Before Shipping Your Electronic Wastes to India

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.

19 comments on “Before Shipping Your Electronic Wastes to India

  1. screenwriter
    July 24, 2012

    Great post by the E14 blogger. Shame on the Obama administration; another example of the absolute incompetence of this president. Maybe we can have the world just start dumping all the e-waste on US soil or in our rivers and waterways.

    One would think a $200Million a day trip to India for 10 days by this president  last year would have gotten more accomplished

  2. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 24, 2012

    @Screen Writer,

    The question is Why is the US Congress unwilling or unable to act? Does that have anything to do with the president spending a $200Million a day trip to India?  Please can you elaborate?

  3. garyk
    July 24, 2012

    Maybe someone from the EPA can tell us how they dispose there electronic equipment.

    I know , they take there electronics to a electronic component recycler and the recycler sales the electronics to CHINA or INDIA who then in turn sales the component back to OEMS as counterfeit parts. Now I understand the meaning of recycle.

    Recycle only RoHS compliant electronics, this makes complete sense!!!!!!!!

    May guest is that CHINA and INDIA can't recycle the worlds electronics so they want all the countries to take care of there own recycling. There countries are turning into a Hazardous waste pits.

  4. _hm
    July 24, 2012

    Kudos to Indian Government for this bold initiatives. Kabadiawala are good, but government should regulate it for safety and and well being of all citizen. What is reason US is not making law for this?

  5. Nemos
    July 24, 2012

    ” It also doesn't ban e-waste exports to developing countries or restrict the hazardous substances in our electronics.”

    I think it should do it , every country should be responsible for its e wastes plus this will give a strong hit against counterfeit parts. (We have discussed the subject in details in EBN)  


  6. elctrnx_lyf
    July 25, 2012

    Every country is responsible for the consumption of various electronic goods and they should manage the ewaste with in the country rather than exporting it to other countries treating them as dump yards. I appreciate finally India decided to put some rules and regulation in place ewaste management.

  7. Daniel
    July 25, 2012

    Gark, usually the EU/US countries are dumping the e-waste either to India or any of the African countries on different accounts/names. Now the situations had changes, environmentalist and green peace movements are stronger. I think the new rules are formulated because of the pressure from such organizations. Let’s wait and watch how much it’s effective and able to take further by respective authorities.

  8. Daniel
    July 25, 2012

    Nemos, I think if we are handing over the e-waste to the OEM companies, then it's their responsibility to recycle and to do the saftey measures. The main advantage is, from manufacturing point onwards they will take care about the saftey measures and may force to adhere to the international standards and RoHS. I personally feel that this is best way for forcing companies to follow ecco friendly measures.

  9. prabhakar_deosthali
    July 25, 2012

    Recycling is an embedded quality of India people. Indians recycle almost anything- clothes, paper, utensils, ornaments, machines and what not.  The poverty of the majority of its people have taught them the art of living through recycling.

    The world's biggest ship-breaking facility is also in India. and Indians are famous of making “Jugaads: ( contraptions ) out of the garbage – the punjabi's are well skilled at that.

    So it is no surprise that India is also one of the largest recycler  of the e-waste.

    The govt regulations will only try to regularize this industry and prevent the ill-effects of the recycling – in my opinion

  10. bolaji ojo
    July 25, 2012

    Correct. That's what this legislation aims at doing: That is, regulate an industry that needs to be monitored to avoid the negative impact of these activities on society. It won't stop companies from shipping electronic waste to India and it won't stop the recyclers but it will at least bring the activities out into the open to a large extent.

  11. screenwriter
    July 25, 2012

    Hospice: Thank you for replying and thanks for the note on Congress. The US has done very little on most environmental issues. The US has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, does not adhere to RoHS or WEEE practices and invests $140MIL a year in solar,wind and wave technologies as China invests $4Bil a year. Those comments are directed at the last four presidents and my disappointment is bi-partisan

    My comment on Mr Obama spending $200Mil a day on his trip to India in late 2010 is just an example of the misguided values of this administration and past administations. He couldve had a TelePresence Call for free and used that $1Bil+ for environmental issues.

