Over the recent years, the global market of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) has grown exponentially, while the lifespan of these products has become increasingly shorter. This fast up-gradation of electronic products is forcing consumers to discard old electronic products very quickly, which, in turn, adds to the solid waste stream, ie, e-waste.
Today, e-waste or electronic waste is the fastest-growing stream of waste in the world. The Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 cited that consumers discarded 53.6 million tonnes worth of electronics in 2019 globally, up 20 percent in 5 years. While India ranked third by generating 3.2 million tonnes of e-waste last year, China and the USA ranked as the topmost generator of e-waste with 10.1 million tonnes and 6.9 million tonnes respectively.
Following the current growth rate of e-waste, India is estimated to generate 52.2 million tonnes by 2021 (predicted by ASSOCHAM-EY joint report, titled ‘Electronic Waste Management in India’).
While the principal waste generator such as computer equipment and mobile phones has already worsened the situation, the Covid-19 pandemic has added more misery to it. The usage is only getting higher and is likely to be over 100 million tonnes by 2050 if no proper intervention is discovered. Therefore, this global challenge calls for initiatives by local businesses or companies, or policymakers to give hope for a better future.
Current Scenario of E-waste Management in India
The fact that India's recycling capacity of the e-wastes is less than 2 percent of what is generated shows the poor state of the e-waste management infrastructure in India. Presently, there is no robust mechanism of proper collection of these wastes nor any systematic management of recycling e-waste as the sector is dominated mostly by the informal sector.
Apart from this, the lack of awareness amongst citizens about the disposal procedures for e-wastes and the additional burden of taxation in recycling methods have also worsened the improvement of e-waste management in India.
The present government's commitment to installing 100GW of solar power by 2022 has increased concern for the accumulation of a new category of wastes. Even then various companies in the formal and informal sector are dealing with foreign products and are posing health and environmental threats. Therefore, challenges in the implementation of e-waste management need to be in place to prevent hazardous impacts on human health and the environment.
E-waste Recycle: An Environment-Friendly and Sustainable Practice
About 95 percent of India’s e-waste is recycled in the informal sector and in a crude manner. There is immense potential in augmenting e-waste recycling in the country. Electronic waste recycling eliminates hazardous substances dangerous to human life. Initiatives such as the e-waste awareness program by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), along with industry associations are creating strong awareness amongst the public about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganized sector.
E-waste management is becoming a huge public health issue and is exponentially increasing by the day. In order to build a sustainable way forward, effective collection, treatment, and waste disposal are required rather than going for conventional landfills and open burning.
The Government of India should establish strong mechanisms for handling and treatment of e-waste in a safe and sustainable manner. It can be done through informative campaigns, capacity building, and awareness programs that promote environment-friendly e-waste management programs. Increasing efforts are urgently required for the improvement of the current collection schemes and management practices.
It is also important to note the packaging material also has its own carbon footprint and contribution towards the degradation of the environment. Packaging material makes a big chunk of waste dumped in urban landfills. Recycling packaged boxes are not only saving the environment from deterioration by reducing pollution but is also conserving valuable resources and creating jobs.
Currently, the e-waste industry is posed with more questions than answers. The way forward is only a well-designed, regulated e-waste management and recovery regime that ushers a greener future.