New Delhi: Though some large electronics brands such as Nokia and Dell offer to take back old mobile phones and computers as part of an effort to restrict electronic waste, experts say a majority of the smaller firms are hardly prepared to meet an approaching government deadline on e-waste collection and management.
Small and medium-size companies are either unaware of the deadline, just a month away, or are not serious about it because of the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism, according to the experts.
Under the e-waste management rules released last year by the ministry of environment and forests, manufacturers have to collect discarded personal computers, handsets and white goods such as washing machines and refrigerators for recycling.
Few takers: A pile of discarded computers for recycling in the outskirts of Delhi. Manoj Patil/HT
The rules were notified in May last year to give companies time to set up collection centres. The rules will become effective this May.
However, according to experts, even though the rules are a step in the right direction, barring a few large electronics manufacturers, most of the companies are not taking it seriously.
India produces 400,000 tonnes of electronic waste every year, and this is expected to grow by 10-15% annually, according to industry estimates.
Though all electronic companies have to set up reverse collection and financing mechanisms to eliminate e-waste, many are converting existing service or brand centres and “claiming to be law complaint,” said Nitin Gupta, chief executive of Attero Recycling, which collects electronic waste from companies and individuals for recycling.
That approach will not work, he said. “Collection will be negligible as it is easy for consumers to just give it (e-waste) to their garbage collector, who will also give them some incentive for discarding the product.”
In India, the informal chain of garbage collectors dominates e-waste collection. However, a lack of training in breaking down e-waste poses health problems and throws up environmental concerns.
But the fact that this informal chain has the advantage of direct access to consumers’ homes makes them the first choice while discarding e-waste.
Gupta said his firm is working toward creating a collection model in partnership with the World Bank to use this informal sector to run take-back programmes. The World Bank is an investor in his company.
“The financial economics has to be at play if this has to work,” he said, adding the project may cost $10-20 million.
Attero is trying to reach manufacturers to participate in the programme but the response has not been encouraging, he said. “Most of the companies are doing lip-service to this,” he added. “It is important to get electronic manufacturers on board, as for breaking down some of the e-waste, their producer companies have to pay the recyclers.”
Though the e-waste management rules require companies to send regular updates to state pollution control boards or the pollution control committees about the e-waste generated by them, experts say no targets have been set and no monitoring mechanism is in place.
“Even after these rules are imposed, there will be negligible recycling through the formal sector. The law just said there has to be a take-back collection system, but how much of take back it should lead to, there are no targets set,” said Gupta.
Many companies and consumers too are not yet aware of the rules.
Sabyasachi Patra, executive director of the electronics hardware lobby, the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology, said the large companies are trying hard to prepare for the deadline, but smaller firms are not aware of the rules.
“On the other side, awareness at the consumer level is also very low,” he added. “Unless consumers understand the importance of disposing e-waste in the right way, they will keep giving off stuff to the kabadiwallas (local garbage collector), even if companies set up their own collection centres.”
Mobile phone maker Nokia India said it has more than 1,400 centres for collection of end-of-life products. Dell has introduced a coupon system of Rs500 and Rs1,000 for old batteries and computers, respectively.
Patra says that despite these efforts, there is a greater likelihood of people disposing their products through the local garbage collector as that may yield a better price. “That will always remain a challenge; education has to come into place (for the consumer). These things can’t be mandated,” he said.