Waste management

Challenges and Opportunities in Electronic Waste Management in India

calendar30 Apr, 2022
timeReading Time: 10 Minutes
Electronic Waste Management

With the massive development in the IT and communication sector, the use of electronic equipment has enhanced. Faster growth in an electronic product makes the consumer leave an older electronic product, resulting in a huge increase in e-waste or electronic waste. E-waste is called as fastest growing waste, and United Nations has termed it “a tsunami”. 

In India total of 4 lakh tonnes of electronic waste is generated annually as per the Comptroller and Auditor General of our Country. The electronic waste contains ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic, glass, woods, etc., out of which 50% is iron and steel. Cities that generate most of the e-waste are Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur. 

Introduction to Electronic waste (e-waste)

In India, electronic waste is defined under the Electronic Waste Management Rules of 2016, issued by the Central Pollution Control Board. The EEQ, whole or in part, is treated as waste by consumers. The used electrical and electronic equipment is not ready for its original use and is discarded. All those used equipment which is discarded from recycling and dismantling will be treated as electronic waste. Computers, screens, monitors, televisions, CDs, printers, scanners, copiers, calculators, iPods, fax machines, batteries, cells, phones, transceivers, radios, air-conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines and medical apparatus were some of the examples of electronic waste when they did not fit the criteria of reuse and recycling. 

Electronic waste management has categorized the electrical and electronic equipment into the followings:

  • Information technology and communication (ITEW)- 16 types of EEE
  • Consumer electrical and electronics (CEEW)- 5 types of EEE

Electronic waste management has provided the list of components of electronic waste as follows:

  • Metals- 33%
  • Glass- 37%
  • Plastic- 30%

Further metallic constituents of electronic waste are:

  • Iron- 52%
  • Copper- 18%
  • Aluminium- 12%
  • Zinc- 3%
  • Lead- 3%
  • Others-12%

The source of electronic waste is the domestic production of electrical and electronic equipment and also the import of electrical and electronic equipment in our Country. In India, electronic waste management determines the production of electronic waste by an individual based on the quantity of EEQ placed in the market in the preceding year and their average life span. 

Legislative overview of electronic waste Management

In India, electronic waste management under the E-waste Management Rules, 2016 has made the electronic waste management and disposal procedure. It includes their components, consumables and spare parts. 

The E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, were introduced because of the dominant role of the informal sector and the challenges to health and the environment which needed to be handled. These Rules came into effect on the first day of May 2012. But the enhancement of these Rules was not very effective due to some shortcomings and multiple fronts. So, to address these shortcomings and to make electronic waste management more effective and functional, another E-waste (Management) Rules 2016 came into effect in October 2016. Again, in March 2018, these Rules were amended. The basic objective of these 2016 Rules is to ensure the management of electronic waste in an environmentally sound manner and also to ensure the protective and appropriate handling of electronic waste management because if the management of electronic waste is not done properly, it can lead to occupational hazards, environmental toxicity and economic non-viability. 

The basic objective of electronic waste Management are:

  • To implement the Extended Producer Responsibility under the 2016 Rules, the emphasis is on the producer’s responsibility for environmentally sound electronic waste management at every stage. 
  • To establish an efficient e-waste collection mechanism, through buy bac and take-back system and also to promote the same. 
  • To promote technologies that are environmentally sound through authorized dismantlers and recyclers.
  • To decrease the informal sector’s illegal recycling and recovery process/ operations. 
  • To minimize the use of the hazardous substance in the manufacture of electronic waste equipment. 

Electronic waste management at the global level

Some international treaties are signed between different nations related to electronic waste management. Basel Convention was made with the aim of reducing and regulating the movement of hazardous wastes between two or more countries. But still, the global illegal shipment and dumping of electronic waste are continuing to take place. 

Most of the electronic waste generated at the global level is from computers, screens, tablets, televisions and smartphones and also all the electrical and electronic equipment used for cooling and heating. 

There is a total of 60% of the global population which are covered by legislation dealing with the electronic waste management, but still, only 20% of electronic waste at the world level is recycled in a year. A total of 40 million tonnes of electronic waste are burned for resource recovery or traded and treated illegally. A total of 100 million computers are thrown way in the US only, out of which less than 20% are being recycled properly. China alone discards 160 million electronic products in a year. At the same time, the amount of electronic waste generated each year in India was 146,000 tonnes per year at that time. US and China are the most electronic waste generating countries in the world. There is a large number of waste electrical and electronic equipment that comes to India from other countries. 

