New Delhi, May 18 2010
New Delhi, May 18, 2010: It is a well known fact that India produces as well as imports thousands of tonnes of electronic waste every year. Almost all of this waste is recycled or scrapped by the unorganized sector, using the most rudimentary methods that pollute.
What may not be so well known is that the government’s new draft e-waste rules, announced in April this year, refuse to recognize and help organize this key sector. Instead, the ministry of environment and forests has chosen to grant its first and only licence to import e-waste to a company called Attero Recycling. And undercover investigations done by researchers from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have found Attero reselling e-waste, instead of recycling it.
Down To Earth, a science and environment fortnightly that CSE helps publish, has come out with a complete expose of the e-waste industry, the illegal trade that thrives in this sector, the horrific working conditions, and the immense pollution that results from all of these.
Regulations which may not achieve much
The investigations by CSE spanned the main e-waste dismantling and recycling hub in India – from Seelampur in Delhi to Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. More than 90 per cent of the e-waste generated in the country lands up in the unorganized market, reports CSE.
The government, says the CSE report, assumes it will be able to regulate the informal sector through its proposed rules on e-waste, which allow only registered companies with updated and safe technologies to recycle e-waste. This leaves in the lurch an overwhelming majority of the existing e-waste recycling industry.
India generated 330,000 tonnes of e-waste in 2007 – equal to 110 million laptops. About 10 per cent of the e-waste generated is recycled every year; the remaining is refurbished, and the unorganized sector is right behind almost all of it. Informal dealers refurbish and make money from e-waste.
The organized e-waste recycling industry, of course, cries foul at these practices. Organized and formal recyclers have welcomed the new e-waste rules. Says Kushal P S Yadav, head of CSE’s toxins and solid waste unit, “However, CSE’s undercover forays into the business dealings of Attero Recycling have exposed the double-talk – a company favored by the government is not doing what it claims to specialize in.”
According to CSE, the government’s new draft rules ignore the reality and are likely to be toothless. It is estimated that illegal import of e-waste in the country stands at about 50,000 tonnes annually. Loopholes in laws facilitate this. For instance, the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act of 1992 provides for donation of computers to educational and charitable institutions, hospitals, etc.
The government’s new draft rules declare such imports for charity illegal – without giving any thought to the other ways through which e-waste is imported, such as under the pretext of metal scrap and second-hand electrical appliances.
The proposed rules, for the first time in India, bring in the concept of extended producer responsibility, making manufacturers liable for safe disposal of electronic goods. However, they do not detail the business model for collection of e-waste from consumers. Neither do they offer any assistance to help the informal sector get organized.
India is a global dump for hazardous waste and e-waste
India wants global waste, and gets what it wants: the CSE analysis looks at the entire hazardous and e-waste import industry. It also reveals how developed countries are using free trade agreements (FTAs) to export their waste to the developing world. Japan and the EU, for instance, are currently negotiating with India and a deal is likely to be signed this year. The commerce ministry has not made public details of about 30 such deals that India is negotiating.
According to CSE, the cause for concern is the part of the draft text of an FTA between the EU and India, which was leaked. This leaked text coins a new name for waste: it says “non-new goods shall be understood to include notably used and remanufactured goods” and that “non-new goods” would not have any restrictions such as import or export tariffs.
Thus, import of waste could be treated just like import of fresh products. This could result in enormous increase in the import of wastes in India, which would severely hamper environmental safeguard measures.
So what is the way out? Says Sunita Narain, director, CSE: “The choice India faces is this – either it becomes a dumping ground for the world’s waste, or regulates the recycling and the trade better so as to import only non-hazardous and recyclable waste.”
For clarifications and details, please contact Souparno Banerjee (firstname.lastname@example.org, 9910864339) or Kushal P S Yadav (email@example.com, 9810867667).