A new United Nations study has painted a grim picture for India on e-waste management. The study, Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), says as India’s e-waste recycling operations are mostly in the informal sector, it is beset with severe health impacts and causes widespread environmental damage.
India’s formal e-waste recycling industry is still non-existent and the country is dotted with manual recycling operations in the informal sector. Over a million employed here are basically poor people with either no or very low literacy levels. They are either unaware of the hazardous consequences of the work they do or are forced to do their job because they have no other option, the study says.
India’s electronics industry is among the fastest growing in the world and is expected to become a $400 Billion industry by 2020 with a CAGR of 41 per cent during 2017-2020 says a study by ASSOCHAM and NEC Technologies.
That makes India one of the largest producers of e-waste. A 2016 study by ASSOCHAM-KPMG says India’s is the world’s fifth largest e-waste producer generating 18.5 lakh tonnes of discarded electronic waste annually. In Asia, India is third behind China and Japan. According to the UN study, China is Asia’s and the world’s top e-waste generating country producing 7.2 million metric tonnes (MMT) in 2016. Japan was second in Asia producing 2.1 MMT of e-waste while India came a close third with 2 MMT e-waste generated in 2016, an assessment that is in sync with the ASSOCHAM-KPMG study.
And it is mostly driven by advances made in telecommunication as around 54 per cent households globally have internet access now. Couple this with the 7.7 billion mobile wireless subscriptions as tallied by Statista, an online research and business intelligence firm and the problem looks critical. The figure tells there are more mobile phones today than the overall global population of 7.44 Billion at the moment. Another assessment by eMarketer says the smartphone penetration globally is to reach to 2.39 Billion this year. All this is going to produce heaps of e-waste as we move to a more digitally connected world.
Due toeEver declining technology and hardware prices, mainly in the telecommunication sector like the mobile phones, computers, computer peripherals and other IT equipment, coupled with decrease in price of services, in voice and internet, the e-waste is expected to increase manifold in India and the world in years ahead. This is in addition to other e-waste from discarded products like televisions, refrigerators, air-conditioners and electronic toys. Such electronic waste, with a battery or plug, is a major health hazard and environment threat the UN warns. They have high levels of poisonous elements like lead, cadmium and mercury.
Reflecting India’s position as the world second largest telecom market which is also the fastest growing one, almost 70 per cent of the country’s electronic waste comes from discarded computer equipment whereas the telecom equipment constitutes 12 per cent of our annual electronic waste. But mobile phones and smartphones are a fast growing category here as almost 25 crore of mobile handsets, or 25 per cent of over 100 crore user base, end up in e-waste each year. Overall, India’s electronic waste is growing 30 per cent annually.
Though India had enacted law to regulate e-waste management in the country in 2011 and made further amendments in it in 2015 to cover producers, it is still a long way to go before a well-laid out mechanism can be put in place given the fact that almost 95 per cent of e-waste collection and handling in the country is done by the informal sector. For the record, the amended e-waste management rule requires producers to collect 30 per cent e-waste generated initially and it will subsequently go up to the level of 70 per cent by the seventh year.
In addition to this, India also imports e-waste from other countries and it makes the crisis even more serious. According to another ASSOCHAM report, India has become a dumping ground for e-waste from developed countries and what should be eye-opening is the fact that 85 per cent of this hazardous waste ends up in the country’s capital and its adjoining areas, Delhi-NCR. The study projected Delhi’s annual e-waste to increase by a whopping 40,000 MT in a year, from 68,000 MT in 2016 to 1,07,000 MT in 2017.
Globally, e-waste generated increased by 8 per cent or 3.3 MMT to 44.7 MMT from its 2014 level and with a more digitally connected and ICT dependent world, the UN study projects it to increase by 17 per cent to reach to the level of 52.2 MMT by 2021.
And only 20 per cent of it or 8.9 MMT of it could be recycled in 2016. But the situation is horrible in India where, according to an ASSOCHAM-cKinetics study released on the World Environment Day last year, just 1.5 per cent of e-waste generated could be recycled. The study cited poor infrastructure and inefficient regulatory framework as the main reasons behind this poor state of affairs that is fast emerging as an health and environmental crisis in the country.