The first Country in the world that established and implemented an electronic waste management system is Switzerland, and it has recycled 11kg/capita of electronic waste, whereas the target set by the European Union for it is only 4kg/capita. The EU WEEE has given directives stating to impose collection, recovery, and recycling targets on its member countries. It has stipulated a minimum collection target of 4kg/capita each year for its member states. These targets are set to reduce the number of hazardous wastes disposed of on the land and maximize recyclable materials’ availability. One-third of the electronic wastes in the European Union are collected separately and treated appropriately. 

South Korea 2003 introduced the EPR scheme, which turned out to be one of the most important steps as about 70% of electronic wastes were collected by the producers. The amount of electronic waste reused and recycled over the same period was 12% and 69%, respectively. 

Challenges in Electronic waste Management 

The developed countries, though, have developed various methods for electronic waste management but for developing countries like India and Pakistan. The low concentrations of metals in the electronic wastes provide for cheap treatment facilities, and these metal recovery prosses create pollution in the air, water and land. Overexposure to toxic substances makes people suffer from too many health problems. Electronic waste comprises harmful substances which can cause severe health issues. Recycling electronic waste can have serious adverse effects if not done properly. The electronic waste consists of many hazardous toxic chemicals, acids, metals and non-degradable plastics. Many of the recycling of electronic waste exports lead glass, circuit boards and mercury lumps. Electronic waste produces carcinogens which cause lung and skin cancer. Due to cheap labour and poverty, India has become a world of dumping stations. 

The Basel Action Network (BAN) served a report stating that about 50-80% of electronic waste is collected by the USA and is exported to China, Pakistan and our Country. BAN works to prevent the globalization of toxic substances, especially toxic chemicals. The export of toxic substances to India is done for cheaper services and human resources, and thus this e-waste is polluting India. Now China has banned the import of waste products, so now it has become tougher for our electronic waste management to cope with this problem of imported wastes. Electronic waste management and recycling are totally in the hand of informal sectors, but they don’t have the appropriate means to handle the release of toxic substances and intolerable risks to humans and the environment. 

India is the 5th biggest producer of electronic waste globally, generating 1.7 million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment in 2014. Untrained labours in the informal sector do the transportation, segregation, dismantling and disposal of electronic waste. There is a lack of awareness in India’s people, so they throw or dump electronic waste along with other waste. Then they are picked and segregated by rag pickers. Because of this lack of awareness and proper knowledge, electronic waste management has become more challenging in our Country. 

India produces 1.25 lakh million tonnes of electronic waste in a year. India is also used as a dumping group of electronic wastes by many developed countries. Which US, China, the UK, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are the top leading countries which dump their electronic waste in India. 

Only 10 of the UTs and States combinedly generate 70% of electronic waste in our Country, and almost 65 cities generate 60% of total electronic waste. 

The electronic wastes per se are not hazardous, but the substance they release while electronic waste management procedure is hazardous in nature. The substances that are left behind while dismantling and recycling electronic waste are hazardous to human health and the environment. Electronic products contain different kinds of toxins, and if they are processed carefully, they can be very dangerous to human health. Many electronic products have cathode ray tubes that contain lead, barium, and cadmium. When they enter any water or drainage system, they can have harmful effects and even damage our respiratory and nervous systems. Flame retardant plastics used in electronic products release particles that adversely affect our endocrine functions. And all this happens when the electronic waste management is not done properly, and unprocessed electronic waste is put into landfills directly. 

Electronic waste toxins affect the human body

The table below shows the different constituents of electronic waste that affect the human body and its parts:

Constituents Affected body parts
Lead and Cadmium Nervous system and kidney
Beryllium Lungs and skin
Lead oxide, barium and cadmium Heart, liver and muscles
Mercury Brain and skin
PVC Polyvinyl chloride Immune system
Bromine Endocrine system

Issues related to electronic waste management

Following are the major issues related to electronic waste that has become the biggest challenge for the department dealing with electronic waste management:

  • A large number of e-waste is generated.

India is amongst the five top electronic waste generating countries, and it produces approximately 1.7 lakh million tonnes of electronic waste every year.

  • Involvement of child labour

In India, around 4.5 lakhs of children between the ages group 10-and 14 are seen as child labour and engaged in different activities related to electronic waste management. They do all these activities without any safeguard and proper protection. 

  • Not so effective legislation

There is not enough information online on different electronic waste and waste management websites. Some of the websites do not even have basic rules and guidelines in relation to electronic waste management. They lack in providing details of recyclers and collectors of electronic waste and other individuals or any entity related to electronic waste management. Due to the failure of legislation to provide important information relating to e-waste, citizens do not know how to deal with their electronic waste and how to fulfil their responsibility. Thus, there is a huge failure on the part of the department dealing with electronic waste management and handling. 

  • Lack of research 

There should be more research in the field of electronic waste management, and here also, the government has failed to encourage more and more research related to e-waste. There is a need for research on the development and standards of hazardous electronic waste management and disposal so that they do not affect humans and the environment.

