Indian Environment Network to Indian Environment Market

Manage E-Waste for Sustainable Development



             Dr Gursharan Singh Kainth


Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies

14-Preet Avenue, Majitha Road

PO. Naushera, Amritsar - 143 008, India



Sustainable development is a buzzword found in much environmental and economics literature these days. Certainly the idea of sustainable development has become increasingly popular in the contemporary world. However, the questions are: What is all the fuss about? What is sustainable development anyway? And more importantly, why does sustainable development matter? The word sustainable comes to us from the foresters of the 18th and 19th century in Europe. At that time much of Europe was being deforested, and the foresters became increasingly concerned since wood was one of the driving forces in the European economy. Wood heated homes, built homes and factories, became furniture and other articles of manufacture, and the forests that provided the wood were central to romantic literature and ideas. Forests were best harvested from an economic standpoint using clear-cutting techniques. This meant that the loggers moved into a tract of forest and removed all of the trees in the tract. But the forests that grew back after clear-cutting did not always provide the wood fiber needed for the European economy. The foresters, and especially the German foresters, in response to this crisis developed scientific, or sustainable, forestry. The idea at that time was simple. If enough trees were planted to replace the wood provided by the trees that were harvested every year, and the growth rate of the entire forest was scientifically monitored to ensure this happened, then the forest would be sustainable. It would always grow enough wood fiber to replace the wood fiber lost to harvesting. Thus originally, sustainable means that as a resource is used, replaced by growing additional amounts of the resource. But in the modern context the word sustainable is a difficult concept because there are many finite resources, such as oil or iron ore, that cannot be grown. If all the oil is extracted, there will not be any more oil.

The word development, at least as it is used in the phrase sustainable development, has a different history. Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for future generations. The term was used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges facing humanity. As early as the 1970s "sustainability" was employed to describe an economy "in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems.”  Ecologists have pointed to the “limits of growth” and presented the alternative of a “steady state economy”in order to address environmental concerns. The dimensions of sustainability are often taken to be: environmental, social and economic, known as the "three pillars".These can be depicted as three overlapping circles (or ellipses), to show that they are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing. Although this model initially improved the standing of environmental concerns, but it has been criticised for not adequately showing that societies and economies are fundamentally reliant on the natural world. The field of sustainable development can be conceptually divided into four general dimensions: social, economic, environmental and institutional. The first three dimensions address key principles of sustainability, while the final dimension addresses key institutional policy and capacity issues. According to environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, "The economy is, in the first instance, a subsystem of human society ... which is itself, in the second instance, a subsystem of the totality of life on Earth (the biosphere). And no subsystem can expand beyond the capacity of the total system of which it is a part." For this reason a second diagram shows economy as a component of society, both bounded by, and dependent upon, the environment. As the ecological economist Herman Daly famously asked, "what use is a sawmill without a forest?"  The concept of living within environmental constraints underpins the IUCN, UNEP and WWF definition of sustainability: "improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems."

The Earth Charter goes beyond defining what sustainability is, and seeks to establish the values and direction needed to achieve it: "We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations."




Rapid technological innovations in computing following the doubling of the processing power of chips almost every two years are rendering most of the electrical and electronic equipment obsolete in the blink of an eye.  This coupled with the changing lifestyle in the era of more disposable income is littering the urbanscape with the digital detritus of the digital age called Electronic Waste or simply E-waste. Long-term exposure to deadly component chemicals and metals like lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and polyvinyl chlorides (PVC) can severely damage the nervous systems, kidney and bones, and the reproductive and endocrine systems, and some of them are carcinogenic and neurotoxic. It is a generic term used to describe old, end-of-life electronic appliances such as computers, laptops, TVs, DVD players, Mobile Phones, MP-3 players etc. which have been disposed of by their original users. Though there is no generally accepted definition of E-waste, in most cases, E-waste comprises of relatively expensive and essentially durable products used for data processing, telecommunications or entertainment in private households and businesses. Public perception of E-waste is often restricted to a narrower sense, comprising mainly of end-of-life information and telecommunication equipment, and consumer electronics. However, technically electronic waste is only a subset of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) any appliance using an electric power supply that has reached its end-of-life would come under WEEE. At macro-level, there are two ways to handle the E-Wastes: Disposal or Recycle/Refurbish.


