Generating Green Shoots of Opportunities from E-waste

06 Nov 2020

With continuous growth of consumer electronics and appliances, e-waste is having a far-reaching impact as it is a health hazard, containing toxic additives and substances which can damage the human brain. When disposed of irresponsibly, toxic chemicals released into the air can damage the atmosphere, water and soil, ultimately impacting the biodiversity. Very often, toxic materials from e-waste seep into groundwater, affecting both land and aquatic animals. 

With a record 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste generated globally in 2019, as per UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report, e-waste continues to be a serious environmental concern. With rapid growth of consumer electronics and appliances year-on-year, India has been witnessing a faster e-waste generation in recent times, which is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 30% in the country. According to the UN report, India is the third largest electronic waste generator (3.2 MT), after China (10.0 MT) and USA (6.9 MT).

Almost all e-waste collection, transportation, processing, and recycling is undertaken by the unregulated informal sector in India and there is a need to expand the scope to more players. With the country’s available manpower, developing infrastructure and use of advanced technologies, India can very well be the next e-waste recycling and managing hub of the world. However, due to poor extraction techniques, obsolete technologies, lack of skill and knowledge, there is a loss of opportunity in the untreated e-waste. Since India is highly deficient in precious mineral resources, there is need for a well-designed, regulated e-waste recovery regime that will assist in generating jobs as well as income.

A recent CII conference on e-waste management in India explored some appropriate solutions and business opportunities in this sector. Regulations, challenges, opportunities and compliance options; awareness and impact of e-waste management rules; business opportunities in e-waste management through EPR and recycling and next practices in e-waste management were studied. 

Rare materials from natural resources are depleting in India and there is a need to preserve these by re-using 14 items that can be recovered from a single obsolete mobile phone. Government of India has created a facility for extracting metals from circuit boards, and small players can avail this facility with a minimum requirement of 100 such boards. This opens an opportunity for start-ups. It is expected that the business of extracting precious metals from e-waste will grow to USD 6 billion by the year 2030, and this will be a big business opportunity for India. 

The Government of India has already created a Centre of Excellence for E-waste. It is working with industry to develop appropriate policies and low-cost technologies for recycling procedures. 50 SMEs are to join the Government for this initiative, under the Technology Transfer initiative. 

Recently, Apple made environmentalists from around the world break into smiles when it decided to remove the charger and headphones from the four new models of iPhone 12 boxes. Google too, has announced plans to make its smartphones more environmentally friendly. In fact, this year all the new Pixel and Nest products have been designed with recycled material. Clearly, global tech companies are attempting to improve their sustainability commitment as well as show their contribution in reducing their products’ environmental impact. 

In India too, companies involved in hardware and electronics manufacturing need to voluntarily incorporate similar goals in their future strategies. CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre (CII-Godrej GBC) offers a voluntary rating to e-waste recyclers. The CoE is also working on developing a rating vision standard with categories such as Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc. for making this sector more conscious about the quality of services. 

E-waste management is on the verge of becoming an industry sector, and to realize the potential prospects, Government and Industry needs to work together to create awareness, remove bottlenecks and unleash the opportunities by addressing the lacunas in the legislation. Some other recommendations in this regard are:   

Government needs to regulate e-waste generation by producers and offer a well-defined regulatory system; leverage digital technology for monitoring and for better co-ordination between Industry and governing bodies. 
Government support is required in terms of compliance relaxation; fast tracking approvals; incentives against results based on GST; creating eco recycling parks, and priority on land allotment for setting up of new recycling facilities.  
Technical institutes should consider offering courses on e-waste handling technologies, as India has shortage of manpower, experts and scientists in this segment.
Recycling standards needs improvement and upgradation, especially for the informal sector. 
To manage large volumes of e-waste in a sustainable manner, there is a need to work on enhancing the number of recyclers from the current 312 to 10,000.

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