  • Costly recycling facility

The advanced technology recycling projects are very costly and are not economically viable. Most companies are limited to pre-processing electronic wastes, and for later steps, the electronic waste is sometimes sent to foreign countries. The formal sectors in India which are dealing with electronic waste management still have poor and a long way to go type technologies as the better technologies are costly. These sectors face difficulties in making it profitable with high investment in superior and high-cost technologies.  

  • Security implications

Most electronic products such as computers and mobile phones have sensitive personal data and information of individuals, which, if not deleted, leave the opportunity for many frauds or IT offences. 

  • E-waste imports

All the foreign countries import their electronic waste to India because of cheap labour. Almost 80% of cross border electronic waste from developed countries is imported to India. India has the cheapest electronic waste management facilities and man labour. 

  • Poor awareness and sensitization

Limited information, reach out and awareness related to the disposal of e-waste. Also, no one thinks about the environment’s safety while throwing away their e-waste. 

  • Lack of incentive schemes

No appropriate incentives have been taken to date to make people understand the negative impact of e-waste and its inappropriate handling. 

  • Lack of infrastructure

There is a lack of so many facilities in India despite the maximum amount of e-waste. There is a proper facility for electronic waste management, which leads to a huge gap between the collection and recycling of e-waste. 

  • Health hazards

E-waste contains thousands of toxins, which mix with natural resources and then impact our health. It can cause severe issues, too, like cancer. Due to a lack of awareness among the people, the risk is higher for humans as well as the environment. 

Extended Producer Responsibility 

Extended Produced Responsibility (EPR) was introduced by the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change for electronic waste management. It is a cornerstone for electronic waste management. It was introduced to collect, channelize, recycle, and manage electronic waste. It obeys circularity principles which make producers more responsible for the overall management of each product they put on the market. EPR has the potential to enhance positive changes. It has also shown a positive impact on electronic waste management. 

A digital system for effective monitoring of EPR should be developed. Tracking and digitizing the whole process of EPR implementation will bring transparency. 

In 2016 it was made mandatory to fulfil EPR compliance through PRO, E-waste exchange and recyclers. The producers should set up a permanent digital system by a third party as planned by CPCB for EPR. 

The producers must have legal agreements with dismantlers and recyclers, individually or through the Producers Responsibility Organisation. One has to get Extended Producer Responsibility Authorization by submitting a form with the EPR plan at CPCB. 

Other Opportunities for Electronic waste Management

Apart from EPR, the followings are other opportunities provided for the electronic waste management:

  • Inventories the electronic waste for better understanding of challenges

CPCB has made an electronic waste review portal after NGT[1] directed it to submit an action plan for electronic waste management. For this, NGT enforced E-waste (Management) Rules in September 2019. Now all SPCB and PCC have been issued guidelines for the review portal and instructions to file returns. This is a step ahead in electronic waste management. 

Data on e-waste generated per year should be made public. 

  • Better regulation of import of E-wastes

The electronic waste which is imported to India without any restriction is properly regulated, and information related to the monitoring of all the material, their quantities and points of use and disposal is provided. 

  • Stringent enforcement of provisions of E-waste (Management) Rules 2016

To ensure that the EPR targets are achieved and to ensure that the information on recycling of e-waste is independent, it is mandatory to follow provisions of the Rules of 2016. The e-waste should be verified before an EPRA is issued. 

There should be an online app for tracking e-waste disposal or recovery. 

  • Compensate people who get affected while dealing with electronic waste management

The health and environmental conditions related to electronic waste management should be monitored, and people employed therein should get compensated for any adverse effect of such employment. The producers of such electronic wastes should be made liable for improper handling and leakage of such e-wastes, causing toxicity in the environment. 

  • Improve awareness amongst the consumers of electronic waste

Most citizens have no idea about the hazardous effect of e-waste. They should be made aware of all of their responsibility related to electronic waste management. Not only awareness but the statutory warning should also be provided to the citizens underlining the disposal techniques. 


An increase in the growth of information technologies has led to the use of electrical and electronic equipment. With the growth of the use of electronic products, the growth of e-waste has also increased. A sudden enhancement of e-waste creates so many difficulties in electronic waste management. India ranks in the top 5 in electronic waste disposal at the global level. A maximum number of electronic wastes are dumped here, adding to their own waste; electronic wastes from other developed nations are also imported here. India has cheap labour and techniques for electronic waste management. Apart from all difficulties and adverse effects, there are also some opportunities open for central government towards electronic waste management such as EPR; E-waste policy and regulations; E-waste recycling; capacity building, training and awareness programme. 

Read our Article:E-Waste Management Authorisation Process in India

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