The anatomical architecture of computers are that, parts of, Microprocessor, Computer chip, monitor, circuit board, molded plastics make-up that gleam, think pad/ PC. At atomic level, the array of chemical constituents that make-up the computers are the trail of lead and cadmium, barium, poly chlorinated biphenyl etc. De-facto horror is that they all release highly toxic dioxins and furans under its own unfavorable conditions. Land filling E-waste, one of the most widely used methods of disposal, is prone to hazards because of leachate which often contains heavy water resources. Even state-of-the-art landfills are sealed to the long-term. Older landfill sites and uncontrolled dumps pose a much greater danger of releasing hazardous emissions. Mercury, Cadmium and Lead are among the most toxic leachate. Mercury, for example, will leach when certain electronic devices such as circuit breakers are destroyed. Lead has been found to leach from broken lead-containing glass, such as the cone glass of cathode ray tubes, from TVs and monitors. When brominated flame retarded plastics or plastics containing cadmium are land filled, both PBDE and cadmium may leach into soil and groundwater. In addition, landfills are also prone to uncontrolled fires which can release toxic fumes. Apparently, Land filling, the state-of-art disposal technique to manage E-wastes, in real sense is a Poisonous Pandora's Box. Landfills - underground facility, where all the wastes produced on planet are dumped and sealing it up in an engineered way that it doesn’t seep through air or ground. It's just like: Collect all the bloodiest-poisonest-devilish anacondas from Amazon and seal it up in an 'engineered' hood. It's easier to visualize the consequence if any delicate damage happens to the seal. There are hundreds of 'abandoned' landfills, upon which now the slender-tall buildings crops up, due to the real-estate boom. The under-ground scenario is permeation of leached wastes contaminates the ground water. Consumer electronics constitute 40 per cent of the lead found in landfills. The lead is treacherous that even if burn, stomp, or bury, will sustain its life cycle!


Specialized electronic recyclers strip-off essential re-usable components and incinerate the left-over in smelters. However, the end product is a metal stream, which is worth money based on the composition of the metals. It's got a lot of steel, aluminum and copper. The scrapped chunks could be recycled/ used, but it’s the least preferred, since the cost of recycling is not free. Either the Producer should inflate the cost of Greener- product or the government should provide subsidiaries for it. That's not a commercial equation which could be marketed since it’s not a producer's responsibility to give ultra-green products at a marketable cost. Added to that, due to regulations and pollution laws, it's often cheaper to export the scrap to Third world/needy countries where such laws, if they exist at all, are more lax than those in Canada and the United States. Cool, collect resourceful metals from the amalgamation of scraps! There are number of countries that make a huge business in the processing, recycling, smelting and disassembling of electronics, and pathetically it is done in an environmentally unfriendly manner.

Recyclable electronic waste is sometimes further categorized as a "commodity" while E-waste which cannot be reused is distinguished as "waste". Some activists define "Electronic waste" to include all secondary computers, entertainment devices, electronics, mobile phones and other items, whether they have been sold, donated, or discarded by their original owner. This definition includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal. Others define the reusable (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be "commodities", and reserve the use of the term "waste" for residue or material which was represented as working or repairable but which was discarded by the buyer. Debate continues over the distinction between "commodity" and "waste" electronics definitions. Some exporters deliberately leave obsolete or non-working equipment mixed in loads of working equipment (through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes for 'bad' equipment). On the other hand, some importing countries specifically seek to exclude working or repairable equipment in order to protect domestic manufacturing markets. "White box" computers ('off-brand' or 'no name' computers) are often assembled by smaller scale manufacturers utilizing refurbished components. These 'white box' sales accounted for approximately 45 per cent of all computer sales worldwide, and are considered a threat to some large manufacturers, who therefore seek to classify used computers as 'waste'. Due to the difficulty and cost of recycling of used electronics as well as lacklustre enforcement of legislation regarding E-waste exports, large amounts of used electronics have been sent to countries such as China, India, and Kenya, where lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing E-waste more profitable. E-waste is imported as a second-hand goods.  In June 2008, a container of illegal electronic waste, destined from Port of Oakland in the US to Sanshui district in mainland China, was intercepted in Hong Kong by Greenpeace.

While a protectionist may broaden the definition of "waste" electronics, the high value of working and reusable laptops, computers, and components (e.g. RAM), can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless "commodities". Broken monitors, obsolete circuit boards, short circuited transistors, and other junk are difficult to spot in a containerload of used electronics. As the price of gold, silver and copper continue to rise, E-waste has become more desirable. E-waste roundups are used as fund spinner in some communities.Until such time as equipment no longer contains such hazardous substances, the disposal and recycling operations must be undertaken with great care to avoid damaging pollution and workplace hazards, and exports need to be monitored to avoid "toxics along for the ride".

Both types of E-waste have raised concern considering that many components of such equipment are considered toxic and are not biodegradable which can have an adverse impact on human health and the environment if not handled properly. Often, these hazards arise due to the improper recycling and disposal processes used. For example, Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) have high content of carcinogens such as lead, barium, phosphorus and other heavy metals. When disposed carefully in a controlled environment, they do not pose any serious health or environmental risk. However, breaking, recycling or disposing CRTs in an uncontrolled environment without the necessary safety precautions can result in harmful side effects for the workers and release toxins into the soil, air and groundwater. Another dangerous process is the recycling of components containing hazardous compounds such as halogenated chlorides and bromides used as flame-retardants in plastics, which form persistent dioxins and furans on combustion at low temperatures. Copper, which is present in printed circuit boards and cables, acts a catalyst for dioxin formation when flame-retardants are incinerated. The PVC sheathing of wires is highly corrosive when burnt and also induces the formation of dioxins. A study on burning printed wiring boards in India showed alarming concentrations of dioxins in the surroundings of open burning places reaching 30 times the Swiss guidance level.

