To combat the enormous problem posed by e-waste, Attero Recycling and IFC are training rag-pickers and scrap dealers to aid the process

With increasing amounts of e-waste from households and small offices posing a huge threat to the environment, the World Bank’s private sector investment arm — International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Attero Recycling have come together to start the ‘Clean e-India’ initiative, where they plan to involve rag-pickers and local kabadiwallahs (scrap dealers) for proper disposal of electronic waste.

The project, initially being implemented across Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, aims to generate awareness and work with all stakeholders — producers, bulk consumers, government agencies and civil society — to form a sustainable e-waste take-back model.

“We are working towards how can we reach out to the informal sector and tell them it is better to work with the formal supply chain, become integrated. They are collecting e-waste; but the problem is when that waste is recycled openly using unscientific methods. That is what needs to be worked on,” Rohan Gupta, COO of Attero Recycling, said.

As a part of this initiative, representatives from Attero Recycling will be training scrap dealers rag-pickers on collecting e-waste (discarded mobile phones, computers and other consumer electronics) from customers and transporting it to collection centres in an eco-friendly manner. Nearly 95 per cent of the e-waste is managed by the informal sector, which is not equipped with the technology or the capital to undertake recycling in an environment-friendly and safe manner. Burning of these products openly releases toxic fumes and pollutants into the air.

IFC’s senior operations officer, advisory services (South Asia), Subrata Barman, said, “The method is more cost-effective than producers going to the consumers to collect goods. Plus while their livelihood is not affected, they also get to work is a safe environment.”

Attero Recycling has set up nation-wide collection centres across 22 cities, from where the e-waste is then sent to their facilities for proper metal extraction and disposal.

 India presently generates 800,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. The volume is expected to rise to 1.72 million tonnes by 2020 as with decreasing cost of replacing computers, mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, and increasing speed with which technology goes out of date.

Phones, computers, television sets and printers together reportedly contribute about 35 per cent of the total e-waste generated in the country. About 20 per cent comes from refrigerators and 30 per cent is from washing machines, air conditioners and other electronic products like iron, coffee machines, etc.

 “E-waste is growing at an exponential rate. As a country we are not geared up today to manage such a large problem. We will need to move fast and ensure that every stakeholder works together to manage this,” IT hardware industry body MAIT’s executive director Anwar Shirpurwala told The Hindu.

The scale of the problem and potential risks that it pose, prompted the government come out last year with the e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2010, under the Environment (Protection) Act that put the onus of recycling and reducing electronic waste on the producers. However, the fact remains that policies and regulations will prove ineffective until consumers take action and start contributing.

“The rules did come in last year stating that producers ought to take the responsibility of their products. They are making efforts and have started taking some steps. In terms of awareness, we have seen an improvement. Many understand that this is a legal issue. There is also concern over security of data that is disposed with the e-waste such as computers and mobiles,” Mr. Rohan Gupta said.

Mr. Shirpurwala felt that a producer cannot be held accountable for all the end-of-life-products. “The biggest generators of e-waste are our households but a producer cannot go to an individual household and collect them.”

Consumer practices like not mixing old phones with household garbage and dropping them instead at recycling centres will make a huge difference.