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E-Waste Essay Sample

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E-Waste Essay Sample


The twentieth century marked the beginning of use of equipments like radio, television and a ground breaking discovery – the first computer. Innovation and development in the field of science and technology and an open global market resulted in availability of a range of products at affordable prices, changing the very lifestyle of societies. New electronic appliances have infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives, providing society with more comfort, health and security, with easy and faster information acquisition and exchange.

The term E-WASTE is quite a lucrative term. We all are aware of it but neither of us care to get what exactly the thing is. It’s a cause of pollution we all know but none of us is aware of what type of pollution does it cause. Many of us might not be even sure whether e-waste in any way may be a potential pollution as the other type of pollutant which causes air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution etc. . This research by a group of students of EC Branch of Nirma Institute of Technology, Nirma University has tried its best to throw light on the ignored topic by most of us and bring an innovative approach to tackle with it…

Definition Of E-Waste

Electronic waste” may be defined as all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as television sets
and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners. This definition includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. Others define the re-usables (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be “commodities”, and reserve the term “waste” for residue or material which was represented as working or repairable but which is dumped or disposed or discarded by the buyer rather than recycled, including residue from reuse and recycling operations. Because loads of surplus electronics are frequently commingled (good, recyclable, and non-recyclable), several public policy advocates apply the term “e-waste” broadly to all surplus electronics.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes discarded CRT monitors in its category of “hazardous household waste”.[1] but considers CRTs set aside for testing to be commodities if they are not discarded, speculatively accumulated, or left unprotected from weather and other damage. Debate continues over the distinction between “commodity” and “waste” electronics definitions. Some exporters may deliberately leave difficult-to-spot obsolete or non-working equipment mixed in loads of working equipment (through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes). Protectionists may broaden the definition of “waste” electronics. The high value of the computer recycling subset of electronic waste (working and reusable laptops, computers, and components like RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless “electronic commodities”

Sources of E-waste

As of the definition of e-waste suggests that it comprises of electronic gadgets, its sources of course ranges from the place of its production to the place of its disposal. So the very first place where it is produced, it’s production unit to the place it is consumed- households, industries and all the other possible places as this is a tech-savvy world to finally the place where it goes after being discarded by the users. The place be the scrap grounds, the recycling place or the disposable units. Industrial revolution followed by the advances in information technology during the last century has radically changed people’s lifestyle. Although this development has helped the human race, mismanagement has led to new problems of contamination and pollution.

The technical prowess acquired during the last century has posed a new challenge in the management of wastes. For example, personal computers (PCs) contain certain components, which are highly toxic, such as chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, toxic metals, biologically active materials, acids, plastics and plastic additives. The hazardous content of these materials pose an environmental and health threat. Thus proper management is necessary while disposing or recycling ewastes. These days computer has become most common and widely used gadget in all kinds of activities ranging from schools, residences, offices to manufacturing industries.

E-toxic components in computers could be summarized as circuit boards containing heavy metals like lead & cadmium; batteries containing cadmium; cathode ray tubes with lead oxide & barium; brominated flameretardants used on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing; poly vinyl chloride (PVC) coated copper cables and plastic computer casings that release highly toxic dioxins & furans when burnt to recover valuable metals; mercury switches; mercury in flat screens; poly chlorinated biphenyl’s (PCB’s) present in older capacitors; transformers; etc. Basel Action Network (BAN) estimates that the 500 million computers in the world contain 2.87 billion kgs of plastics, 716.7 million kgs of lead and 286,700 kgs of mercury. The average 14-inch monitor uses a tube that contains an estimated 2.5 to 4 kgs of lead. The lead can seep into the ground water from landfills thereby contaminating it. If the tube is crushed and burned, it emits toxic fumes into the air.


As there is no separate collection of e-waste in India, there is no clear data on the quantity generated and disposed of each year and the resulting extent of environmental risk. The preferred practice to get rid of obsolete electronic items in India is to get them in exchange from retailers when purchasing a new item. The business sector is estimated to account for 78% of all installed computers in India (Toxics Link, 2003). Obsolete computers from the business sector are sold by auctions. Sometimes educational institutes or charitable institutions receive old computers for reuse. It is estimated that the total number of obsolete personal computers emanating each year from business and individual households in India will be around 1.38 million. According to a report of Confederation of Indian Industries, the total waste generated by obsolete or broken down electronic and electrical equipment in India has been estimated to be 1,46,000 tons per year (CII, 2006).

The results of a field survey conducted in the Chennai, a metroplolitan city of India to assess the average usage and life of the personal computers (PCs), television (TV) and mobile phone showed that the average household usage of the PC ranges from 0.39 to 1.70 depending on the income class (Shobbana Ramesh and Kurian Joseph, 2006). In the case of TV it varied from 1.07 to 1.78 and for mobile phones it varied from 0.88 to 1.70. The low-income households use the PC for 5.94 years, TV for 8.16 years and the mobile phones for 2.34 years while, the upper income class uses the PC for 3.21 years, TV for 5.13 years and mobile phones for 1.63 years. Although the per-capita waste production in India is still relatively small, the total absolute volume of wastes generated will be huge. Further, it is growing at a faster rate. The growth rate of the mobile phones (80%) is very high compared to that of PC (20%) and TV (18%).

