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How EPR in E-Waste Management Will Prove Beneficial for the Environment

June, 01, 2018

Authored by Mr. V Ranganathan, CEO and Founder, Cerebra Integrated Technologies.

PayPal founder Peter Thiel has an interesting answer to a contrarian question –“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” According to Thiel, technology will matter more than globalization in coming times. Because, he reasons, without this, China will double air pollution if it doubles its energy production over the next decade. If every Indian household ends up living the way the Americans currently do, the result would be environmental catastrophe.

This catastrophe extends to much more than just air. With the drastic increase in the number of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), the waste discarded after a product ends its life further causes huge damage to the environment.

Much EEE are material that should not end up in the environment. Like mercury in light bulbs, arsenic in mobile phones, lead in CRT glass, and so on. Then there are metals like silver, gold, palladium, copper and tin. On the face of it, the economic incentive to extract metals from EEE seems high. But it hides a problem which can quickly escalate.

The Hazards of Improper E-Waste Recycling

According to the Environment Ministry, nearly 1.7 million tonnes of e-waste was produced in India in 2014. With this number increasing at the rate of four to five percent annually, the environment and to health and well being face many threats.

Due to malpractices in breaking down non-working laptops, cell-phones and other goods – in India, done by hand or crudely burnt – e-waste doesn’t get properly recycled. The residue from EEE gets dumped in rivers, drains and/or disposed in solid waste dumps. Over time, this degrades land and water quality.

Wastage from EEE also causes health issues for workers who deal with it and people on the land adjacent. These health concerns include nose bleeds, seizures, retarded children, skin cancer, paralysis and even death.

The Role of Extended Producer Responsibility

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in waste management aims to include the environmental costs associated with goods throughout their lifecycle into the prices of products.

The current Indian government has brought producers of EEE under this ambit also, which is a positive step toward managing e-waste better. Under the revised target for e-waste collection, 10% of the quantity of waste generated will be collected during 2017-18 with a 10% increase every year until 2023. After 2023, the target has been fixed at 70% of the quantity of waste generation - it means electronic goods manufacturing companies will have to collect and channel 70% of e-waste from consumers to authorised dismantlers and recyclers.(The number was 30 percent but the ministry scaled it down to help producers prepare themselves better.) For this, they’ll have to design a waste-collection mechanism, under which they can set up collection centres to facilitate take-backs.

The Advantages of EPR

While the nuances of roles under the EPR concept are still being refined, adding producers to manage equipment after their ‘end of life’ will positively impact the environment in many ways.

For one, producers will start innovating to ensure minimum residue after EEE reach their end life. This will lead to advancement in technology which is the need of the hour to improve the environment’s (and human beings’) well-being.

Second, the government has stated that dealer or retailers "shall refund the amount as per take-back system or deposit refund scheme of the producer to the depositor of e-waste". And refurbishers have to direct these wastes to authorized recyclers. Thus, the right incentive will encourage more people to process e-waste properly rather than partially extract useful commodities and dump the remaining.

“This is a huge step forward by the Indian government,” said V Ranganathan, Founder &Managing Director, Cerebra Integrated Technologies, which has developed one of the largest e-waste facilities in India. “It’ll give technology a boost and enable formal recycling which is otherwise dominated by informal sector processing the E Waste in the most hazardous way. We’re going to build on this concept by spreading awareness on e-waste management and helping producers recycle their ‘end of life’ equipment in a controlled, authorized and safe manner.”

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