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New study identifies India’s e-waste potential

India – The Electronics Industry Association of India ELCINA announced the findings of their study on status and potential of e-waste management in India, conducted with support from DSIR (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research), Ministry of Science and Technology under their Technology Management Programme. The Study was released at a National Conference on E-Waste organised at Pragati Maidan, co-located with Componex Nepcon 2009, one of the largest and oldest shows for the Electronics Industry.
In view of the growing menace of e-waste generation and large scale involvement of unorganized sector in processing the e-waste in an environmentally unsound and occupationally hazardous manner, the study strongly recommends urgent technological innovation and market intervention in tackling the problem.

The study identified an apparent gap in both technological status and market viability of the existing organized recycling industry. Commenting on this finding, ELCINAs Secretary General, Rajoo Goel said, ‘This industry needs advanced e-waste recycling facilities which do not pose a threat to both workers and to the environment. This can be made possible with enactment of existing e-waste guidelines into legislation, provision of appropriate financial and non-financial incentives that will make it lucrative for more private players to enter.’

IMRBs earlier survey of 2007 which is used as a base for e-waste quantities generated, reveals that e-waste is growing at a rate of around 10% annually and is likely to touch 4,34,000 Metric Tonnes in 2009. It is likely to grow even more as most electronic goods like televisions, mobile phones etc., are experiencing high growth rates and even faster replacement cycles as consumers outgrow older models due to rapid technological obsolescence in this sector.

Despite such high generation level of e-waste, participation of organized players in e-waste recycling is insignificant. Over 95% of the e-waste is segregated, dismantled and recycled in the unorganized sector based in urban slums around Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai.

It is commonplace to find crude dismantling operations using tools like hammer, chisel, screw driver including open burning of wires to extract precious metal like copper, gold, platinum, silver, etc. Some of the processes involve soaking of circuit boards in open acid bath followed by manual scrapping to extract copper and precious materials with the residue thrown into open drains. Such unchecked activities carried out without proper protection to workers is hazardous not only to labour involved but also to environment. In addition, the country loses out on precious metal recovery as unorganized sector is able to recover only 25% of metal as against possible efficiencies of over 95-99% in organized sector.

Currently, a few players like Sims Recycling, Ecoreco and E-Parisara, located in Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore respectively are operational in the organized sector. These shred e-waste in very small quantities and export the pulverized e-waste for precious metal recovery in smelting refineries abroad. The organised sector is unable to grow to displace the unorganized sector due to lack of availability of e-waste for processing. The unorganized sector has better reach in collection due to the ubiquitous spread of scrap collectors and is also able to offer better prices for the e-waste. They can afford to do so as they do not pay taxes and employ low cost labour in crude working conditions within minimal investments in equipments.

The study establishes that current operations of formal recycling companies in India are limited only to pre-processing of the e-waste material where the crushed e-waste with precious metals is sent to smelting refineries outside India. Analysis of state-of-art technologies in vogue across the world indicates that formal sector in India still has a long way to go in adopting international standards.

In suggesting a way forward, the study recommended a need to implement the existing guidelines on e-waste into legislation as well as providing appropriate incentives that will encourage growth of organized sector e-waste processing.

Some of the incentives recommended include enactment of legislation enabling availability of e-waste for processing either for free or at cheaper rates by making producers and retailers to take back e-waste from consumers and submit to formal recyclers or mandating large commercial users to submit e-waste to the formal recyclers directly as part of their CSR programme. Other incentives could include subsidies for land purchase, Provision for soft loans and low interest rates, Tax Holidays and exemptions, Depreciation incentives, Land allocation in SEZs and so on.

The study recommended initiation of Research and Development projects at national laboratories or academic institutions to enable in-house manufacture of machinery as well as low-cost technology for precious metal recovery. This will reduce the Intellectual Property cost attached with e-waste machine while importing from foreign manufacturers.

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