Economic growth is the main agent to dictate the quantity and quality of the economic goods and services that a society produces and consumes.This fact is all the more evident in growth of global consumer electronics industry- in 2019 the global electronics industry accounted for roughly 20 % of the global market that amounts 4.6 trillion euros in 2019.Witnessing rapid growth, almost 9% in 2021 to 2022 and 11.9% till 2026. However, at this junction of global socio-economic and environmental map, the circularity concept does not see much momentum and practical realization traction outside ambitious action plans limited to pen and paper and ignored by the majority of producers worldwide. That is particularly concerning given the fact the more we consume the more the end-of-life waste piles up and this is doubly concerning given the onslaught of technological advancement technology gets obsolete very fast.
We are much more sustainably aware now than before but that has yet to materialize as a societal practice and drive. People even now adapt and discard electronic technology as per global technological fashion norm rather than need and durability of the item. As a result electronic waste is a rising concern. A record 53.6 million tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was produced globally in 2019.They could be both threat or treasure given the way we handle it.
E-waste consists of both hazardous and non-hazardous items including ferrous and non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminium, silver,gold, platinum, palladium, etc.,plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete, ceramics and rubber. These precious earth metals like copper, aluminium, silver,gold, platinum, palladium if extracted and reutilized could prove to be a treasure trove.However given ,out of the 44 Million tonnes(Mt) of e-waste , only 20 % of total global e-waste was collected and recycled sustainably,almost $57 billion in gold and other components discarded — mostly dumped or burned in 2019. There is flipside to this other than economic loss there is also environmental and health hazard as e-waste contains over 1,000 harmful substances, including lead, mercury, nickel, brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).Mercury for example damages the human brain and or coordination system.
E-waste is particularly hazardous as the extraction and recycling of e-waste is largely manually done and the sector is majorly dependent on informal workforce especially in developing or middle income countries. More than 18 million children and adolescents are actively engaged in the informal industrial sector, of which waste processing is a sub-sector,exposing themselves to toxic e-waste risk.
While discussing e-waste it is necessary we get a solid understanding of situations closer to the home. Asia generated the greatest volume i.e. 24.9 million tonnes (Mt) of e-waste in 2019 with China and India being the two largest contributors ranking first and third globally.
India alone generated 3 Mt of e-waste in 2019 and about 95 per cent of India’s e-waste is recycled in the informal sector and in a crude manner.
Laws to manage e-waste have been in place in India since 2011, mandating that only authorised dismantlers and recyclers collect e waste. E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 was enacted on October 1, 2017. Over 21 products (Schedule-I) were included under the purview of the rule.India now has 178 registered e-waste recyclers, accredited by the state governments to process e-waste. But many of India’s e-waste recyclers aren’t recycling waste at all.
NITI Aayog India’s public policy think tank itself has put prominent emphasis on e-waste among 11 end-of-life products,recyclable materials,wastes that continue to pose considerable challenges. They have formed 11 committees to be led by the concerned line ministries and comprising officials from MoEFCC and NITI Aayog, domain experts, academics and industry representatives .
Greenscape Eco Management is one such company that has been involved in NITI Aayog’s Committee for E-Waste Management Rules And Regulation. They provide end of Life IT asset solutions ranging from collection and disposal to reintegration solutions including re-use, de-manufacturing, brand security and e-waste recycling.The organization actively pursues projects and initiatives that benefit the e-waste industry and the communities that serve the environment. As of now they’re ongoing projects over 427 locations across India.Currently they have collaborated with partners in all parts of India, Singapore and Australia.
Dr. Ashok Kumar,Vice Chairman,Greenscape Eco Management while deliberating on India’s journey in the sector stated “That much has changed since 2007 Greenscape was established. The current situation is very hopeful with policy intervention,brand accountability,general public awareness,technological advance in recycling.However much is yet to be done to achieve desired results. We are looking forward to active collaboration to reach all over the globe. We aspire to extend our network in terms of both geographic spread as well as in depth reach within each community we aim to serve”. Getting quantifying data on the depth and spread of effort to sustainably process e-waste is necessary to get the actual scenario and increase the scale of momentum.