There is an estimate that the total obsolete computers originating from government offices, business houses, industries and household is of the order of 2 million. Manufactures and assemblers in a single calendar year, estimated to produce around 1200 tons of electronic scrap. The obsolence rate of personal computers (PC) is one in every two years. The consumers find it convenient to buy a new computer rather than upgrading the old one due to the changing configuration, technology and the attractive offers of the manufacturers. Due to the lack of governmental legislations on E-waste, standards for disposal, proper mechanism for handling these toxic hi-tech products, mostly end up in landfills or partly recycled in a unhygienic conditions and partly thrown into waste streams. Computer waste is generated from the individual households; the government, public and private sectors; computer retailers; manufacturers; foreign embassies; secondary markets of old PCs. Of these, the biggest source of PC scrap is foreign countries that export huge computer waste in the form of reusable components. Electronic waste or E-waste is one of the rapidly growing environmental problems of the world. In India, the electronic waste management assumes greater significance not only due to the generation of our own waste but also dumping of E-waste particularly computer waste from the developed countries. With high extensity of using computers and electronic equipments and people dumping old electronic goods for new ones, the amount of E-Waste generated has been steadily increasing. At present Bangalore alone generates about 8000 tonne of computer waste annually and in the absence of proper disposal, they find their way to scrap dealers.

E-Parisaraa, an eco-friendly recycling unit on the outskirts of Bangalore which is located in Dobaspet industrial area, about 45 Km north of Bangalore, makes full use of E-Waste since August 2005. KSPCB approved, E-Parisaraa represents in the National TASK FORCE on e-waste constituted by MoEF. E-Parisaraa works closely with GTZ of Germany and EMPA of Switzerland. The plant which is India’s first scientific E-waste recycling unit will reduce pollution, landfill waste and recover valuable metals, plastics and glass from waste in an eco-friendly manner. E-Parisaraa has developed a circuit to extend the life of tube lights. The circuit helps to extend the life of fluorescent tubes by more than 2000 hours. If the circuits are used, tube lights can work on lower voltages. The initiative is to aim at reducing the accumulation of used and discarded electronic and electrical equipments.

India as a developing country needs simpler, low cost technology keeping in view of maximum resource recovery in an environmental friendly methodology. E-Parisaraa, deals with practical aspect of E -waste processing by hand. Phosphorus affects the display resolution and luminance of the images that is seen in the monitor.
An eco-friendly methodology for reusing, recycling and recovery of metals, glass and plastics with non-incineration methods has been developed. The hazardous materials are segregated separately and send for secure land fill for ex.: phosphor coating, LED’s, mercury etc. We have the technology to recycle most of the E-waste and only less than one per cent of this will be regarded as waste, which can go into secure landfill planned in the vicinity by the HAWA project.


The challenges of managing E-waste in India are very different from those in other countries, both the developed and developing. No doubt, there can be several shared lessons; the complexity of the E-waste issue in India, given its vast geographical and cultural diversity and economic disparities, makes WEEE management challenges a quite unique. A few of these are:    

  • Rapidly increasing E-waste volumes, both domestically generated as well as through imports. Imports are often disguised as second-hand computer   

     donations towards bridging the digital divide or simply as metal scrap.

  • No accurate estimates of the quantity of E-waste generated and recycled.
  • Low level of awareness amongst manufacturers and consumers of the hazards  

      of   incorrect E-waste disposal.

  • Widespread E-waste recycling in the informal sector using rudimentary        

      techniques such as acid leaching and open air burning resulting in severe  

      environmental damage

  • E-waste workers have little or no knowledge of toxins in E-waste and are    

           exposed to serious health hazards.

  • Inefficient recycling processes result in substantial losses of material value.
  • ‘Cherry-picking’ by recyclers who recover precious metals and improperly

              dispose of the rest


The first comprehensive study to estimate the annual generation of E-waste in India and answer the questions above is being undertaken up by the National WEEE Taskforce. The preliminary estimates suggest that total WEEE generation in India is approximately 1, 46,000 tonne per year. The top states in order of highest contribution to WEEE include Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. The city wise ranking of largest WEEE generators is Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkatta, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur. An estimated 30,000 computers become obsolete every year from the IT industry in Bangalore alone simply due to an extremely high obsolescence rate of 30 per cent per annum.Almost 50 per cent of the PC's sold in India are products from the secondary market and are re-assembled on old components. The remaining market share is covered by multinational manufacturers (30 per cent) and Indian brands (20 per cent).Three categories of WEEE account for almost 90 per cent of the generation: Large Household appliances: (42 per cent), Information and Communications Technology equipment: (34 per cent), Consumer Electronics: (14 per cent).

