E-Waste Rules rolled out, but is the Indian Industry Prepared?

The E-waste Rules come into effect from May 2012, but the lack of binding targets and the unpreparedness of the Indian Industry paints a dismal picture for its meaningful adoption.
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In the past few years, Indian Government has put forward a number of ambitious and forward thinking policies for the industry that are aimed at improving the environmental performance of the country. One such compliance is the -Waste Management and Handling Rules that center on “Extended Producer Responsibility” and lays the onus of e-waste recycling on the e-waste producers. In order to ensure compliance with the Rules and achieve high production- recycling ratio, the companies need to ensure that their take back policies are efficient, appropriate collection centers are set up and there is targeted marketing to the consumers for improving awareness.

First announced in June 2011, a time gap (from the date of announcement to the date of policy roll-out) was provided to India Inc. to ensure that appropriate internal systems/policies were put in place. The month of May 2012 has arrived and so have the E-Waste Management and Handling Rules for the electronics sector of India.

But while the Rules are ready to be rolled out, there are two key questions that need to be answered:
a)    Are the Rules comprehensive in nature to ensure an impact on solving the problem of electronic waste?
b)    Is the Indian industry prepared to adopt the Rules?

Are the E-Waste Rules comprehensive?
Clearly the 2011 Rules have integrated a number of amendments from the previous proposed versions to make it all inclusive. The Rules are applicable to all producers (i.e. electronics producing companies), Bulk consumers (companies registered under Companies Act, Multi National Companies, Government Institutions) and consumers (i.e. individual users).

When it comes to individual consumers, their main responsibility involves ensuring that the e-waste generated by them is returned to collection centres/recyclers. The same responsibility falls on the bulk consumers with an added requisite of maintaining records of their e-waste disposal, which can be scrutinized by State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) or Pollution Control Committee if needed.

The most positive step seems to be that the major responsibility lies with the Producers to ensure the collection and recycling of e-waste generated during manufacturing and consequent to products reaching end of life. The producers are needed to set up collection centers (either individually or collectively) and direct the e-waste to registered dismantlers and recyclers. They are also expected to ensure proper communication to consumers and bulk consumers on how to dispose their e-waste. These companies are answerable to SPCB/PCC for their compliance to these Rules while filing their annual returns.

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) enshrined in the Rules is clearly a positive development. That being said, there are still a few key gaps in the policy framework as announced currently:
a)    Lack of clarity on targets
The lack of clarity on targets for the industry is clearly disconcerting. The Rules do not mention any quantifiable targets imposed on the companies for ensuring take-back of their products. “Unlike countries in Europe where companies are provided e-waste related targets, there is no such mechanism in the Indian Rules. Unless there are clear targets how can the performance of the companies be measured?”,muses Rohan Gupta, Chief Operating Officer, Attero Recycling.

b)    Imposing responsibility only on the Producers is not the sole solution
The industry also feels that imposing responsibility only on the Producers is not the sole solution to solve the e-waste problem. Availability of appropriate technology is clearly essential as well for ensuring the success of the Rules. There are currently only a handful of end to end recycling solution providers in India and this can turn out to be a challenge in implementation.

Stressing on the need for technology, Mahesh Bhalla, Executive Director & General Manager, Consumer & SMB, Dell India says “Technology for long has been an enabler of green practices within companies. The optimum use of technology can go a long way in ensuring not just environment-friendly products, but also end-to-end processes in the manner in which an organization conducts its business operations like e-waste recycling.”

c)    Ambiguity in the role of the Consumer
There is lack of clarity on the role of the consumers (both bulk and individual). While the Rules mention off-hand the responsibility of the consumers, there are neither targets nor implementation mechanisms to ensure proper adherence to the Rules. It seems that in case of consumers, the uptake of Rules has been left to an individual’s conscience and resultant choice.

While stressing on the need for consumer inclusion and stakeholder engagement, Rohan Gupta, Chief Operating Officer, Attero Recycling says, “The E-waste Rules clearly need to be stronger to ensure all-round implementation, however e-waste recycling is a joint responsibility of all the stakeholders involved and cannot be achieved solely by relying on producer responsibility”.

Is the Indian industry prepared to adopt the Rules?
Some Indian companies have started taking positive strides in this direction by adopting e-waste collection related measures.

DELL was the first PC Company to offer free consumer recycling globally and began offering this to Indian consumers in 2006 to facilitate responsible product retirement. A free of charge pick up is scheduled based on a request from their consumers irrespective of the location within India for any Dell branded product at any time, and free recycling for other branded products with purchase of new Dell equipment. Mahesh Bhalla, Executive Director & General Manager, Consumer & SMB, Dell India says, “Through our recycling programs for consumers, small and medium businesses, large enterprises and governments worldwide, as of January 31, 2010, Dell has recycled 484 million pounds. In terms of quantity, to date, we have surpassed the targets that were set globally for recycling by 2012.”

Another company actively working on e-waste collection is Nokia which started its e-waste recycling campaign in 2008. Pranshu Singhal, Head- Sustainability for Nokia India says “In 2011 alone, we have collected over 10 Lakh units of phones and accessories. Till date we have collected over 80 tones of phones and accessories for recycling, and this number is growing every day”.

Similarly companies like HCL have created an online process for e-waste recycling request registration, where customers (both individual and corporate) can register their requests for disposal of their e-waste. They are in the process of increasing the number of collection points in co-ordination with the recyclers though there seem to be no publicly available e-waste take back targets for the company.

However, other than these big giants and a few others, a vast majority of the companies do not even have the basic e-waste collection infrastructure in place.  While some companies have started moving forward in this direction, there is still a lot of ground to cover in order to ensure meaningful adoption of these Rules.

 “Companies will feel the pain if they are required to do something individually even though onus is on them. Only having some numbers of recycling rate on the company websites cannot be enough. Companies need to work together to ensure proper collection systems are in place, correct partnerships are made to ensure complete recycling etc.” feels Rohan Gupta, Chief Operating Officer, Attero Recycling.

Conclusion
Clearly a more in-depth analysis is needed to understand specific areas in which each of the companies need to strengthen their e-waste take back strategies. However, a preliminary review shows that only a handful of large corporates have an e-waste take back policy in place. Even among these, only a handful of companies have adequate collection centres which are widespread and easily accessible. There are also no clear cut internal targets set by companies in context of the e-waste to be collected each year. With such a dismal picture, it is unlikely that in the next year or so, there would be any significant immediately visible impact of the Rules. The industry clearly needs more time and effort to prepare itself adequately.

Even though the impact of these Rules will not be visible anytime soon, there is no question that this compliance is a much awaited move by the government to tackle the e-waste issue. Now, in order to ensure meaningful adoption of these Rules, there is a need for e-waste take-back target setting (maybe in the next amendment of the Rules), capacity building for both producers and consumers for understanding their respective roles, and also creating an appropriate technological and infrastructural mechanism for supporting producer companies in waste collection. 

This article has been written by Roselin Dey from the India Carbon Outlook team.

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Author: Roselin Dey