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Report on ‘e-waste’ by UN

Topic Covered:

  1. Govt policies and their performances.
  2. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Report on ‘e-waste’ by UN


What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: ‘e-waste’- concerns, challenges, issues, measures and the need for international collaboration.


Context: To highlight the rising challenge posed by mountains of discarded electronics worldwide, seven UN entities have come together to launch the report- “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot”- at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in a bid to offer some solutions to a behemoth-sized problem that is making the world sicker and adding to environmental degradation.

The joint report calls for a new vision for e-waste based on the “circular economy” concept, whereby a regenerative system can minimize waste and energy leakage.


International convention in this regard:

E-waste export, though, is regulated under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, which has been ratified by 188 nations.


So where is the crisis?

It lies in the fact that globally, only up to 20% of e-waste is recycled. The rest is undocumented and experts predict that it gets buried under the ground in landfills for centuries as it is not biodegradable.

And how does it impact us? “From lead-lined, cathode ray tubes to old TVs, to lead and chromium in circuit boards (of various devices), e-waste contains substances that are hazardous to human health, including, mercury, cadmium and lead. E-waste can pollute water sources and food-supply chains.”


Solutions to the crisis- Highlights of the report by UN:

The report calls for systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries.

To capture the global value of materials in e-waste and create global circular value chains, use new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programmes.

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.

The producers should also have buy-back or return offers for old equipment, and plans to incentivise the consumer financially. The report also advocates a system of ‘urban mining’ by strengthening the extended producer responsibility provision.

Job potential: If the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide.


E-waste Coalition:

The report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes International Labour Organization (ILO); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); United Nations University (UNU) and Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions.


Why worry about e-waste?

Organic and easily recyclable metal, glass and plastic waste need not permanently remain in landfills. But hard-to-recover substances from e-waste like mercury make their home in landfills and keep leaching into ground water.

  • In recent years, its e-waste has grown faster than earlier anticipated. The Greenpeace study found e-waste growing at 15% annually and projected it to go up to 800,000 tonnes by 2012. But it stood at 1.7 million tonnes in 2014, the fifth highest in the world, according to a UN study.
  • In India, e waste accounts for 4% of global e-waste and 2.5% of global GDP (2014 figures) – so it has a higher share of e-waste than its share of gross domestic product (GDP). For China, the two ratios are about the same. The US, on the other hand, accounts for a lower share of global e-waste than its share of GDP.
  • According to a 2011 Rajya Sabha secretariat study, e-waste accounts for 70% of Indian landfills. If penetration of electronics and electrical products in India by 2030 have to grow even to today’s average world capita which leads to e waste of 6 kg per capita, the absolute e waste generation for India will grow five times the current level to 9 million tonnes in 2030.


Why it is difficult to manage e waste in India?

  • The producers/manufacturers do not have adequate information on their website regarding e waste management.
  • Customer care representatives do not have inkling about any take back or recycling programme and even if they have set up collection centres, they are simply not enough for a geographically vast country like India.
  • India being a vast country, setting up collection mechanism is a big challenge. If any of the brands try individually to reach out to all corners of the country, it will economically not be sustainable or feasible.
  • Improper enforcement of the existing laws is another hurdle.


Sources: down to earth.

Mains Question: A strong political will is required to come out with strict regulations to manage e waste in India. Increased public awareness is the need of hour. Examine the issues surrounding e-waste management and suggest the steps that need to be taken?