The firm that makes your computers and mobile phones must take legal responsibility for recycling them, say environmentalists who are pushing for a new law on handling e-waste. They also want a ban on import of old computers to India.
India is likely to generate as much as 800,000 tonnes of electronic waste by 2012, and there's only one government- registered recycling firm. Most computers and phones are dismantled and shredded in the informal sector under dangerous circumstances, with little attention paid to safeguarding workers from the toxic components.
Greenpeace India, along with Toxics Link and the Manufacturers' Association of Information Technology (MAIT) are pushing for separate legislation for e-waste management to be enacted under the Environment Protection Act.
"E-waste is not entirely hazardous. Recycling e-waste includes four main processes - dismantling, shredding, recovery and disposal or treatment. Of these it is the latter two that are actually hazardous. Currently under the present act there are key issues that aren't addressed," said Abhishek Pratap, Greenpeace toxics campaigner.
E-waste management at present comes under the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 - based on the multilateral UN Basel convention to which India is a signatory.
The convention covers all discarded materials that possess hazardous characteristics as well as all wastes considered hazardous.
According to a Greenpeace Report, in 2007-2008, India generated 380,000 tonnes of e-waste. Only three percent of this made it to the authorised recycler's facilities. India's e-waste generation is growing at an annual rate of 15 percent and is expected to cross the 800,000 tonne mark by 2012, the report said.
The main contention of environmentalists is to place the legal onus of take-back services (collection and recycling) directly on producer companies.
"Unlike most hazardous wastes that are directly produced by factories, e-wastes are post-consumer waste, so the way to recycle and treat it is different. It needs a separate law and a cradle-to-grave approach," Pratap said.
India has evolved into a global e-waste dumpyard as laws aren't stringent enough and loopholes existed, environmentalists said.
"In order to escape and externalise their pollution costs, it is true that developed countries dump their electronic wastes and other hazardous wastes in India. Lax environmental regulations and gullible and conniving officials are hand in glove with such activities," environmentalist Gopal Krishna told IANS.
"It is estimated that the amount of discarded electronics imported to India is growing at the rate of 10 percent each year," Krishna added.
A 15-year-old circular in the ministry of commerce is also to blame for this, according to Pratap.
"It allowed the import of second-hand and used computers for charity purposes despite the UN convention banning the flow of electronics from developed to developing countries. Fifteen years ago when the IT industry was nascent it made sense - but now our IT sector is self-sufficient," Pratap said.
So the legislation would place a blanket ban on imports of all electronics and IT.
As per the 2008 Rules, all companies recycling electronic waste have to register themselves with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Only one firm is registered - Attero Recycling.
"In our last registration committee meeting, we decided to give registration to five more recycling units that also procure the electronic waste and have CRT (cathode ray-tube) cutting equipments along with segmenting the waste and dismantling it," a senior CPCB official said on condition of anonymity.
Two Karnataka-based firms including E-Parisaraa pvt. ltd will be registered within the next 15 days along with units based in Maharashtra, Hyderabad and Gurgaon, the official said.
"By 2015, two billion PCs are expected to invade our homes and our mobile subscriber base is expected to be about 450 million. The e-waste generated by just these two segments would be staggering," said Rohan Gupta, chief operating officer of Attero.
The new legislation will hold producer companies responsible for the way their e-waste is recycled.