The public awareness on e-wastes and the willingness of the public to pay for e-waste management as assessed during the study based on an organized questionnaire revealed that about 50% of the public are aware of environmental and health impacts of the electronic items. The willingness of public to pay for e-waste management ranges from 3.57% to 5.92% of the product cost for PC 3.94 % to 5.95 % for TV and 3.4 % to 5 % for the mobile phones. Additionally considerable quantities of e-waste are reported to be imported (Agarwal, 1998; Toxics Link, 2004). However, no confirmed figures available on how substantial are these transboundary e-waste streams, as most of such trade in e-waste is camouflaged and conducted under the pretext of obtaining ‘reusable’ equipment or ‘donations’ from developed nations. The government trade data does not distinguish between imports of new and old computers and peripheral parts and so it is difficult to track what share of imports is used electronic goods.

Effects on Human Health

Disposal of e-wastes is a particular problem faced in many regions across the globe. Computer wastes that are landfilled produces contaminated leachates which eventually pollute the groundwater. Acids and sludge obtained from melting computer chips, if disposed on the ground causes acidification of soil. For example, Guiyu, Hong Kong a thriving area of illegal e-waste recycling is facing acute water shortages due to the contamination of water resources. This is due to disposal of recycling wastes such as acids, sludges etc. in rivers. Now water is being transported from faraway towns to cater to the demands of the population. Incineration of e-wastes can emit toxic fumes and gases, thereby polluting the surrounding air. Improperly monitored landfills can cause environmental hazards. Mercury will leach when certain electronic devices, such as circuit breakers are destroyed. The same is true for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from condensers.

When brominated flame retardant plastic or cadmium containing plastics are landfilled, both polybrominated dlphenyl ethers (PBDE) and cadmium may leach into the soil and groundwater. It has been found that significant amounts of lead ion are dissolved from broken lead containing glass, such as the cone glass of cathode ray tubes, gets mixed with acid waters and are a common occurrence in landfills. Not only does the leaching of mercury poses specific problems, the vaporization of metallic mercury and dimethylene mercury, both part of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is also of concern. In addition, uncontrolled fires may arise at landfills and this could be a frequent occurrence in many countries. When exposed to fire, metals and other chemical substances, such as the extremely toxic dioxins and furans (TCDD tetrachloro dibenzo-dioxin, PCDDs-polychlorinated dibenzodioxins.

PBDDs-polybrominated dibenzo-dioxin and PCDFspoly chlorinated dibenzo furans) from halogenated flame retardant products and PCB containing condensers can be emitted. The most dangerous form of burning e-waste is the open-air burning of plastics in order to recover copper and other metals. The toxic fall-out from open air burning affects both the local environment and broader global air currents, depositing highly toxic by products in many places throughout the world. Table I summarizes the health effects of certain constituents in e-wastes. If these electronic items are discarded with other household garbage, the toxics pose a threat to both health and vital components of the ecosystem. In view of the ill-effects of hazardous wastes to both environment and health, several countries exhorted the need for a global agreement to address the problems and challenges posed by hazardous waste.

Also, in the late 1980s, a tightening of environmental regulations in industrialized countries led to a dramatic rise in the cost of hazardous waste disposal. Searching for cheaper ways to get rid of the wastes, “toxic traders” began shipping hazardous waste to developing countries. International outrage following these irresponsible activities led to the drafting and adoption of strategic plans and regulations at the Basel Convention. The Convention secretariat, in Geneva, Switzerland, facilitates and implementation of the Convention and related agreements. It also provides assistance and guidelines on legal and technical issues, gathers statistical data, and conducts training on the proper management of hazardous waste. Table I: Effects of E-Waste constituent on health

Source of e-wastes| Constituent| Health effects|

Solder in printed circuit boards, glass panels and gaskets in computer monitors| Lead (PB)| Damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems and kidney damage.Affects brain development of children.| Chip resistors and semiconductors| Cadmium (CD)| Toxic irreversible effects on human health.Accumulates in kidney and liver.Causes neural damage.Teratogenic.| Relays and switches, printed circuit boards| Mercury (Hg)| Chronic damage to the brain.Respiratory and skin disorders due to bioaccumulation in fishes.| Corrosion protection of untreated and galvanized steel plates, decorator or hardner for steel housings| Hexavalent chromium (Cr) VI| Asthmatic bronchitis.DNA damage.| Cabling and computer housing| Plastics including PVC| Burning produces dioxin.

It causesReproductive and developmental problems;Immune system damage;Interfere with regulatory hormones| Plastic housing of electronic equipments and circuit boards.| Brominated flame retardants (BFR)| Disrupts endocrine system functions| Front panel of CRTs| Barium (Ba)| Short term exposure causes:Muscle weakness;Damage to heart, liver and spleen.| Motherboard| Beryllium (Be)| Carcinogenic (lung cancer)Inhalation of fumes and dust. Causes chronic beryllium disease or beryllicosis.Skin diseases such as warts.| A set. of interrelated and mutually supportive strategies are proposed to support the concrete implementation of the activities as indicated in the website (http://www.basel.int/DraftstrateKJcoian4Seot.pdF) is described below: To involve experts in designing communication tools for creating awareness at the highest level to promote the aims of the Basel Declaration on environmentally sound management and the ratification and implementation of the Basel Convention, its amendments and protocol with the emphasis on the short-term activities.

To engage and stimulate a group of interested parties to assist the secretariat in exploring fund raising strategies including the preparation of projects and in making full use of expertise in non-governmental organizations and other institutions in joint projects. To motivate selective partners among various stakeholders to bring added value to making progress in the short-term. To disseminate and make information easily accessible through the internet and other electronic and printed materials on the transfer of know-how, in particular through Basel Convention Regional Centers (BCRCs). To undertake periodic review of activities in relation to the agreed indicators; To collaborate with existing institutions and programmes to promote better use of cleaner technology and its transfer, methodology, economic instruments or policy to facilitate or support capacity-building for the environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes.

