E-waste is a generic term comprising all electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) that have been disposed of by their original users and includes everything from large household appliances, such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, television sets, and computers, to hand-held digital apparatuses, cell phones, and toys. E-waste is today the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream and currently comprises more than 5% of its total flow, which is equivalent to 20-50 million tonnes a year worldwide.
The generation of e-waste is a result of the constant desire for newer and more efficient technology, as well as the intense marketing by producers, that make consumers replace electronic devices more and more frequently. Electrical and electronic equipment which are in abundance in the environment contains various hazardous materials that are harmful to human health and the environment.
Regulation at the Global level
The Basel Convention identifies wastes as substances or objects, which are disposed or intended to be disposed of, or required to be disposed of by the provisions of national laws. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal came into being after it was ratified by 173 nations in the year 1989. It is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement regulating the movements of hazardous wastes, including Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), between nations, and specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous e-waste from developed to less developed countries. It has placed certain obligations on the countries that have ratified this convention.
A few other international initiatives include the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI), The StEP initiative, Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition (hereafter SVTC) and the computer take back campaign National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI). The International Labour Organization reports that the flow of e-waste from developed economies such as Europe and the US to Asia, in particular to China and India, is a regular practice.
Within the European Union (EU), it is estimated that only 25% of the e-waste generated is collected and treated, while the remaining 75% is lost in a “hidden flow”.
The problem of handling and disposal of e-waste surfaced due to the boom in the electronic and information technology industry. In the year 2005, a bill was introduced in the upper house (i.e., Rajya Sabha) of the Indian Parliament with the intent to tackle the same. It however lapsed due to certain reasons and India has still not got legislation to tackle the menace. Although the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 2000 have provisions relating to e-waste management, its implementation remains dismal. The Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2003 were notified in 2002 that contained e-waste within its purview and gave them a hazardous tag. According to rule 3(k), “e-waste means waste electrical and electronic equipment, whole or in part, or rejects from their manufacturing and repair process which are intended to be discarded.”
The Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling, and Transboundary Movement) Rules were amended twice in 2008 and 2011 following India’s need to conform to the Basel Convention. As per these rules, every person desirous of recycling or reprocessing hazardous waste including electronics and electrical waste is required to register with the Central Pollution Control Board. There are certain categories of waste the importing of which is prohibited.
The need of the hour is an innovative technology and novel methods that deal with e-waste. From a technical point of view, e-waste patents can be divided into two components: (1) material recovery from sources of e-waste- materials such as plastics and metals, batteries, displays, cables, PCBs, logistics involved in e-waste treatment or recycling, such as magnetic sorting, IT related management of recycling systems and similar items and (2) methods, apparatus and process involved in e-waste treatment.
Instances of such patents
The patent application, 01842/KOLNP/2004 (Indian patent application number), discloses an apparatus for processing thermoplastic synthetic plastic material using heating, segregation, and treatment via various tools.
1137/MUMNP/2009 generally speaks of a method for the recycling of all types of waste plastic, in particular mixed plastic streams.
1540/MUMNP/2007 is an invention that relates to a method for cleaning waste plastic, particularly mixed plastic, basically, compacted material produced from film scraps or film remnants. 1791/MUM/2011 is a domestic invention that relates to a process for recycling plastic waste comprising: segregating plastic waste collected from various sources followed by cleaning of the segregated plastic waste to obtain segregated cleaned waste; grinding of the segregated cleaned waste to obtain ground waste.
E-waste management seems to be an inevitable task with new electronic products coming up almost every day. The only solution seems to be the utilization of new technology, for only technology can replace a technology. India definitely needs strong legislation on e-waste management which can levy penalties and ensure e-waste is managed properly. Despite its economic importance, research on e-waste recycling has never gained priority and gets little respect from companies in India.