Monday, May 9, 2011

Challenges of E-waste Management

Challenges of E-waste Management

By Dr Nandkumar Kamat

Electronic Waste (e-Waste) comprises of waste electronic/electrical goods which are not fit for their originally intended use. These include items such as computers, cellular phones, stereos, refrigerators, air conditioners, other consumer durables, etc. Every year there are 2 million e-waste items.
Electrical and electronic waste or e-waste has become a global problem as it contains more than 51 hazardous elements and compounds including arsenic, mercury and lead. It is also a misplaced wealth because it contains gold and copper. The world generates about 50 million e-waste annually. Relatively, India’s share is less than half a million MT. Most of India’s e-waste comes from used TV sets. But now PCs and used mobile sets, etc, are slowly adding to the mountain of e-waste. Information and telecom are fastest growing industries. PC sales crossed 7.3 million units in 2007-08 growing 16 per cent. With an installed base of over 25 million units, the consumer electronics market is growing at 13-15 per cent annually.
There are three challenges facing the developing countries in e-waste management, first - an absence of infrastructure for appropriate waste management, second - an absence of legislation dealing specifically with e-waste and third - an absence of any framework for end-of-life (EoL) product take-back or implementation of extended producer responsibility (EPR).
Information and telecommunications technology (ICT) and computer Internet networking has penetrated nearly every aspect of modern life, and is positively affecting human life even in the most remote areas of the developing countries. The rapid growth in ICT has led to an improvement in the capacity of computers but simultaneously to a decrease in the products lifetime as a result of which increasingly large quantities of waste electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) are generated annually, the dumping of obsolete and old electronic items from developed countries at a cheaper cost or even free.
Electronics Industries Association of India estimates the country has accumulated 380,000 tones of electronic waste, which is likely to increase to 800,000 tonnes by AD 2015. The 10-15 per cent growth in India’s growing mountain of e-waste is alarming compared to just a 3 per cent global rate. It is the unorganised sector which is now dealing with this e-waste with many attendant risks for health, environment and safety.
How big is the global e-waste problem? It has been estimated that 500 million PCs worldwide reached the end of their life in the decade between 1994 and 2003. This volume of obsolete PCs contain approximately 2870 000 tons of plastics, 718000 tons of lead, 1363 tons of Cadmium and 287 tons of mercury. In the US it accounted for 2.63 million tons of waste in 2005 (or 1.1 per cent of the waste stream). Between 1981 and 2005, more than 1 billion PCs have been sold worldwide – 400 million of those in the US. It accounted for 2.63 million tons of waste in 2005 (or 1.1 per cent of the waste stream), an increase of 7.8 per cent over 2004. Of this volume, 87.5 per cent was disposed rather than recycled. Between 1981 and 2005, more than 1 billion PCs have been sold worldwide – 400 million of those in the United States. In 2003 alone, more than 50 million computers were sold in the US.
In the UK (Western Europe) in 1998, 6 million tons of WEEE was generated accounting for 4 per cent of the MW stream. Increasing at 3–5 per cent a year, WEEE generation in the UK is estimated to hit 12 million tons by 2010. The volume of waste computers generated in South Korea in 2002 was estimated at 1.2 million and was predicted to double, reaching 2.2 million by 2005. Germany has a yearly electronic scrap waste stream of about 1.8 million whereas in Austria, the total e-scrap amounts to about 85 000 tons per year. It is estimated that approximately 300 000 scrap PCs are generated each year in Taiwan. About 1.6 million obsolete EEE were generated in 2003, in China with TV accounting for nearly half of the total.
The US e-waste recycling industry is reported to have once declared that about 80 per cent of the e-waste they received was exported into Asia, and 90 per cent of this went to China. The destination of un-recycled e-waste in the developed countries includes landfills, incinerators or export to developing countries. Antrekowitsch et al (2006) observed that ‘up to 90% of e-scrap was land filled in 2003, even in the developed countries. Why is e-waste a dangerous environmental problem?
Many e-waste components include toxic constituents. Printed circuit boards have lead and cadmium, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) have lead oxide and cadmium, switches and flat-screen monitors contain mercury, computer batteries have cadmium, capacitors and transformers have cancer causing Poly Chlorinated Bi-phenyls (PCB), printed circuit boards, plastic brominated flame retardant casings cable, cable insulation/coating all contain toxic Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC).
E-waste handling is a high-risk backyard operation performed using non-efficient and non-environmentally sound technologies. There are several occupational and environmental hazards. Resources are lost due to inefficient processes. E-waste impacts vulnerable social groups - women, children and migrant labourers. E-waste recycling is presently concentrated in the informal (unorganised) sector and no organised collection system prevails. Operations are mostly illegal and processes are highly polluting. How e-waste is recycled? Recycling operations engage in - dismantling, sale of dismantled parts, valuable resource recovery and export of processed waste for precious metal recovery. Effective management of e-waste in the developing countries demands the implementation of EPR, the establishment of product reuse through remanufacturing and the introduction of efficient recycling facilities. The implementation of a global system for the standardisation and certification/labelling of second-hand appliances intended for export to developing countries will be required to control the export of electronic recyclables in the name of second-hand appliances. What are the regulations in India?
The hazardous waste (management and handling) rules, 1998 as amended in 2008 for Toxic content – make registration mandatory for recyclers. Municipal Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules are meant for non-Toxic content. The Basel convention for regulating transboundary movement restricts import of toxic e-waste. Foreign Trade policy restricts import of second-hand computers and does not permit import of e-waste. Central Pollution Control Board notified guidelines notified in April 2008. The guidelines explicitly mention the need for a separate legislation for implementing ‘Producer Responsibility’. A scientific approach is possible to recycle and reuse the e-waste and create some wealth in these operations. But this needs a multi-pronged effort supported by clear policies and legislations. The central government has appointed a four-member committee to frame the rules under EPA, 1986. It is hoped that by July 2010, better e-waste management regulations may come into practice.

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