-waste. Vinod Babu, head of hazardous waste division of CPCB, has an explanation: “Lack of stringent specifications is a boon as it will help us experiment during implementation without our hands being tied.” Industry should not have any fear of harassment as the rules emphasise the need to “hear out the other party— the violator— before any action is taken”, says Kumar.
The government, on its part, says it has done its job by including extended producer responsibility and will now wait and watch how things progress. Extended producer responsibility means that all manufacturers are responsible for ensuring proper disposal of their products or end-of-life process.
All stakeholders need to register with the state pollution control boards (SPCBs) within 60 days, starting May 1. So far, 74 companies have registered, of which only 16 are recyclers; the rest are dismantlers and collectors.
Companies like Dell boast of a thorough mechanism for dealing with electronic waste. “Dell is committed to implementing its recycling policy without legislative mandates,” says Minari Shah, corporate communications head of the company. In 2006, Dell started a programme in India which involved picking up the unit that needs to be recycled from the consumer. In another effort to encourage recycling of personal computers, Dell has started a free laptop battery recycling programme. The company has also launched a discount coupon programme where consumers can send their old computers to it for free recycling and redeem a coupon of Rs 1,000 on the purchase of their next Dell computer. As of January 2010, the company recycled around 220 million kg of electronic wares worldwide. Other companies such as LG, Panasonic and Whirlpool have introduced schemes where a consumer can return a product at a registered centre and, in some cases, exchange for an upgraded product.
But Nitin Gupta of Attero Recycling, one of the few companies offering recycling of e-waste in the country, questions the functionality of these schemes, considering the manufacturers make no mention of who will recycle the waste. “In the past one year, we have attempted to establish contracts with a number of manufacturers but only a few have come forward.” The manufacturers are not willing to commit and think the rules will fall through when they reach the implementation stage, adds Gupta. A reason for this is that the rules are not clear about the financial mechanisms needed to ensure proper implementation. Citing the example of the EU and Japan, where consumers are required to pay an advanced recycling fee and a specific amount at the time of disposing of electronic wares, respectively, Gupta asks, “If the same manufacturers can follow proper disposal of e-waste in these countries, why can’t they do so in India?”
CPCB projects e-waste generation in the country at over 800,000 tonnes every year. Almost 90 per cent of this goes to the informal sector and is recycled in the shanties of Seelampur in Delhi and Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh.
Lakshmi Raghupathy, a technical specialist on e-waste and former director with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, emphasises the need to reach people in the informal sector. She says the e-waste project of GIZ, a German federal enterprise she works for, provides assistance to the informal sector in setting up collection centres and door-to-door collection.
Kumar of CPCB says the biggest challenge is the socio-economic structure where one person’s waste is another’s resource and, therefore, already in place are chains where people are paid for their waste by kabadiwallas and others. “People do not part with their waste for free and that is the challenge that producers and collectors need to address,” he adds.
The implementation of these rules is the responsibility of SPCBs, many of which do not have enough manpower. According to Satish Sinha of non-profit Toxic Links in Delhi, collection of e-waste is a big concern. “Till date, not a single proper collection centre has been set up in any city. No channel of collection is available to consumers,” he says. Efforts so far have been sporadic which clearly goes to show that the intervening one year given to the companies has been a waste, he adds.
Reprinted with permission from Down To Earth magazine
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