The Basel Convention brought about a respite to the transboundary movement of hazardous waste. India and other countries have ratified the convention. However United States (US) is not a party to the ban and is responsible for disposing hazardous waste, such as, e-waste to Asian countries even today. Developed countries such as US should enforce stricter legislations in their own country for the prevention of this horrifying act. In the European Union where the annual quantity of electronic waste is likely to double in the next 12 years, the European Parliament recently passed legislation that will require manufacturers to take back their electronic products when consumers discard them. This is called Extended Producer Responsibility. It also mandates a timetable for phasing out most toxic substances in electronic products.

Economic growth and Digital revolution:

The Indian economy has witnessed a significant growth over the last two decades. The Information Technology (IT) sector has contributed significantly to this overall economic growth and has been responsible for a major shift in the consumption patterns of the Indian middle class, especially for consumer durables and household goods. The digital revolution, which commenced in 1980, continues to the present day and has transformed the way we live, work and communicate. There are a whole range of products, which have become affordable and infiltrated homes and offices. There is also a change also in the way these are utilized by consumers, as it is now easier and more convenient to replace than to repair these products. Figures, as illustrated in table 1, indicate the constant growth in sales volumes of some consumer electronics goods in India. Table 1: Sales figure for consumer electronics in India

The increasing affordability and availability of these products means a gradual penetration into smaller towns which are now recording impressive sales of consumer electronics. The desktop PC and laptop/notebook sales have shown impressive growth in the smaller cities and towns (Rest of India in Fig 1 & 2) in the last five years, accounting to 68% and 75% of the total sales volume in 2008-09, compared to 45% and 25% in 2003-04. India, with around 500 million mobile users, is now the second largest market in the world after China, and in 2008-09 rural India outpaced urban India in mobile growth rate. According to data available with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 48 million rural consumers took a new mobile connection in the first six months of calendar 2009 compared with just 32 million in the cities, thus taking the mobile penetration in rural India to around 17%.

These figures do suggest that the penetration of consumer electronics like computers and mobile has deepened in the country but there is still very large untapped market potential for these products. With the absolute penetration of these equipments still being very low, the coming years will see further increase in sales as new markets are explored and accessed .

Mounting quantities of E-waste:

The unprecedented growth of the consumer electronics market is revolutionary, as it has brought knowledge and information at every one’s doorstep. The electronics manufacturing industry, one of the largest and fastest growing in the world is also one of the most innovative, constantly creating and utilizing new technologies and thereby inbuilt product obsolescence. The result is that an ever increasing quantity of electronics and electrical appliances being discarded, as it is often cheaper to buy new than to repair or to upgrade a broken or obsolete product. This has given rise to a new environmental challenge: Waste from electrical and electronic equipment or “e-waste.” E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams today and is growing almost three times the rate of municipal waste, globally. As per current estimates, the global e-waste market is forecasted to reach 53 million tonnes by 2012 from 42 million tonnes in 2008; thus growing at a CAGR of 6 percent.

India with population of over 1 billion, a growing economy and increasing consumption is estimated to be generating approximately 4,00,000 tonnes of waste annually (computers, mobile phone and television only) and is expected to grow at a much higher rate of 10-15%. The main sources of electrical and electronic waste generation in India are government institutions and business houses, accounting for around 70% of the total waste, while contribution of individual household is relatively small. But with the growth of middle class in the country and increasing disposable income, e-waste generation from households is also set to increase. This huge generation of highly toxic waste poses serious concerns as India is still struggling to find sustainable solution to this complex issue.

The illegal waste being dumped from developed countries further aggravates the E-waste situation in the country. India happens to be at the receiving end of the international waste and reports suggest that large volumes of this toxic waste are brought in illegally into the country. These are primarily being dumped into India for profit due to availability of cheap labour and weak environmental laws. Some of the Export Promotion Zones are also proving to be lucrative destination/ centers for such waste trade. This illegally dumped waste from developed nations adds to the already mounting waste pile from domestic sources. The country does not possess appropriate technology, infrastructure or a supporting legal framework to manage this waste, thus making it highly unsustainable and unsafe.

E-Waste Management

It is estimated that 75% of electronic items are stored due to uncertainty of how to manage it. These electronic junks lie unattended in houses, offices, warehouses etc. and normally mixed with household wastes, which are finally disposed off at landfills. This necessitates implementable management measures. In industries management of e-waste should begin at the point of generation. This can be done by waste minimization techniques and by sustainable product design. Waste minimization in industries involves adopting: inventory management,

production-process modification,
volume reduction,
recovery and reuse.
Inventory management

Proper control over the materials used in the manufacturing process is an important way to reduce waste generation (Freeman, 1989). By reducing both the quantity of hazardous materials used in the process and the amount of excess raw materials in stock, the quantity of waste generated can be reduced. This can be done in two ways i.e. establishing material-purchase review and control procedures and inventory tracking system. Developing review procedures for all material purchased is the first step in establishing an inventory management program. Procedures should require that all materials be approved prior to purchase.

In the approval process all production materials are evaluated to examine if they contain hazardous constituents and whether alternative non-hazardous materials are available. Another inventory management procedure for waste reduction is to ensure that only the needed quantity of a material is ordered. This will require the establishment of a strict inventory tracking system. Purchase procedures must be implemented which ensure that materials are ordered only on an as-needed basis and that only the amount needed for a specific period of time is ordered. Production-process modification

Changes can be made in the production process, which will reduce waste generation. This reduction can be accomplished by changing the materials used to make the product or by the more efficient use of input materials in the production process or both. Potential waste minimization techniques can be broken down into three categories: i) Improved operating and maintenance procedures,

ii) Material change and
iii)Process-equipment modification.

