Set up a Biz in India: E-waste Industry

This era is a witness to the most technologically advanced generations which the earth has ever borne. Generation X, the ones that saw light of the day in 1960s and 70s; Generation Y which was born in the 80s and the 90s; and finally the Generation Z that is right now enrolled in schools and colleges. The audio cassettes, calculators, floppy disks, walk-mans of the 60s and 70s gave way to Windows and Apple Macintosh, cell phones, Pentium processors and Internet in the 80s! All these have eventually given way to things like gaming consoles, e-book readers and DVD players, things which we cannot imagine our lives without.

Mr. Manoj Kumar
Vice President
But the rate at which the technology advances and the rate at which these products are gaining popularity and demand, it’s very easy to switch over to the next version that’s launched in the market. What do we do about what that’s left behind? Do we know that all that just piles up together as something that our planet cannot process on its own?

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has defined E-Waste as “waste electrical and electronic equipment, whole or in part or rejects from their manufacturing and repair process, which are intended to be discarded”. It has also defined the Electrical and electronic equipment as “equipment which is dependent on electrical currents or electro-magnetic fields to be fully functional”.

protect environment, recycle e-wastes, start a businessOur lives, if you carefully notice are filled with electronic items. Let’s start with teenagers. Whatever activities that will come to your mind as soon as you say ‘teenager’ can be directly or indirectly related to technology. Did you just say late nights? What’s the reason? Late night gossips over the PHONE, internet surfing on the COMPUTERS, listening to music on the MP3 PLAYERS, playing video games using the latest GAMING CONSOLES or even reading our favorite book on our TABLETS or E-BOOK READERS that we just love to show off. If you move over to other people in the family you’ll find our lives revolve around technology. Food processors, washing machines, televisions, vacuum cleaners, fans, lights, invertors! The list is endless!

We are very much aware that the bodies of all of these products are made of plastic or other material that is non biodegradable. Not only the used items cause unnecessary clutter, they are harmful for the environment if disposed off in an inappropriate way. And this very fact forms the premise of a thriving industry!

Why is recycling required in the first place?

to protect your earth, set up an e-waste industry
Recycling as an activity is not just a statutory requirement arising from rules and regulations as made by the Government, it is even necessary for the businesses from their image point of view. Big organizations producing electronic products have a brand to maintain. Going by the social responsibility they have towards the people and the environment around them, the organizations have a need to work hard to reduce and limit the harm they might expose that environment to. Just like the factories have to take care of the chemical and areal effluents, they have to take care of the scrap that they produce or the consumers produce as an end result of the use of the product manufactured by their organization.

Apart from that, the need for recycling is pushed by monetary considerations. Some materials may be very costly to produce from the scratch. Recycling can enable the businesses to recycle a particular material and use that processed material as an input to their own product’s manufacture. For example, a handicrafts entity may want to make notebooks and diaries made up of rugged looking paper. That entity instead of producing paper from scratch can recycle newspapers and produce hand-made paper instead and also reduce the cost.

The Unorganized sector in the Industry

The E-waste industry by and large operates in an unorganized format as of now. Though the industry is lucrative for small dwellers that operate, it is a threat to the country’s environment as well. Since the legal regulations are a comparatively newer advancement, most of the e-waste in India is dismantled and recycled by hand using the limited technology that is available.

The industry is however moving towards corporatization with bigger companies who see a profit here and the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 which came into effect on 1st May 2012, also favours these companies due to the access to better technologies that these companies are capable of.

According to Centre for Science and environment (CSE), more than 90% of the e-waste generated lands up with the unorganized market that processes most of it. ASSOCHAM says that only 4.5% of India’s e-waste is recycled. To add to the agony, e-waste from developed countries like USA and Japan is also brought into India in the name of charity.

The Downside of the Unorganized Sector

Various e-waste centers exist majorly in Delhi, Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. These centers have a typical scrap yard set-up where the workers are not amply protected. The waste is discarded in the stereotypical burn-the-waste method which exposes them to toxic gases that they themselves aren’t aware of. What however they do succeed in doing is extracting metals like aluminium, platinum, gold, cadmium, mercury and lead while they dismantle it.

Prospects of Advancement: Opportunities that lie ahead

Since the technologies and the processes with the low-scale e-waste recycling units are very limited, bigger entities are slowly realizing the potential that this industry has to offer. Due to this, the industry is slowly moving in the direction of becoming organized.

The new E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 have a lot of provisions that are favourable to more formal set ups than the un-organized informal recyclers. More players will enter slowly but for those who do; the first mover advantage will definitely be accrued.

According to ASSOCHAM, India generates over 4.4 lakh tones of e-waste annually and this figure grows at about 20% compounded annually! So, there is a lot of waste to be taken care of. It is mostly the computer equipment that causes a huge increase in the e-waste generated with almost 68% waste coming from it. The Telecom equipments account for 12% of the whole Indian e-waste. With 8% of the waste coming from electricals, medical equipments are only 7% of the total waste and rest of the 5% is common household equipments.

How the bigger set ups are going to help is that with better facilities, these entities will be able to reduce the chunk of e-waste that eventually goes into the landfills. Most of the waste can be recycled in redeployed and hence reused. Proper dismantling and recycling processes for the pile that cannot be restored any further will ensure their proper treatment, removal and treatment of toxins in the safest way possible and disposal of only that portion that cannot be further treated.

Companies playing role in lowering the impact caused by their products:

Some big companies born in India are upfront with their e-waste initiatives running successfully for a few years now. Such a help from the producers themselves has not only lead to customer satisfaction but ensures that the used products are properly disposed off.

HCL: The E-waste policy of HCL does not begin at the end of a product’s life at consumer’s side but from the very beginning of the manufacturing process. HCL designs its products in a way that they can easily be dismantled later on. The company has even enabled the customers to lodge an e-waste collection request online and makes sure that the products are shipped with details about its collection centers. [Source:]

Wipro: Wipro is another Indian company that has a successful e-waste management programme. It has a chain of 19 collection centers throughout the country and even has a pick-up facility for its customers. It has a green helpline through which customers can make enquiries regarding disposal of e-waste. Wipro takes complete physical and financial responsibility regarding recycling of all products under its brand [Source:]

The E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011

The rules have been notified to ensure that the impact on the environment caused by the e-waste is controlled, in the first instance and then minimized.

Applicability: The rules have been made applicable to every producer, consumer or bulk consumer, collection centers, dismantlers and recyclers. Though the responsibility of a consumer in the given rules has been hoped to be fulfilled with the consumer’s conscience, but for a producer, an extended responsibility of the used products of its company has been prescribed.

Non-Applicability: The rules are not applicable to MSMEs, batteries and radioactive wastes.

Some of the salient features of the rules are:

  • Defined responsibilities of the producer, the collection centers, consumer, dismantler and recycler.
  • Separate Authorization and Registration.
  • Requirement of maintaining a record of all the e-waste handled.
  • Requirement of Annual Return regarding the e-waste collected, handled or recycled as the case may be.
  • Storage of untreated e-waste allowed for a maximum of 180 days.
  • A mandatory No-objection certificate from the State Pollution Control Board in case of Inter-state e-waste transport.
The recycling facilities in India are still at a nascent stage but given the quantum of e-waste produced every year, it is not hidden that there’s a huge need which is currently not appropriately addressed. With not a lot of companies operating in this sector, one doesn’t come across known names. The industry is already a home to few start ups and similarly more entrepreneurs are expected to pitch in. Given the scope of the industry owing to environmental needs, it is hoped that this sector will see a lot of growth. Who knows? In times to come the sector might flourish enough to invite foreign investment and collaborations!

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