  12. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 25, 2012


    “every country should be responsible for its e wastes”

    Every country should enforce responsible e-wastes recycle policies, but I don't think the extended manufacturer resposibility makes any sense. 

  13. Himanshugupta
    July 25, 2012

    Ken, thanks for sharing the information that such a seminar/workshop is happening in Bangalore. Though i am working in electronics but i did not hear about it. When and where is this seminar happening?

    Maybe you can ask the government about the enforcement agency (if any) to make sure that the rules are followed properly. Mostly either the general public in not aware of the rules or whom to approach if the rules are not followed.

  14. kmanchen
    July 29, 2012

    Sorry not to post until now. I was traveling but I'm now in India. Let me explain the two events I am attending. I participated in a Indo-US Seminar on “Waste, Risk and Hazardous Management” at the Bangalore Institute of Technology on July 27-28. It was co-sponsored by IEHMM and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (SPCB). It was attended by local environmental professionals. It addressed India industrial wastewater treatment and hazardous waste disposal concerns.

    I am now participating in a three day (July 29-31) “Instruction Course on Hazardous Materials Management” at BIT. It is also co-sponsored by the Karnataka SPCB. I will speak on electronic waste disposal and the new India RoHS and WEEE rules. I will be supported by a member of the Karnataka SPCB. I have already spoken with the Karnataka SPCB Chairman. I will blog after my July 31 talk. Please know these conferences discuss a wide range of topics. India e-waste rules are just one of the topics.

  15. bolaji ojo
    July 29, 2012

    Ken, Thank you for the update. I am curious how much of what's happening in India is being driven by events within the continent itself as opposed to the regulations in effect in other countries. Is there a sense that Indians are demanding restrictions on the use of hazardous chemicals too and how “green” do Indians want to be even as they desire economic growth?

  16. itguyphil
    July 29, 2012

    Screen Writer,

    Wow that sounds crazy (to a mere layperson) but have they documented anywhere what that $200M per was used for?

  17. kmanchen
    August 6, 2012

    I have just returned from India. It is such a fascinating place! The people, the colors and pace of life are all intoxicating.

    You asked how much of what's happening with e-waste is driven by events within the continent as opposed to regulations already in effect in other countries. Both are major factors.

    India has long recognized their e-waste problem. E-waste has traditionally been inefficiently and unsafely handled by India's unregulated “informal sector”. The government drafted guidelines for ensuring the safe handling of e-waste in 2008, then published proposed e-waste rules in 2011 (modeled after EU RoHS and WEEE rules). The new rules that just took effect are a result of those efforts. 

    The Central Pollution Control Board's strategy is to develop a safe formal e-waste handling sector for use by industry, and to divert corporate e-waste from the informal to the formal sector. They are also banning e-waste imports and mandating that manufacturers eliminate hazardous substances in electronic equipment by 2014.

    India is one of the “greeenist” societies I have ever seen. Because India is a poor country, everything has value. Very little trash is landfilled. Trash is picked through and everything of value is salvaged, reused or sold. Visting India makes a westerner realize how over-indulgant and wasteful we are.

  18. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 6, 2012

    Ken–thanks for the first-hand reporting. What if India were to become the leader in reclaimation and recycling? Rather than just accepting these items and allowing residents to pick them apart, capitalize on the influx of e-goods and resell purified materials and components back to the industry?

    I'm sure this sounds a little naive…

  19. kmanchen
    August 6, 2012

    Barbara – Good question. E-waste in India is curently a major source of raw materials for the electronics industry. Low wage workers from the informal sector are able to cheaply pick apart scrap equipment and salvage components/extract metals. The problem is these workers have been unregulated, are using unsafe practices, and are contaminating themselves and the environment.

    India is requiring upgraded in-country e-waste handling and recycling practices and has decided to stop the import of e-waste. They want importers and India electronics manufacturers to remove hazardous substances from their products.

    The detrimental effects of importing and improperly handling large quantities of western country e-waste, seems to outweigh the benefits of the reclaimed materials. If a developing country mandates proper in-country recycling, would it be cost effective to ship western e-waste there for handling? India doesn't seem to think so.

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