Over 2,000 trucks ferry E-waste in a clandestine manner and dump it in Delhi’s scrap yards at various locations, particularly Turkman Gate, Shastri Park, Loni, Seelampur and Mandoli. This E-waste primarily comes from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and if Delhi were to protect itself from such hazardous waste then it would have to bring an effective legislation to prevent entry of child labour into its collection, segregation and distribution. More than 6,000 children in the age group of 10 to 15 years are engaged in various E-waste activities without adequate protection and safeguards. They operate from various yards and recycling workshops. Three States that send waste to Delhi generate over 25,000 tonne of E-waste through various industrial activities. In a discreet arrangement with transporters they dump around 50 per cent of it at different places in Delhi. E-waste imported into Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore usually makes its way to Delhi as there is a ready market for glass and plastic in the National Capital Region. In fact, waste from Mumbai constitutes a bulk of the 60 to 70 tones discarded electronics that land in Delhi’s scrap yards everyday. It has also estimated that Delhi alone gets 25 per cent of the E-waste generated in the developed world which comes through cheaper imports. Such is the scale of the menace that it has now acquired the dimension of an industry that employs nearly 30,000 workers in various scrap yards and unauthorized recycling units. The States sending E-waste to Delhi should develop their own scrap yards. Noting that the NCR has over 40,000 industrial and medical units responsible for generating the waste, Delhi Government should plant around 20 lakh saplings every year. Currently, a mere 5 per cent of

E-waste recycled in the country is recycled by the handful of formal recyclers and the rest is recycled by the informal recyclers. The E-waste recycled by the formal recyclers is done under environmentally sound practices which ensure that damage is minimized to the environment.  They also adopt processes so that the workforce is not exposed to toxic and hazardous substances released during recycling process.  But they cannot match either the reach or the network of the informal recyclers used for sourcing of old electrical and electronic items from business as well as individual households. The items are collected, segregated and the ones that cannot be sold as it is are further dismantled by the informal recyclers.  The final step is recycling which is mainly manual using simple tools like hammer, screw driver etc and by the use of rudimentary techniques lie burning of wires in the open, using acid bath for extraction of precious metals. Furthermore, these activities are carried out without wearing any protective gear like masks, gloves etc. In the absence of suitable processes and protective measures, recycling E-waste results in toxic emission to the air, water, soil and poses a serious environmental and heath hazards. Thus the challenges are many fold: environmental and health hazards; lack of awareness amongst various stakeholders including public at large; investment required for setting up of state-of-art waste management facilities; monitoring and reporting of the E-waste generated and most importantly reconciling technological advancement with sustainable development.


If treated properly, electronic waste is a valuable source for secondary raw materials. However, if not treated properly, it is a major source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast growing problem around the globe. Technical solutions are available but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied. Electronic waste represents only 2 per cent of America's trash in landfills, but it equals 70 per cent of overall toxic waste. Due to higher reuse and repair capability, as well as lower environmental standards and working conditions, markets for used electronics have expanded in China, India, Kenya, and elsewhere. Generally, the cost of transport is covered by legitimate reuse and repair value. However, there is a disincentive to screen out electronic waste, which requires additional staff as well as environmental liabiity in the (developed) generator country. Demand is also strong where there is copper and aluminum and plastic smelting. Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, and Delhi and Bangalore in India, all have electronic waste processing areas. Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal are causing environmental and health problems, including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste. Trade in electronic waste is controlled by the Basel Convention. However, the Basel Convention specifically exempts repair and refurbishment of used electronics in Annex IX.

Electronic waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity and carcinogenicity of some of the substances if processed improperly. Toxic substances in electronic waste may include lead, mercury, cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in electronic waste may include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6 per cent lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the CRT. Capacitors, transformers, PVC insulated wires, PVC coated components that were manufactured before 1977 often contain dangerous amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls. Up to thirty-eight separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items. The unsustainability of discarding electronics and computer technology is another reason for the need to recycle – or perhaps more practically, reuse – electronic waste.

Electronic waste processing systems have matured in recent years following increased regulatory, public, and commercial scrutiny, and a commensurate increase in entrepreneurial interest. Part of this evolution has involved greater diversion of electronic waste from energy intensive, down-cycling processes (eg. conventional recycling) where equipment is reverted to a raw material form. This diversion is achieved through reuse and refurbishing. The environmental and social benefits of reuse are several: diminished demand for new products and their commensurate requirement for virgin raw materials (with their own environmental externalities not factored into the cost of the raw materials) and larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing, less packaging per unit, availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products, and diminished use of landfills.

Challenges remain, when materials cannot or will not be reused, conventional recycling or disposal via landfill often follow. Standards for both approaches vary widely by jurisdiction, whether in developed or developing countries. The complexity of the various items to be disposed of, cost of environmentally sound recycling systems, and the need for concerned and concerted action to collect and systematically process equipment are the resources most lacked -- though this is changing. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain flame retardants. Generally halogens are added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle.

