Pollution Control Board steps up drive on e-waste

The next time you go to buy a laptop or a hard disk at one of those swanky showrooms, chances are that the salesperson would, besides telling you the features of the device, also give you detailed instructions on how to discard the equipment and the contact details of their collection centres. If she does not do so, you might have to ask for them, because according to the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, the consumer must see to it that any device he buys is either picked up by the producer or sent to an authorised recycler for disposal.

In order to ensure the implementation of the new e-waste rule that calls for the extended responsibility of the producer, the State Pollution Control Board has authorised 18 e-waste recyclers in the city to ensure computers, laptops, mobile phones, T.V's, microwaves, C.D.'s, DVD's, iPods, , remote controls and wires are recycled with utmost caution, causing least damage to the environment.

Chennai is home to nearly 21 major electronic and electrical manufacturing firms and hundreds of smaller manufacturing units. In 2011 alone, 28, 789 tonnes of e-waste was generated, 60 per cent of which comprised personal computers, followed by refrigerators and washing machines. Data from Central Pollution Control Board shows that Tamil Nadu was the second largest producer of e-waste in the country after Maharashtra.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control board (TNPCB) has urged producers, which include all major manufacturers of electrical and electronic goods, to maintain records and details of their collection centres and recyclers which need to be authorised. The board has asked dismantlers not to process e- waste for recovery of metals as many are found to use rudimentary methods such as burning in the open that cause damage to the environment. Bulk consumers that include IT companies, educational institutions and hospitals among others have been asked to maintain records of how they have disposed their e-waste.

Meanwhile, manufacturers have started aggressive promotions of their ‘take-back' schemes. Dell has launched a free laptop battery recycling programme in three cities, including Chennai. The customers who return their non-working lithium ion batteries from certain laptop ranges for recycling are promised a discount of Rs 500 towards the purchase of a replacement laptop battery.

Some cell-phone and laptop manufacturers have also launched a special discount coupon programme where consumers can send their old computers to their centre for free recycling and redeem a discount coupon on their next laptop purchase. Samsung, for instance, has urged its customers to return their mobile phones in any one of its service centres in 235 locations across India. While HP has offered bulk users who wish to dispose of the cartridges a free pick-up, Nokia claims to have placed close to 1,500 bins across the country to collect unwanted mobile phones from consumers. Experts and activists, however feel that though the enforcement has started, there cannot be substantial results unless there are frequent checks on recycling units.

“The enforcement of the rule should not be reduced to just paper work as it seems now. Bigger companies have initiated actions, but there is no audit on how recyclers are discarding the Printed Circuit Boards, present in hardware items that have numerous metals which need to be segregated the proper way,” said K. Mohan, an environmental activist.

Many e-waste recyclers in the city feel also TNPCB is taking a long time is issuing out licenses. “It is frustrating for many e-waste recyclers with proper facilities to wait for so long while others with relatively smaller facilities have been approved as authorised centres,” said Ram Ramachandran, managing director, TES- AMM recyclers.

The TNPCB said the authorisation process will take at least three months because of the procedures involved. “We have to inspect the recycling sites and see if there is no water body close by and that they have segregation and have the required land and man power to run facility. This is taking time,” an official said.

More In: Chennai