I'm on my way to Bangalore, India, to participate in a workshop and seminar for India environmental professionals. One of my duties will be to give a presentation on the electronic waste (e-waste) problem and the reasons for India's new restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) and waste electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) rules.
Consumer electronics manufacturers, importers, collectors, and recyclers operating in India are required to apply for government authorization by July 31, 2012. I am not sure everyone fully appreciates just how significant a step India is taking.
I am currently reading Katherine Boo's book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, which chronicles events in the life of a boy who lives in a Mumbai slum and makes a living as a "kabadiwala" (one who collects and sorts through trash and sells sorted materials to recyclers). He is doing this to help lift his family out of poverty.
Many "kabadiwalas" specialize in collecting scrap electronic equipment. They collect old electronics and sell it to backyard recyclers, who break it apart and extract usable components. These recyclers also crudely extract metals from old circuit boards. In the process, they contaminate themselves and the environment.
Much of the e-waste collected and recycled in India is imported from Western countries. E-waste collection and recycling has become a major industry in India. It is a major source of income for poor families and a major source of raw materials. Enacting rules that could negatively impact the poor was no small challenge. Still, India went ahead and did what it thought was the right thing.
The new rules will bar Indian consumers from dumping electronic waste into garbage bins. Waste electronics will have to be taken to government-authorized collection centers, returned to the original product manufacturer, or taken to an authorized recycler, who will properly handle, disassemble, and recycle it. Authorized recyclers will have to meet the highest global standards (e-steward and R2 standards). The new rules will also prohibit e-waste imports and exports.
I am looking forward to learning more about these new rules from India State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) officials. I want to confirm what companies with operations in India must do to comply.
I must say I am puzzled. Countries like India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China have followed the lead of the European Union and enacted responsible national RoHS and/or WEEE rules. Why hasn't the USA?
While we in the US are blessed with a large number of state-of-the-art e-steward and R2 certified electronic waste recycling facilities, the federal government still doesn't require that these "best-practice" facilities be used. It also doesn't ban e-waste exports to developing countries or restrict the hazardous substances in our electronics.
Why is the US Congress unwilling or unable to act? Unlike India, we don't have a "kabadiwala" sector. We wouldn't hurt our economy by banning e-waste exports or encouraging the use of best-practices in handling and disposing of e-waste. Wouldn't uniform national hazardous substance rules in sync with the rest of the world be a benefit?
Let me know if you have any questions that you would like me to pose to India government officials regarding these new rules. I will do my best to get answers for you while I am in India. For more information on the new India rules and other regional electronics waste regulations, go here.