In developed countries, E-waste processing usually first involves dismantling the equipment into various parts — metal frames, power supplies, circuit boards, and plastics — manuallly. Alternatively, material is shredded, and sophisticated expensive equipment separates the various metal and plastic fractions, which then are sold to various smelters and or plastics recyclers. A typical electronic waste recycling plant as found in some industrialized countries combines the best of dismantling for component recovery with increased capacity to process large amounts of electronic waste in a cost effective-manner. Material is fed into a hopper, which travels up a conveyor and is dropped into the mechanical separator, which is followed by a number of screening and granulating machines. The entire recycling machinery is enclosed and employs a dust collection system. However, a growing trend in the field of E-Waste management is reuse. Reuse is actually preferable to recycling because it extends the lifespan of a device. The devices will need to be recycled at some point, they say, but by allowing others to purchase these used electronics, recycling can be postponed and value gained from use of the device. There is no reason to condemn electronics to recycling if they still have value.


As the price of gold, silver and copper continue to rise, E-waste has become more desirable. E-waste roundups are used as fund raises in some communities. In the 1990s some European countries banned the disposal of electronic waste in landfills. This created an E-waste processing industry in Europe.The European Union further advance E-waste policy by implementing the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive in 2002 which holds manufacturers responsible for E-waste disposal at the end-of-life. Similar legislation has been enacted in Asia, with E-waste legislation in the United States limited to the state level due to stalled efforts in the United States Congress regarding multiple E-waste legislation bills. In the meantime, several states have passed their own laws regarding electronic waste management. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota. More recently, legislatures in Oregon and Texas passed their own laws.Due to the difficulty and cost of recycling used electronics as well as lacklustre enforcement of legislation regarding e-waste exports, large amounts of used electronics have been sent to countries such as China, India, and Kenya, where lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing e-waste more profitable.

In Switzerland the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991 beginning with collection of old refrigerators. Over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. Legislation followed in 1998 and since January 2005 it has been possible to return all electronic waste to the sales points and other collection points free of charge. There are two established PROs (Producer Responsibility Organizations): SWICO mainly handling electronic waste and SENS mainly responsible for electrical appliances. The total amount of recycled electronic waste exceeds 10 kg per capita per year.

The European Union has implemented a similar system under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive which has now been transposed in national laws in all member countries of the European Union. The WEEE directive was designed to make equipment manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their equipment at its end-of-life under a policy known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR was seen as a useful policy as it internalized the end-of-life costs and provided a competitive incentive for companies to design equipment with less costs and liabilities when it reached its end-of-life. However the application of the WEEE directive has been criticized for implementing the EPR concept in a collective manner and thereby losing the competitive incentive of individual manufacturers to be rewarded for their green design. The electronics manufacturers became financially responsible for compliance to the WEEE directive since August 2005 vide which every country has to recycle at least 4 kg of E-waste per capita per year by the end of 2006 – and with one or two years' lag for the new EU members. Recently, some states in the US developed policies banning CRTs from landfills due to the fear that the heavy metals contained in the glass would eventually leach into groundwater. Circuit boards also contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders and are even more likely to leach into groundwater or become air pollution if managed in an incinerator. Indeed, a policy of "diversion from landfill" has been the driver for legislation in many states requiring higher and higher volumes of E-waste to be collected and processed separately from the solid waste stream. Today the E-waste recycling business is a big and rapidly consolidating business. Unfortunately, increased regulation of E-waste and concern over the environmental harm which can result from toxic E-waste has raised disposal costs. This has had the unforeseen effect of providing brokers and others calling themselves recyclers with an incentive to export the E-waste to developing countries. This form of toxic trade was first exposed by the Basel Action Network (BAN) in their 2002 report and film entitled "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia".Exporting Harm placed a spotlight on the global dumping of electronic waste, primarily from North America in a township area of China known as Guiyu. To this day in Guiyu, thousands of men, women and children are employed, in highly polluting, primitive recycling technologies, extracting the metals, toners, and plastics from computers and other E-waste. United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or the Basel Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste. According to BAN estimates about 80 per cent of the E-waste directed to recycling in the US does not get recycled there at all, but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China.

Exporting E-toxic wastes to Third World Countries could be a quite embarrassing but convenient solution to USA and Canada. Very simple rationale: Easy to smuggle the sources of wastes and utter, "Unexplained losses"; Cost of transporting is meager to the costs/risks in living with toxic pollutants; Could keep its Landfills toxic-waste-free and meeting the US-EPA clean-up and health standards. The export is done under the banner of "Recycling E-Waste" technology as a trend-setting environ-trade. Recycling needs to be done at high-cost under protective conditions, that it doesn’t impair the health/environ-conditions of the recycler. But the Third World Country-recyclers are just happy enough to do 'any' Foreign-Based Business; It's easy for them to eyewash their governments and do things as carelessly as possible. Apparently, they waive-off the standards of recycling-technology and pollute themselves.

