India third largest e-waste generator in the world, capacity limited to treat only one fourth of its waste

Representative photo: Reuters

NEW DELHI: India is the third largest electronic waste generator in the world after China and the USA and these three countries together contributed 38% of total 53.6 million tonnes (Mt) of e-waste, generated worldwide in 2019.
Releasing these data, the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, however, on Thursday presented a worrying scenario where only 17.4% (9.3 Mt) of the total e-waste was collected and recycled globally. It means gold, platinum and other high-value recoverable critical raw materials (cobalt, palladium, indium, germanium, bismuth, and antimony), worth US $57 billion, dumped or burned in e-waste last year.
Though there is no such estimation for India, the country’s low recycling capacity (8 lakh tonnes annually) is an indication of big loss in terms of its inability to mine precious and critical materials from the e-waste. Besides, non-collected e-waste is also a serious health and environmental hazard as it contains several toxic substances.
“E-waste is a unique source of rare metals that are critical for manufacturing of electronic gadgets and currently China enjoys a distinct advantage on these metals on account of both primary deposits and mining from waste,” said Satish Sinha, domain expert and associate director at Delhi-based policy advocacy group, Toxics Link.
Underlining the necessity of recycling from strategic point of view, Sinha said, “India needs to view e-waste as a precious and strategic resource since it contains 69 elements from the periodic table and some of these are highly precious and strategic in nature.”
He, however, expressed his concerns over absence of “good and credible data” in India, saying it would be tough to create mechanisms to enforce systems for managing e-waste in such a scenario.
He said, “In view of the strategic nature of this waste on account of inherent material availability, there is a strong need for recognising recycling as an industry and creating conditions for it to become viable and sustainable. We also need to invest in technology that are cutting edge at the same time creates livelihood opportunity for our population.”
India is, however, the only country in the South Asian region with e-waste legislation. But, the e-waste management in the country is largely based on informal sector activities for collection, dismantling and recycling.
“Enforcing rules remains a challenge, as do other aspects, such as the lack of proper collection and logistics infrastructure, limited awareness of consumers on the hazards of improper disposal of e-waste, the lack of standards for collection, dismantling of e-waste and treatment of it, and an inefficient and tedious reporting process,” said the UN report on e-waste management in India.
Globally, the generation of e-waste grew by 9.2 Mt since 2014 (up by 21% in just five years) and is projected to grow to 74.7 Mt by 2030.
Though India (3.2 Mt) is the third largest e-waste generator after the top two countries China (10.1 Mt) and the USA (6.9 Mt), its per-capita contribution (2.4 kg) to the hazardous waste is much below the global average (7.3 kg).
According to the report, Europe ranked first worldwide in terms of e-waste generation per capita with 16.2 kg per capita. Oceania came second (16.1 kg) followed by the Americas (13.3 kg). Asia and Africa were much lower: 5.6 and 2.5 kg, respectively.
On e-waste management in India, Sinha said, “The major issue has been in implementation and compliance deficits and this requires constant attention. There are several inadequacies in regulatory mechanism and the ground realities which need to be plugged. The current regulatory framework continues to ignore the informal sector which enjoys the most widespread access to this waste. This issue requires some clear thinking and integration of the informal sector into overall system.”

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