India adopts e-waste rules

India adopts e-waste rules

By Jake Thomas

After a year of getting feedback from the public, India's government has put into place a sweeping policy meant to better manage the country's burgeoning e-waste problem. However, environmental organizations say the new measure is weak in some key areas.

The new government policy was developed in response to concerns about the growing amount of e-waste being produced in the rapidly developing country. According to the Environment Department of the Government of Maharashtra, 146,180 tons of e-waste are generated in the country each year. And 90 percent of it is processed in the informal sector with little oversight, according to Toxics Link, a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring attention to the issue of toxics waste management.

In addition to more monitoring of how e-waste is handled, India's recently-approved rules regulating the material also incorporate extended producer responsibility, and requires manufacturers of electronic and electrical equipment to finance and organize a system to collect and recycle their obsolete wares using "environmentally sound management."

The rules also oblige electronics producers operating in the country to conduct public outreach about the hazards of improperly disposing of e-waste. Producers will also be required to place a symbol on all covered electronics they manufacture that indicates that the item should not be disposed of in the regular waste stream.

As part of the rules, producers of some electrical and electronic items will also have new restrictions on how much lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers they can put in their products.

E-waste dismantlers will also be prohibited by the rules from storing the material for more than 180 days. They will also be required to register with the State Pollution Control Board while ensuring "that the dismantling processes do not have any adverse effect on the health and the environment."

However, despite the drafting of the rules, it's unclear how well they will accomplish their intended goals.

The Times of India has pointed out that the country's export-import policies could make enforcing the law difficult, and the State Pollution Control Board, the regulatory agency in charge of overseeing the e-waste policy, is already under-staffed. Additionally, the paper states that a large amount of the computer market in India is dependent on "grey markets" that are hard to regulate.

Satish Sinha, associate director of Toxics Link, wrote in an e-mail to E-Scrap News that the rules have been diluted from when the drafting process began and are not as robust as they ought to be.

He says the rules do not adequately safeguard the country from the import of e-waste, which he was hoping they would. Sinha also notes that the rules exempt small and micro businesses that will be allowed to continue to process e-waste with little oversight. He calls the rule's exception for these enterprises, "a case of promotion of business at the cost of environment."

Greenpeace states in a press release that it welcomes the rules and is pleased that they incorporate extended producer responsibility. However, the environmental organization also argues they have room for improvement. "The rule fails to provide safeguards to ensure the ban of import and export of electronic wastes. There is also scope for further improvement by making every producer financially liable for the e-wastes generated by their products, based on its toxicity. To accelerate the introduction of greener products, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and all forms of brominated flame retardants (BFR) should be included as banned substances," said Abhishek Pratap, Greenpeace India senior campaigner, in a prepared statement.

Both Greenpeace and Toxics Link agree that how the rules are implemented will largely determine their effectiveness.

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