Improvements in the operation and maintenance of process equipment can result in significant waste reduction. This can be accomplished by reviewing current operational procedures or lack of procedures and examination of the production process for ways to improve its efficiency. Instituting standard operation procedures can optimise the use of raw materials in the production process and reduce the potential for materials to be lost through leaks and spills. A strict maintenance program, which stresses corrective maintenance, can reduce waste generation caused by equipment failure. An employee-training program is a key element of any waste reduction program. Training should include correct operating and handling procedures, proper equipment use, recommended maintenance and inspection schedules, correct process control specifications and proper management of waste materials. Hazardous materials used in either a product formulation or a production process may be replaced with a less hazardous or non-hazardous material.

This is a very widely used technique and is applicable to most manufacturing processes. Implementation of this waste reduction technique may require only some minor process adjustments or it may require extensive new process equipment. For example, a circuit board manufacturer can replace solvent-based product with water-based flux and simultaneously replace solventvapor degreaser with detergent parts washer. Installing more efficient process equipment or modifying existing equipment to take advantage of better production techniques can significantly reduce waste generation. New or updated equipment can use process materials more efficiently producing less waste. Additionally such efficiency reduces the number of rejected or off-specification products, thereby reducing the amount of material which has to be reworked or disposed of. Modifying existing process equipment can be a very cost-effective method of reducing waste generation.

In many cases the modification can just be relatively simple changes in the way the materials are handled within the process to ensure that they are not wasted. For example, in many electronic manufacturing operations, which involve coating a product, such as electroplating or painting, chemicals are used to strip off coating from rejected products so that they can be recoated. These chemicals, which can include acids, caustics, cyanides etc are often a hazardous waste and must be properly managed. By reducing the number of parts that have to be reworked, the quantity of waste can be significantly reduced. Volume reduction

Volume reduction includes those techniques that remove the hazardous portion of a waste from a non-hazardous portion. These techniques are usually to reduce the volume, and thus the cost of disposing of a waste material. The techniques that can be used to reduce waste-stream volume can be divided into 2 general categories: source segregation and waste concentration. Segregation of wastes is in many cases a simple and economical technique for waste reduction. Wastes containing different types of metals can be treated separately so that the metal value in the sludge can be recovered. Concentration of a waste stream may increase the likelihood that the material can be recycled or reused. Methods include gravity and vacuum filtration, ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, freeze vaporization etc. For example, an electronic component manufacturer can use compaction equipments to reduce volume of waste cathode ray-tube

. Recovery and reuse

This technique could eliminate waste disposal costs, reduce raw material costs and provide income from a salable waste. Waste can be recovered on-site, or at an off-site recovery facility, or through inter industry exchange. A number of physical and chemical techniques are available to reclaim a waste material such as reverse osmosis, electrolysis, condensation, electrolytic recovery, filtration, centrifugation etc. For example, a printed-circuit board manufacturer can use electrolytic recovery to reclaim metals from copper and tin-lead plating bath. However recycling of hazardous products has little environmental benefit if it simply moves the hazards into secondary products that eventually have to be disposed of. Unless the goal is to redesign the product to use nonhazardous materials, such recycling is a false solution. Sustainable product design

Minimization of hazardous wastes should be at product design stage itself keeping in mind the following factors* Rethink the product design: Efforts should be made to design a product with fewer amounts of hazardous materials. For example, the efforts to reduce material use are reflected in some new computer designs that are flatter, lighter and more integrated.

Other companies propose centralized networks similar to the telephone system. Use of renewable materials and energy: Bio-based plastics are plastics made with plant-based chemicals or plant-produced polymers rather than from petrochemicals. Bio-based toners, glues and inks are used more frequently. Solar computers also exist but they are currently very expensive. Use of non-renewable materials that are safer: Because many of the materials used are non-renewable, designers could ensure the product is built for re-use, repair and/or upgradeability. Some computer manufacturers such as Dell and Gateway lease out their products thereby ensuring they get them back to further upgrade and lease out again. * http://www.svtc.org/ cIeancclDubs/savno.htm)


While the world is marveling at the technological revolution, countries like India are facing an imminent danger. E-waste of developed countries, such as the US, dispose their wastes to India and other Asian countries. A recent investigation revealed that much of the electronics turned over for recycling in the United States ends up in Asia, where they are either disposed of or recycled with little or no regard for environmental or worker health and safety.

Major reasons for exports are cheap labour and lack of environmental and occupational standards in Asia and in this way the toxic effluent of the developed nations ‘would flood towards the world’s poorest nations. The magnitude of these problems is yet to be documented. However, groups like Toxic Links India are already working on collating data that could be a step towards controlling this hazardous trade. It is imperative that developing countries and India in particular wake up to the monopoly of the developed countries and set up appropriate management measures to prevent the hazards and mishaps due to mismanagement of e-wastes.


Considering the severity of the problem, it is imperative that certain management options be adopted to handle the bulk e-wastes. Following are some of the management options suggested for the government, industries and the public. Responsibilities of the Government

(i) Governments should set up regulatory agencies in each district, which are vested with the responsibility of co-ordinating and consolidating the regulatory functions of the various government authorities regarding hazardous substances. (ii) Governments should be responsible for providing an adequate system of laws, controls and administrative procedures for hazardous waste management (Third World Network. 1991). Existing laws concerning e-waste disposal be reviewed and revamped.