In developed countries,E-waste processing usually first involves dismantling the equipment into various parts — metal frames, power supplies, circuit boards, and plastics manually. Alternatively, material is shredded, and sophisticated expensive equipment separates the various metal and plastic fractions, which then are sold to various smelters and or plastics recyclers. From 2004 the state of California introduced a Electronic Waste Recycling Fee on all new monitors and televisions sold to cover the cost of recycling, which was adjusted on July 1, 2005 in order to match the real cost of recycling. The amount of the fee depends on the size of the monitor. Canada has also begun to take responsibility for electronics recycling by introducng a fee similar to that of California to the cost of purchasing new televisions, computers, and computer components in British Columbia wth effect from August 2007. The new legislation made recycling mandatory for all of those products.

A typical electronic waste recycling plant as found in some industrialized countries combines the best of dismantling for component recovery with increased capacity to process large amounts of electronic waste in a cost effective-manner. Material is fed into a hopper, which travels up a conveyor and is dropped into the mechanical separator, which is followed by a number of screening and granulating machines. The entire recycling machinery is enclosed and employs a dust collection system. The European Union, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have already demanded that sellers and manufacturers of electronics be responsible for recycling 75 per cent of them.

A growing trend in the field of E-Waste management is reuse. Advocates of this strategy, contend that reuse is actually preferable to recycling because it extends the lifespan of a device. The devices will need to be recycled at some point, but by allowing others to purchase these used electronics, recycling can be postponed and value gained from use of the device. There is no reason to condemn electronics to recycling if they still have value. Many Asian countries have legislated, or will do so, for electronic waste recycling.The United States Congress is considering a number of electronic waste bills including the National Computer Recycling Act, which has continually stalled. Meanwhile, several states have passed their own laws regarding electronic waste management. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota. More recently, legislatures in Oregon and Texas passed their own laws.

It's an astonishing number that will send millions of pounds of lead to landfills or overseas. Non-digital TVs contain up to eight pounds of lead, which is a potent neurotoxin. While new digital flat screen TVs don't have lead, they do contain mercury, another neurotoxin. "It's no longer illegal in the U.S. to export E-waste (electronic waste) to developing countries. Changes in rules and regulations in recent years to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have created an "appalling system that makes it easy to dump E-waste on the developing world". The act states that exports of hazardous waste can only go forward after the receiving country has officially agreed to accept it.
However, loopholes and exemptions mean hardly any E-waste is considered hazardous and is therefore legal for export without informing recipient countries. Just recently, changes by the Bush administration allows computer monitors and TVs that all contain mercury and lead to be exported as long as they are going for recycling. Despite being the largest producer of E-waste, the U.S. has refused to sign the international Basel Convention to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries.


Even as India heads for a looming E-waste crisis, most of the global electronic brands have no functioning E-waste take-back services in India. Greenpeace examined the policy-and-practice on E-waste take-back offered by 20 E-brands in India and found that only one global brand (Acer) and two India brands (HCL and Wipro) have take-back services in India. HCL and WIPRO are ahead of most of their counterparts in implementing their take-back service on the ground, even in the absence of legislation. According to Greenpeace, big brands like Nokia, LG Electronics and Motorola are still not able to make their take back service in India fully operational. Many of these brands are providing a voluntary take-back service in other countries. HP, along with Dell and Lenovo, is involved in green-wash, as their take-back service is completely non-existent on ground. With the exception of two brands (Acer and HCL), no other brand has come out publicly on the issue of supporting E-waste legislation in India. The findings of Greenpeace study are absolutely shocking. It seems that E-waste Takeback in India is in no way a priority for global brands; otherwise, how can one explain the irresponsible conduct of brands like Sony, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, Samsung and Philips, which have no take-back service in India whatsoever? Legislation embracing Producer Responsibility for E-waste is already in force in the EU, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and some US states. Responsible companies is expected to treat all their customers globally in the same way and offer take-back and recycling services wherever their products are sold – not just in countries where this is a legal requirement. Those brands which have no policy for take-back in India, must immediately announce such service without any lapse. And those brands whose take-back service is not working on the ground need to tighten the noose. These measures need to be backed by policy based on IPR (Individual Producer Responsibility) that provides for the entire life cycles of a product.

To get around this problem, collection targets are needed. WEEE Directive sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods and makes manufacturers responsible for disposal. The collection rate are of around 60 per cent for small appliances like MP3 players and hairdryers, as well as for medium-sized audio equipment, microwaves and televisions and 75 per cent for large appliances like refrigerators and washing machines. There are major environmental benefits in collecting 75 per cent of old refrigerators which contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) -- a chemical that eats away the ozone layer and is a highly potent greenhouse gas. Achieving that target would save the equivalent of roughly 34 million tonne of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Considered the best E-waste programme in the world, it's not working all that well. Only about 25 per cent of Europe's medium-sized household appliances and 40 per cent of larger appliances are collected for salvage and recycling. Small appliances, with a few exceptions, are close to zero per cent the collection rates are very poor in Europe. People simply aren't aware of the dangers and throw their used goods away. The low collection rates suit manufacturers quite well because they have much less to recycle. No one is really responsible for collection. Manufacturers say they can't make people bring back their E-waste and in reality, manufacturers don't want it back because there are costs associated with recycling. And major efforts are needed to increase public awareness of the need to properly recycle E-waste. Manufacturers can figure out how to get us to buy their products, they could find ways to get us to bring them back. Electronics giant Sony has already agreed and will now take back old TVs at 75 retail stores free of charge. All major manufacturers and retailers should join Sony on this.

