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Introduction on Electronic Waste
Electronics industry is the world’s largest and fastest growing industry. The last decade has seen a tremendous growth in the manufacturing and consumption of electronics and electrical all over the world. As a consequence of this growth, combined with rapid product obsolescence and lower costs, discarded electronic and electrical equipments or ‘e-waste’ is now the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world.
E-waste is end-of-life electronic and electrical gadgets, in simpler words, broken, surplus or obsolete gadgets run by electricity. It includes discarded equipments like computers, printers, phones, TVs, fridges, toaster, electronic toys and many other types of equipment run by electricity. India, currently, is estimated to generate more than 4 lakh tones of e-waste annually. The generation is estimated to go up many times in coming years, making it a critical issue.
But, E-waste is not just a problem of waste quantity or volumes. The concern is compounded because of the presence of toxic materials like Lead, mercury, cadmium, certain BFRs and many other chemicals. In developing country like India, most E-waste lands up in the informal sector where it is recycled without any consideration to health and environment. Open burning, acid baths, unventilated work spaces and crude handling of chemicals are typical of these operations, where susceptible groups like children and women are regularly employed. With no safety equipments at hand, the workers in some of the recycling hotspots spread all over the country, are exposed to the toxic cocktails daily. The unregulated practices also release hazardous materials in air, water and soil, thereby endangering our environment.
Along with enormous quantities and toxicity, E-waste also contains valuable non-renewal materials; hence the necessity to recycle materials and reduce burden on mining of virgin materials. Recovery of these materials without any adverse impact on environment requires a set of complex operations and highly advanced technology. Some of these complexities and concerns for environment created conditions for the policy-makers in many parts of the world to involve the producers / product manufacturers to own responsibility for the end of life disposal of these products and introduction of a policy tool ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR).
E-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011 was notified by Government of India in May 2011 and came into force in May 2012. The said Rules are based on EPR principle and assign responsibility to producers for collection and processing. The one year period was provided to the stakeholder, specially the producers, to set up systems and infrastructure for an effective take back program and further channelization of this toxic waste. Unfortunately, there is not much progress on the take back system.