A comprehensive law that provides e-waste regulation and management and proper disposal of hazardous wastes is required. Such a law should empower the agency to control, supervise and regulate the relevant activities of government departments. Under this law, the agency concerned should

Collect basic information on the materials from manufacturers, processors and importers and to maintain an inventory of these materials. The information should include toxicity and potential harmful effects. Identify potentially harmful substances and require the industry to test them for adverse health and environmental effects. Control risks from manufacture, processing, distribution, use and disposal of electronic wastes. Encourage beneficial reuse of “e-waste” and encouraging business activities that use waste”. Set up programs so as to promote recycling among citizens and businesses. Educate e-waste generators on reuse/recycling options

(iii) Governments must encourage research into the development and standard of hazardous waste management, environmental monitoring and the regulation of hazardous waste-disposal. (iv) Governments should enforce strict regulations against dumping e-waste in the country by outsiders. Where the laws are flouted, stringent penalties must be imposed. In particular, custodial sentences should be preferred to paltry fines, which these outsiders / foreign nationals can pay. (v) Governments should enforce strict regulations and heavy fines levied on industries, which do not practice waste prevention and recovery in the production facilities.

(vi) Polluter pays principle and extended producer responsibility should be adopted. (vii) Governments should encourage and support NGOs and other organizations to involve actively in solving the nation’s e-waste problems. (viii) Uncontrolled dumping is an unsatisfactory method for disposal of hazardous waste and should be phased out. (viii) Governments should explore opportunities to partner with manufacturers and retailers to provide recycling services.

Responsibility and Role of industries

1. Generators of wastes should take responsibility to determine the output characteristics of wastes and if hazardous, should provide management options. 2. All personnel involved in handling e-waste in industries including those at the policy, management, control and operational levels, should be properly qualified and trained. Companies can adopt their own policies while handling e-wastes. Some are given below:

Use label materials to assist in recycling (particularly plastics). Standardize components for easy disassembly. Re-evaluate ‘cheap products’ use, make product cycle ‘cheap’ and so that it has no inherent value that would encourage a recycling infrastructure. Create computer components and peripherals of biodegradable materials. Utilize technology sharing particularly for manufacturing and de manufacturing. Encourage / promote / require green procurement for corporate buyers. Look at green packaging options.

3. Companies can and should adopt waste minimization techniques, which will make a significant reduction in the quantity of e-waste generated and thereby lessening the impact on the environment. It is a “reverse production” system that designs infrastructure to recover and reuse every material contained within e-wastes metals such as lead, copper, aluminum and gold, and various plastics, glass and wire. Such a “closed loop” manufacturing and recovery system offers a win-win situation for everyone, less of the Earth will be mined for raw materials, and groundwater will be protected, researchers explain.

4. Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers should undertake the responsibility of recycling/disposal of their own products. 5. Manufacturers of computer monitors, television sets and other electronic devices containing hazardous materials must be responsible for educating consumers and the general public regarding the potential threat to public health and the environment posed by their products. At minimum, all computer monitors, television sets and other electronic devices containing hazardous materials must be clearly labeled to identify environmental hazards and proper materials management. Responsibilities of the Citizen

Waste prevention is perhaps more preferred to any other waste management option including recycling. Donating electronics for reuse extends the lives of valuable products and keeps them out of the waste management system for a longer time. But care should be taken while donating such items i.e. the items should be in working condition. Reuse, in addition to being an environmentally preferable alternative, also benefits society. By donating used electronics, schools, non-profit organizations, and lower-income families can afford to use equipment that they otherwise could not afford. E-wastes should never be disposed with garbage and other household wastes. This should be segregated at the site and sold or donated to various organizations. While buying electronic products opt for those that:

are made with fewer toxic constituents
use recycled content
are energy efficient
are designed for easy upgrading or disassembly
utilize minimal packaging
offer leasing or take back options
have been certified by regulatory authorities. Customers should opt for upgrading their computers or other electronic items to the latest versions rather than buying new equipments.
NGOs should adopt a participatory approach in management of e-wastes.

The Innovative Approach

To the extent at the moment the best and the most innovative approach for the huge amount of e-waste in the world and particularly India is to start entrepreneurship in managing e-waste. Following the principle “BEST OUT OF WASTE”

The waste can be utterly managed and can borne out amounts to us. Cleaning and Earning is not at all a bad option. Today we have enormous industries that recycle our plastic waste Simple Example which can be given is the plastic bags that we use is taken to the industries where it is recycled in to plastic nuts. these are then converted into again to plastic bag of various dimensions and thickness. Business Opportunities growing in Recycling of Ewaste Management The ever increasing quantity of e-waste creates serious environmental and health problems, and starting an e-waste business to recycle e-waste is a good green business opportunity. Starting an e-waste business entails four major considerations: Licensing and Regulatory Concerns

Identifying sources of e-waste
Sorting and Processing e-waste
Disposal of processed e-waste

Licensing and Regulatory Concerns for Starting an e-Waste Business There is no comprehensive federal legislation on e-waste. Many states have mandated e-waste recycling, but the nature of regulations varies from state to state. The e-waste entrepreneur needs a good understanding about the relevant state legislation concerning e-waste, for the best strategy for success is to position the business as an option for businesses to comply with statutory obligations. The first step toward starting an e-waste business is securing appropriate licenses. The e-waste business needs to complete the following regulatory steps: Registering the fictitious business name at the Local County Office Securing business privilege license from the local county or city office to start business operations Certification for e-waste recycling, hazardous waste handling, and waste disposal from the city or state public works department Compliance with zonal regulations to establish the processing plant

Identifying Sources of e-Waste

The success of an e-waste business depends on availability of adequate quantities of e-waste to process. The e-waste entrepreneur could tap e-waste from the following three major sources: The Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive places the responsibility of e-waste on the manufacturer, and most brands now either offer buy-back of old products at a fixed price, or offer facility for customers to drop their waste free. Many major retail stores also offer such drop off service for their customers. The e-waste entrepreneur could approach such manufacturers and stores and offer to recycle the collected e-waste. Offices and commercial establishments discarding computer accessories and peripherals constitute a major source of e-waste. The e-waste entrepreneur could reach out to recycle such e-waste.