WeP formulated a Green strategy to enter into recycling of IT Hardware products and has commenced this activity through its Long Life IBU where IT consumables like print head, toner cartridges etc. are being recycled to reduce IT waste in the environment. In addition to this, they have entered into an agreement to give their waste to the only Pollution Control Board authorized E-waste recycler in India. WeP has also an advantage of taking a lead in E-waste management and hence can distinguish itself as a responsible player in the market. Apart from internal initiatives ensuring safe E-waste management practices, WeP launched Bangalore wide citizens programme in April last year. An awareness campaign was started henceforth targeting citizens, corporation and schools.  This is a simplistic set up of special collection centers across the city to institutionalize segregation and collection of compact discs, floppy discs and dry cell batteries. Although the initiative started as a network of 10 centers placed at prominent shopping areas in the city, they have around 150 collection centers in schools, colleges, offices, apartments and commercial establishments in Bangalore. They have received an encouraging response throughout the year and are committed towards an eco-friendly, financially viable and socially acceptable E-waste management system for Bangalore. WeP has been exporting its Printers to European market since 2001 and has been in the forefront of conformance with RoHS (Restrict the use of Hazardous Substance) – an Environmental Legislations adopted by the EU. WeP has proactively taken up this initiative – with a commitment to extent the programme to all products manufactured by WeP without any regulatory pressure, as there is no similar mandatory provision in Indian laws.
The objective was very clear:

Creating Environmental Values amongst the Leaders of Tomorrow


Environment protection and its preservation is today the major concern all over the world. The environment proves that all the human activities are inter-connected. An environmental damage within the boundaries of one state has trans-border ramifications. While the scientific and technological progress of man has invested him with immense power over nature, it has also resulted in the tactless use of the power, and endless encroachment of nature. The worst nightmare of this helpless situation is the growth of electronic waste in India. There is no expressed legislation in India that is taking care of E-waste in India. The Government of India has reiterated its commitment to Waste Minimization and Control of Hazardous Wastes, both nationally and internationally. The general environmental laws are indirectly touching the aspects of E-waste.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Disposal was signed by India on 15th March 1990 ratified and acceded to in 1992 and amended in 2003. A ratification of this convention obliges India to address the problem of transboundary movement and disposal of dangerous hazardous wastes through international cooperation. As per the Basel Convention, India cannot export hazardous wastes listed in Annex VIII of the Convention from the countries that have ratified the ban agreement. However, the convention agreement does not restrict the import of such wastes from countries that have not ratified the Basel Convention. It is through the orders of the Hon. Supreme Court that the import of such wastes is now banned in the country. The legal basis therefore, is regulated in the “Hazardous Waste Management and Handling Rules (1989 / 2000/2003 amended)”. This document also controls the import of hazardous waste from any part of the world into India. However, import of such waste may be allowed for processing or reuse as raw material. There is no specific legislation pertaining to the management of E-waste so far. Therefore, the issues of E-waste in India are indirectly and remotely covered by laws like Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989/2000/2003, DGFT Exim Policies, etc. This raises an important question about the management and regulation of E-waste in India. There should be some authority that must be empowered to deal with E-waste in India. In April 2008, Ministry of Environment and Forests has issued Guideline’s for environmentally sound management of E-waste. The spirit behind these guidelines is to address sustainable development concerns in accordance with the National Environment Policy (NEP) 2006. It focuses on need to facilitate the recovery and/or reuse of useful material from waste generated from a process and/or from the use of any material thereby reducing the waste destined for final disposal and to ensures environmentally sound management of all materials.

It also lays down that under Rule 3, “Definitions”, of the Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2003, E-waste in Indian context can be defined as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipments including all components, sub assemblies and their fractions except batteries, falling under Schedule 1, Schedule 2 and Schedule 3 of these rules.  The objectives of these guidelines is to provide guidance for identification of various sources of waste electrical and electronic equipments( E-waste) and prescribed procedures for handling E-waste in an environmentally sound manner.  These guidelines are reference document for the management, handling and disposal of E-waste.  They provide the minimum practice required to be followed in the management of E-waste.


A multi-pronged strategy is required to handle the problem at various levels- individual, institutional, business, government and policy level. Measures taken to extend the useful life span of devices, to reuse them and to eliminate toxic products in their composition can help in limiting the impact on the environment.  Expanding the useful life span of a device may include repairing it, upgrading it, offering it those who require devices with less functionality or selling it in the second hand market. The increasingly short life span of the electrical or electronic devices either by choice or design results in huge waste of natural resources and the same can be avoided by extending the useful life span.  There is definite need to create public awareness on the subject and to make them also aware about not dumping the E-waste with other types of waste.

