Loopholes in New Rules for Electronic Waste

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By Moyna

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 they 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. They 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. Kumar says CPCB has received a number of comments, mostly from manufacturers who have reservations against some of the provisions. CPCB “expects changes” to the guidelines following a meeting with the stakeholders scheduled for the last week of May.

Manufacturers say the rules and guidelines are lacking in many aspects, including details of environment-friendly technologies to be used while disposing of e-waste (for more, read "Enforcing e-waste rules a challenge"). 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.

The e-waste rules list out the regulations and parameters that manufacturers, collectors or dismantlers and recyclers are required to follow while disposing of electronic goods covered by the rules (see box: ‘Electronic wares under new rules’).

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.

Private attempts

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. Dell has also launched a discount coupon programme where consumers can send their old computers to the firm for free recycling and redeem a coupon of Rs 1,000 on the purchase of their next Dell computer. As of January 2010, Dell recycled around 220 million kilogrammes of electronic wares worldwide. Other companies, 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.

Electronic wares under new rules  

Mainframes, minicomputers, personal computers, laptop computers, notebook computers, notepad computers, printers, copying equipment, electric and electronic typewriters, user terminals, facsimile, telex, telephones, pay telephones, cordless telephones, cell phones, answering systems, TV sets, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners.

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 collected 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?” Ashok Singh of Mumbai’s KT Computers, which collects and dismantles e-waste, agrees. “Though we are in talks with a number of manufacturers, there is a tendency to dispose of e-waste through the informal sector for monetary gain.” Of the 3,500 tonnes generated in Mumbai every month, KT Computers is able to collect only 100 tonnes.

CPCB projects e-waste generation in the country at over 800,000 tonnes every year. Almost 90 per cent of this waste goes to the informal sector and is recycled in the shanties of Seelampur in Delhi and in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh (see ‘IT’s underbelly’, Down To Earth, May 16-31, 2010).

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 in GIZ, a German federal enterprise she works for, provides assistance to the informal sector in setting up collection centres and door-to-door collection.

Bharti Chatturvedi, director of Chintan, a non-profit working with waste-pickers, says the volume of e-waste is huge, which is a possible reason for the un- preparedness on the part of the stakeholders. To begin with, she says, consumers need to start giving away their electronic goods for free instead of charging money.

Kumar of CPCB says the biggest challenge is the socio-economic structure where one person’s waste is another persons 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.

Not enough manpower

The implementation of these rules is the responsibility of SPCBs, many of which do not have enough manpower. Bhaskar Rao, senior environmental engineer with the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, says, “In the past one year we have been conducting awareness workshops and have taken the issue to the consumers and manufacturers.” When asked about the logistics of implementing the new rules, he says the board is doing its best. “Since 2011, we have approved and registered five dismantling and collection centres in the state,” he says. At present, the e-waste division of the state pollution control board is handled by five officials who also manage the implementation of rules of hazardous waste, bio-medical waste and municipal solid waste.

The unit dealing with e-waste at CPCB is managed by one person alone. Requesting not to be named, a senior CPCB official agrees that monitoring might be difficult due to staff shortage.

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 channels of collection are 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.

Babu says that producers like Dell, HCL, Nokia and Toshiba have informed the authorities that they have put in place mechanisms required to deal with e-waste. “We cannot say how prepared they are as we have not verified their claims,” he adds.

[Source: Down to Earth]


Vol. 12 - No. 3


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