A good data-security tool to wipe out files and personal information such as passwords from discarded gadgets such as hard drives is both an essential tool of the trade and a method to persuade business houses to entrust e-waste. Individual end-use consumers have the potential to contribute e-waste recycling in a big way. Most customers are however either unaware of the perils of e-waste and throw out old televisions and computers with common household garbage, or do not know what to do with unused electrical and electronic gadgets. The e-waste entrepreneur could reach out end users directly through clubs and raise awareness. Since such sources are unlikely to pay for the recycling effort, the entrepreneur could aim to collect high value e-waste that fetches maximum revenue when recycled

Hazards and Concerns:

The problems associated with electronic waste are now being recognized. E-waste is highly complex to handle due to its composition. A computer contains highly toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), PVC and phosphorus compounds. A television or a mobile phone is also loaded with many toxics chemicals. Most of these materials are known to have serious human health concerns and requires to be handled with extreme care in order to avoid any adverse impacts. This warrants the need for appropriate technology for handling and disposal of these chemicals. Though some of these materials are used in small quantities in each computer, the aggregate volumes being recycled are significant and will have serious impacts on environment and human health if not handled with due safeguards. Many developed countries practice very stringent norms for recycling these products to avoid these adversities..

While India generates this huge volume of waste, almost 90% of the available E-waste continues to be recycled in the informal sector, in the by-lanes of cities and towns. Many of the processes are rudimentary in nature and can be classified as dangerous and toxic. Some of the processes involve burning or direct heating, use of acid baths, mercury amalgamation and other chemical processes to recover materials. These result in the release of toxic materials into the environment through emissions or effluents. The recycling centers are also slowly and gradually shifting as we witness growth of many such centers in smaller towns, thus raising concerns of dispersed contamination. Some of the more toxic and dangerous practices are gradually and increasingly moving to smaller towns to avoid scrutiny by the regulators.

Most workers engaged in these recycling operations are the urban poor and unaware of the hazards associated with it. Traditionally the urban poor have engaged with the trade of waste and recycling, one of the most polluting and unsafe livelihood opportunities for survival. While traders, who only engage in trading such waste make around 10 to 15% profit, the worker earns a meager 150 to 200 rupees per day and is exposed to the hazards of the processes. E-waste also contains precious metals and many rare materials, which are highly valuable,. The recycling operation especially the process of material recovery being rudimentary, results in very low recovery of materials and non-recovery of many rare elements. This loss is significant, making the whole process highly inefficient. Some of the impacts of the current informal sector recycling are Release of toxins into environment

Loss of natural resources due to low recovery of materials
Health impact to workers
Loss of revenue to state
Disproportionate sharing of profits

The inadequate capacity for recycling this huge quantity of toxic waste, resulting in loss of natural resource and release of toxins into environment, is the real challenge for sustainable production and consumption in the country today. These can be only mitigated through a Life-cycle Approach. Lifecycle thinking is essential and goes much beyond the traditional focus on production and manufacturing processes. Upstream innovation and solutions:

Application of a Lifecycle approach to environmental management is recognized as the most effective tool for sustainable products. A product can be evaluated for each of the stages of its life and can be optimized for eco efficiency. The Lifecycle approach and design for environment would permit bridging the technological divide between production and recycling. Looking at the complete lifecycle helps in reducing waste at every stage of the product, reducing toxics load on the environment and enhancing its recycling potential. The electronic industry needs to incorporate the principles of Design for Environment (DfE) in attempting to address the optimization of mass of the product, energy usage and recycling potential. The essential requirement for the disposal to be conceived in tandem at product design stage would ensure its higher recycling potential.

This also helps bridge the technology gap between manufacturing and disposal, improving the recycling potential of the product and hence optimizing resource utilization. DfE also addresses the issue of the mass of the products and producers constantly strive to reduce the size while enhancing product efficiency. Good examples of such concepts in design are the new generation laptops, radios and mobile phones which result in reducing the total material consumed in the production process also minimization of waste generation at the end of life of the product. Material substitution or use of less toxic materials in the manufacturing process also brings down the environmental footprint of the product.

The European regulation -ROHS (Restriction On use of Hazardous Substances)- is one regulatory instrument which has been an important driver in reducing toxics in electronic products. This regulation aims at gradually reducing the use of Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Hexavalent chromium, PBB and PBDE. It is important to learn from the European experience and incorporate the principles of ROHS to the Indian context with the objective of reducing the use of toxic substances in electronic products. Material substitution with less toxic substances helps in reducing environmental load while improving recycling potential, thus also reducing the recycling costs. Downstream solutions:

Down stream solution would essentially attempt to address technological issues of recycling, a frame work of responsibility of stakeholders and setting up of a reverse supply chain process.