The Energy Research Institute is responsible for kick-starting a program that lays out organizational procedures for E-waste recycling in partnership with various non-governmental organizations, independent bodies and governmental bodies, including the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as the Central Pollution Control Board. The existing provisions and initiatives of Indian government are not sufficient to curb the menace of e-waste in India. India needs to consider this issue seriously and must enact laws in conformity with the requirements of the present society. Harmonization of the issues of ecology and a developmental need of the society is need of the hour. On one hand we must encash the benefits of information technology whereas on the other hand we must have in place a strong and safe E-waste disposal and management system in India. Ignoring either of them is not a wise option. India must concentrate upon the model of ‘sustainable development’ where the conflicting interests of societal development and environmental degradation are reconciled for the common betterment of the society. No doubt, the task is difficult but the need of E-waste regulation and management in India is more pressing. Therefore, all our actions should be guided by sustainable development principle which has been very aptly defined in the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) report commonly known as Brundtland Report on 1987 as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.

The imperatives of the scenario demand that the Government should promulgate an all-embracing national E-waste Management law, and an all-encompassing policy thereunder, for substituting the existing Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2003. Initiate the process for complete national level assessment, covering all the cities and all the sectors. Such base line study must envelope inventories, existing technical and policy measures required for emergence of national E-waste policy/strategy and action plan for eco-friendly, economic E-waste management.  The study should also culminate in identifying potentially harmful substances and testing them for adverse health and environmental effects for suggesting precautionary measures. Create a public-private participatory forum of decision making, problem resolution in E-waste management comprising Regulatory Agencies, NGOs, Industry Associations, experts etc. to keep pace with the temporal and spatial changes in structure and content of E-waste.  Create knowledge data base on end of useful life determination, anticipating the risks, ways of preventing and protecting from likely damage and safe and timely disposal of E-waste.  Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities in schools, colleges, and industry etc. are promoted to enhance the knowledge base on E-waste management using the PPP mode. Creation of data base on best global practices and failure analyses for development and deployment of efficacious E-waste management and disposal practices within the country be adopted. Device ways and means to encourage beneficial reuse/recycling of E-waste, catalyzing business activities that use E-waste. Formulate and regulate occupational health safety norms for the E-waste recycling, now mainly confined to the informal sector. Review the trade policy and Exim classification codes to plug the loopholes often being misused for cross-border dumping of E-waste into India.  Insist on stringent enforcement against wanton infringement of Basel convention and E-waste dumping by preferring incarceration over monetary penalties for demonstrating deterrent impact. Foster partnership with manufacturers and retailers for recycling services by creating an enabling environment so as to dispose E-waste scientifically at economic costs. Mandate sustained capacity building for industrial E-waste handling for policy makers, managers, controllers and operators.  Enhance consumer awareness regarding the potential threat to public health and environment by electronic products, if not disposed properly.   Enforce labeling of all computer monitors, television sets and other household/industrial electronic devices for declaration of hazardous material contents with a view to identifying environmental hazards and ensuring proper material management and E-waste disposal. Announce incentives for growth of E-waste disposal agencies so that remediation of environmental damage, threats of irreversible loss and lack of scientific knowledge do not any more pose hazards to human health and environment.  Simultaneously, as a proactive step, municipal bodies must be involved in the disposal of e-waste at least it becomes too late for their intervention, should large handling volumes necessitate it. Consider gradual introduction of enhanced producer responsibility into Indian process, practices and procedures so that preventive accountability gains preponderance over polluter immunity. An ideal thing is:

Innovate smart eco-friendly materials for chips and processors

That leads the future legacy of greener-high-tech revolution.



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List of substances contained in electronic waste 

Substances in bulk

Epoxy resins, fibre glass, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and thermosetting plastics.

Elements in bulk 

             Lead, tin, copper, silicon, beryllium, carbon, iron and aluminium

Elements in small amounts 

                                       Cadmium, mercury, thallium

Elements in trace amounts

Americium, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, europium, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, lithium, manganese, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, silver, tantalum, terbium, thorium, titanium, vanadium, and yttrium.











Annex 2: Environmental and Health Hazards of WEEE



Main application

Environmental & heath impacts

Plastic such as PVC

Cabling, computer housing, handsets and mobile phone accessories

When burnt, releases dioxins that can be carcinogenic


Circuit boards and other components

High toxic effects on plants and animals.
Damages nervous system


SMD chip resistors, infrared detectors, batteries, pigments

Can leach into groundwater. Long term exposure can result in kidney damage. Potential carcinogen.


Sensors and switches on printed circuit boards, backlights for LCD displays/monitors

Highly toxic and can cause brain damage in foetuses






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Comment by arshad rizvi on May 16, 2011 at 3:20am
Its really an informative article....I just have a feeling ...cant say weather right or wrong...still I would like to share it with you. Can we call them E-Recyclables rather than calling them E-waste?
If yes ....its no use wasting our time lets take it from here itself and promote the term E-Recyclables. -online webportal to network and do business and philanthropy with Indian Environment Organizations and Professionals


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