Implementation of e-waste laws still remains unclear

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In May this year, India joined other countries in US and Europe and laid down e-waste laws, which go into effect from this year. Increasing incidents of malpractice involving electronic dumping in the absence of regulation had triggered the need for e-waste rules, of which an initial draft was made in 2010. Under the new norms, producers would now be held accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products and would also have to take initiatives to introduce changes in product design and technology for environmental friendly treatment and disposal of the goods that they produce, says a Hindu Business Line report. “This goes beyond manufacturing and puts the onus on a producer to take ownership, from producing to managing its end of life in an environment friendly manner,” said Priti Mahesh, project manager, Toxics Link, India.

While this is a step in the right direction, it’s not going to solve India’s e-waste problem immediately. “It is in line with global standards, although there is room for improvement,” said Abhishek Pratap, senior climate campaigner, Greenpeace India. It is not only the environmentalists who are scratching their heads over the rules but even e-waste recyclers. As per the rules, the onus is on the state to issue licenses instead of on the centre. This is causing confusion as a number of recyclers have their recycling units in different parts of India and will have to go through the bureaucracy to get new licenses.  “The law does not specify the amount of e-waste to be collected. As a manufacturer, I can just put up a toll free number and abide by the law,” said Rohan Gupta, COO, Attero Recycling. “For example, a company should collect at least 10 per cent of their products sold by 2012-13, similarly 20 per cent by 2014 and so on,” opined Gupta.

The rules simply talk about financing and organising a system for the environmentally sound management of e-waste without any mechanism to check how this system would be put into practice. The kind of penalty that might be imposed if EPR is not strictly followed by companies does not find a mention in the rules. Analysts were of the view that they had proposed this kind of idea to the government in line with EU laws but they had not considered it. “These kinds of targets can also be used to monitor whether the legislation is being implemented effectively,” said Pratap.

Another significant issue is with regard to the management and disposal of products present in the market prior to the enforcement of rules. There are non-branded or assembled products from the gray market that are cheaper, used on a large scale and comprise a large proportion of the waste stream. The rules have designated Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) with the responsibility to collect and channel the orphan products to the authorised collection centres, dismantlers or recyclers and to take care of such waste. But a policy at the manufacturing level is also needed, which does not allow non-existent brands to do business. However, the regulatory bodies of a large number of states/union territories lack capacity and are burdened with other responsibilities. The urban local bodies or municipalities suffer from a lack of manpower, expertise and resources. “The government should look at enhancing its existing capacity if it is serious about implementing these rules,” said Mahesh. An email sent to the Karnataka State Pollution Board did not elicit any response. Also, India is a large country and to get a license within every state can be time consuming and riddled with bureaucratic procedures, said Jeevesh Kumar, founder, Greenscape Eco Management.

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