Extended Producers

Responsibility (EPR):

Extended Producers Responsibility is the most apt, accepted and recognized framework for finding solutions to the complex issue of product disposal and pollution prevention. It implies that the responsibility of the producer extends beyond the post consumer stage of the product. The producer through a series of actions will aim to set up a reverse logistical process for the products and ensure its environmentally safe recycling and disposal. Many countries have adopted this framework in their policy and regulation to manage E-waste. It will be prudent and appropriate to incorporate EPR framework for any regulation on E-waste in India. Both individual and collective responsibility of the producers is viable and workable. Responsibility of the producer to the end-of-life management brings in more commitment and responsibility on part of producers for cleaner materials and production processes.

Reverse Supply Chain:

In the Indian context setting up of a robust and viable reverse supply chain for the E-waste stream is currently the biggest challenge. The existing informal sector with very low investment in infrastructure and ability for deep penetration provides a skeletal reverse supply chain process in India. The sheer expanse and size of the country demands and justifies a well-organized and regulated system to ensure that the material flows to the best technology centers for disposal. Closing the loop for the reverse supply chain and also shortening its length is of critical importance. It is also critical for linkages to be formed between the formal and informal sector in developing the reverse supply chain process. The strength of the informal sector with its capacity of deep penetration must be upgraded, managed and effectively utilized to build a sound system.

Previous experiences do suggest that competition between the informal and formal sectors have been responsible for weakening the system leading to diversion of materials in two separate channels. Thus it is essential to have an inclusive system, which will not only encourage sound recycling technology in the formal recycling facilities but will also take advantage of the existing strengths of the informal recycling sector. Formal recycling facilities would only be viable if material supply is assured through an established system of reverse supply chain. EPR would ensure material availability for recycling through manufacturers’ vast networks.

Recycling Infrastructure:

E-waste is gradually being viewed as an important resource due to the presence of some precious and rare metals. Many entrepreneurs view this as a lucrative business opportunity and have set up facilities with differential capacities to handle this waste. As per current information in last four years more than ten recycling facilities in the organized sector have emerged in the country, engaged in dismantling and segregation of this complex waste. These recycling facilities have been authorized by the respective Pollution Control Boards to undertake specific processes based on their capacities. Availability of adequate number of sound recycling infrastructure units across the country will be critically important for safe management of E-waste. The country, currently, has only one integrated facility with an annual capacity of around 30000 tones of waste. Most units are only engaging in pre-processing of this waste and then exporting some of the valuable E-waste abroad for material recovery.

These recycling facilities are in various stages of infancy and need to grow, evolve and establish best practices and standards in order to achieve sustainable E-waste management. The existing recycling facilities also suffer from a serious lack of credibility making them less attractive destination in channelising waste from the multi-national corporations. They are currently handling only a small fraction of the total waste generated in the country as they compete with the informal sector in accessing and treatment of waste. The current situation of low material availability in the formal sector is expected to change as these E-waste companies build credible reputation and brand value aided by suitable regulation and enhanced public awareness.

Resource recovery:

The production process of electrical and electronic products consume large volumes of materials some of them precious and many rare. Excessive mining and consumption of some of these elements leads to faster depletion of natural resources, also increasing the environmental burden. Unsustainable production consumption processes could seriously impact the reserves, hence the need to recycle these materials and plough them back into the supply chain process. Improving the recycling potential of these products coupled with technology up-gradation for recycling will enhance the material recovery and also result in conservation of energy. Refurbishment and Reuse:

Another opportunity and tool for waste minimization in India would be reuse and refurbishment. IT products are rendered surplus and waste as they become obsolete. These products though obsolete and old for a particular consumer base have the potential of being used by another set of consumers. The markets for such products have always existed in India in semi-urban settings. These however, are quickly seeping into rural areas providing a significant market size for these second-hand products. Refurbishment and reuse need to be thought through as a market strategy and implemented with due care so that the conflict with trade of new products is minimized while achieving the goal of sustainability and waste minimization.

Legal Framework:

Currently E-waste in India is covered under the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008. The existing Hazardous Waste Rules was primarily drawn up to address issues of waste generated in industrial processes and is inadequate to cover issues specific to E-waste. The Government, after prolonged deliberation, issued a Guideline for safe management of E-waste in the country. The guideline is a voluntary instrument and largely attempts to address the technological gap. While the guideline was a welcome step, it did not provide the requisite drivers for changing the ground situation.

The voluntary nature of the guideline was a limiting factor as it failed to provide a level playing field to brands and trigger significant actions. Stakeholders’ discussions suggested that a mandatory regulation specific to E-waste would be the most desirable way forward. A core group comprising of Toxics Link, Green Peace, Manufacturers Association Of Information Technology and GTZ took the lead and drew up draft Rules. These Rules broadly encompass the framework of Extended Producer’s Responsibility and Restriction on use of Hazardous Substances. The draft Rules have since been submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests who have committed to finalizing the rules expeditiously.


The IT industry has been an important driver in the growth of Indian economy and will continue to be a very significant player. The Indian economy is expected to be one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The sheer size of the market and large consumer base is expected to boost consumption patterns and result in generation of huge quantities of waste. While this throws up a serious new challenge it also brings in new set of opportunities not only to manage this waste but also for innovation of cleaner and more sustainable products. Waste minimization is a cardinal principle to be researched, experimented and adopted for sustainability. These are possibilities not only for a solution to local problems, but are also applicable to global issues on E-waste.

New revenue models in the business of E-waste appear as interesting possibilities in the Indian context and could perhaps be used as one of the many working solutions. The ideal mix of skilled labour from the informal sector coupled with appropriate technology, perhaps can provide solutions for sustainable E-waste practices. The urgency for a larger policy and an enabling regulation to manage this waste are important instruments, which would provide important drivers for a safe and sustainable E-waste management practice. The concept of Extended Producer Responsibility is the most appropriate framework to be discussed and slowly practiced. However, the challenge lies in the implementation of this framework and the regulatory process. The issues of governance have always been a limiting factor in effective implementation of rules and it would be utmost importance to embed necessary drivers for accountability, transparency and sustainability into any regulation or policies on waste.

