India Struggles to Manage and Recycle E-Waste

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The United Nations Environmental Program predicted that between 2007 and 2020, the amount of e-waste exported to India will jump by as much as 500%, and between 200% and 400% in South Africa and China.

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E-waste is an informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful life.” Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are common e-waste products. Processing and recycling them is proving to be a major challenge for Indian authorities. To add to the export of e-waste, recent studies have revealed that about 1.8 million metric tons of e-waste are being generated within India, itself, annually. That figure is likely to climb to 5.2 mmt by 2020 at the predicted annual compounded rate of 30%. But only about 2.5% of this e-waste gets recycled, experts say.

E-waste figured in a major way on the agenda of a huge convention on non-ferrous minerals and metals in India’s steel city of Jamshedpur, last week. The delegates deliberated the challenges posed by the non-ferrous industry including the generation of e-waste.

The 20th edition of the =Conference on Non-ferrous Minerals and Metals, organized by CSIR-National Metallurgy Laboratory (NML), saw about 120 delegates discussing ways of moving ahead to match global e-waste standards. NML is one of the premier bodies in Asia that specializes in research in materials, minerals and metals.

Recycling Growth Needed

The chairman of the conference — Dr. K. Muraleedharan, director of CSIR NML — emphasized the need for the growth of the industry to move towards international benchmarks on per capita consumption of non-ferrous metals. Another important aspect he touched upon was the importance of technologies for critical and rare metals recovery from the residues generated in major non-ferrous metals industries.

Delegates were unanimous in their thinking that innovative and economically viable technologies needed to be developed to treat the waste generated in non-ferrous and allied industries, such as spent pot lining in aluminum, red mud and fly ash, to name a few.

Some of the convention attendees felt that with such vast amounts of e-waste being generated in the country — and for the sustainability of critical and rare metals (like germanium, tellurium, gallium, indium, and other rare earths — industrially viable technologies were needed, based on a collaboration between industry and research and development organizations.

According to this report by news agency IANS, India was the fifth largest generator of e-waste in the world.

While India has had “E-Waste Management and Handling Rules’” in place since May 2012, but a lack of awareness on part of the consumers and producers, as well as non-segregation of e-waste, were the primary reasons for India’s dubious record.

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Computer equipment accounts for 70% of e-waste material followed by telecom equipment (12%), electrical equipment (8%) and medical equipment (7%) according to an Assocham-KPMG study.

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