Recycling of E-waste

India [ Images ] is gradually becoming a dumping ground for electronic waste (e-waste). Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, claims India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of e-waste.

A survey by IRG Systems, South Asia, reveals the total waste generated by obsolete or broken-down electronic and electrical equipment in India is around 1,46,180 tonnes per year based on select EEE tracer items. This figure does not include waste from electrical and electronic equipment imports. Experts say the IT sector in the country is the largest contributor to e-waste (over 30 per cent) with Bangalore alone generating an estimated 8,000 tonnes of e-waste annually – but is sluggish in implementing a clear cut e-waste management policy. “Most IT companies in India show little interest in e-waste management as they fear it might slow their growth,” says V Krishnan, a scientist working with The Energy and Resources Institute, a non-profit working in the field of energy and environment. Wilma Rodrigues, founder member, Saahas, a voluntary organisation working on issues related to solid waste in Bangalore, says: “Barring a few MNCs like IBM, Intel and HP, there are very few IT companies in Bangalore who have a formal policy on where to recycle or dispose their e-waste. Some of them donate obsolete PCs to educational institutions and do not keep track of what happens to these after the end of the life-cycle.”

Bangalore houses over 1,300 software companies, 36 hardware units, umpteen BPO firms and churns out around 30,000 obsolete computers every year. However, the city is slowly waking up to the issue. There are now at least three formal recyclers – E-Parisara, Ash Recycler and AER Recycler. E-Parisara runs a recycling unit at Dobaspet industrial area, about 50 km from Bangalore with a capacity of one-tonne per day and Ash Recyclers is said to have a similar capacity. “We are planning to raise our capacity from the present one tonne per day to two tons right away and ten tonnes by next year for which we have sought approval,” said P Parthasarthy, a chemical engineer from IIT, Madras and founder of E-Parisara. The company, however, is not able to utilise even its present one-tonne per day capacity. Its prominent clients are MNCs like IBM, HP, Lucent and Philips. E-Parisara is planning to open units in other cities like Mumbai [ Images ] and Chennai as joint ventures with local recyclers.

According to data accessed by Teri, the average life span of a PC has come down from 4.5 years in 1992 to two years in 2006. In India, the figure is said to be about three years. Over 30 per cent of PCs become obsolete every year. The volume of obsolete PCs, which is just a part of e-waste, can be gauged if one takes into consideration large organisations like TCS [ Get Quote ], Infosys [ Get Quote ] Technologies and Wipro [ Get Quote ], which employ over 50,000 employees each. Infosys does not agree, though, that it contributes to a substantial amount of e-waste. “As a corporate citizen, Infosys is committed to demonstrating a high standard of environmental protection, sharing of best practices and provision of a safe and healthy work place. We have a sound Environmental Management System and is in the process of establishing an Occupational Health and Safety Management System,” an Infosys spokesperson said. Software services and R&D services provider MindTree Consulting [ Get Quote ] says it has launched an organisation-wide e-waste awareness programme.

“We are in the process of articulating our own charter on e-waste management. As a first step, we have launched an organisation-wide awareness programme on e-waste and a content-based feature on our intranet portal that provides information and builds sensitivity among MindTree minds to contain and efficiently manage e-waste,” said Subroto Bagchi, co-founder and COO of MindTree Consulting. India’s third largest software firm Wipro, recently accused by Greenpeace of neglecting e-waste management, claims it has initiated action to dispose e-waste through authorised agencies. “Wipro recognises the seriousness of the issue and has taken several actions in this regard. We have taken a drive to educate our customers on upgrading their old equipment and have an upgrade programme in place. Additionally, we have initiated actions to dispose e-waste through authorised agencies,” says Wipro vice-president (corporate business unit) Anil K Jain.

According to Deepak Chari, GM, WeP Peripherals, “As a large IT hardware company, we are extremely cautious about e-waste. We take back the old print heads and cartridges and recycle them in an eco-friendly manner by giving the entire waste to E-Parisara.” WeP Peripherals has also initiated efforts for the collection and disposal of e-waste in collaboration with E-Parisara. Some companies have also started to tackle the growing volume of obsolete computers by seeking to postpone obsolescence.

“Typically, we deploy our older IT assets to less processing-intensive areas such as Internet browsing terminals in our offices and convert these into various training assets,” said V Chandrasekaran, CEO and MD of Bangalore-based Aztecsoft. Agrees Bagchi. “We make optimum use of our investment in hardware. On an average, our PCs and servers serve us for a minimum period of 4 to 5 years. Of course, we upgrade them if the situation so warrants. The older PCs are sometimes put to use in less critical operations.” How countries generally tackle e-waste:

About 80 per cent of e-waste generated in the US is exported to India, China and Pakistan. Unorganised recycling and backyard scrap-trading forms close to 100 per cent of total e-waste processing activity. About 25,000 workers are employed at scrap-yards in Delhi [ Images ] alone where 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes of e-waste is handled every year. Computers account for 25 per cent of it.

Other e-waste scrap-yards exist in Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. In the US, a bill that came into effect on July 1 this year has made the manufacturer, and not the consumers or government, responsible for the costs of recycling e-waste. In Japan [ Images ], manufacturers are responsible for collection and recycling of obsolete electronic equipment for which they charge a recycling fee from consumers while selling. In Taiwan, it’s manufacturers who pay for the collection and recycling of e-waste.

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