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Updated: Jul 27, 2021

Written By- Ms. Ritanshi Jain & Avinash ( Edited by- Dr. Pratibha Choudhary)


Electronic waste or E-waste is relatively a novel addition to the ever-growing hazardous waste stream. It includes discarded electronic and electrical equipment. Developing countries primarily India are facing enormous challenges related to the generation and management of E-waste which are either internally generated or imported illegally; India is no exception to it. However, the existing management practices related to E-waste in India are reasonably poor and have the potential to risk both human health and the environment. Moreover, the policy level initiatives are not being implemented in an appropriate way as many issues and challenges arise. The austere problem of E-waste along with its policy level implications and solution in respect of legal perspective is looked upon in the chapter. During the course of the study it has been found that there is an urgent need to address the issues related to E-waste in India in order to avoid its detrimental future consequences.


Our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said in 1961 that the pace of change in the world was greater due to new avenues opening out with the application of electronics, atomic energy, etc. He then observed that the nation or the community which kept pace with those developments could keep pace with the rest of the world. In fact, initiated and controlled by the Government, the Electronics Industry in India took off around 1965 with an orientation towards space and defence technologies. It was followed by developments in consumer electronics mainly with transistor radios, black & white televisions, calculators and other audio products. Successive Prime Ministers laid emphasis on electronics for industrial growth and progress and for the all round modernization and advancement of our nation. It was during Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi’s tenure that the Electronics Commission composed of scientists and engineers was set up for the development of what she described as ‘a vital industry’. It was during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure that electronics received much more serious attention followed by concrete programme of action to unleash a countrywide electronics revolution.

India, in the last couple of decades, has also been vastly influenced by the culture of consumerism. The application of electronics related technology has been very wide spread in all sectors. Coupled with the rapid pace of industrialization, Personal Computers (PCs) — desktops and notebooks, televisions and mobile phones and other manufacturing items like refrigerators have experienced high growth and even faster replacement cycle. The electronics manufacturing industry has emerged as one of the most innovative industries in the world over. It is constantly engaged in creating and utilizing new technologies. This has also partly contributed to what is called inbuilt product obsolescence. This has resulted into an ever increasing quantity of electronics and electrical appliances being discarded, as it is often cheaper to buy new product than to repair or upgrade a broken or obsolete one.


Like hazardous waste, the problem of e-waste has become an immediate and long term concern as its unregulated accumulation and recycling can lead to major environmental problems endangering human health. The information technology has revolutionized the way we live, work and communicate bringing countless benefits and wealth to all its users. The creation of innovative and new technologies and the globalization of the economy have made a whole range of products available and affordable to the people changing their lifestyles significantly. New electronic products have become an integral part of our daily lives providing us with more comfort, security, easy and faster acquisition and exchange of information. But on the other hand, it has also led to unrestrained resource consumption and an alarming waste generation. Both developed countries and developing countries like India face the problem of e-waste management. The rapid growth of technology, upgradation of technical innovations and a high rate of obsolescence in the electronics industry have led to one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world which consist of end of life electrical and electronic equipment products. It comprises a whole range of electrical and electronic items such as refrigerators, washing machines, computers and printers, televisions, mobiles, i-pods, etc., many of which contain toxic materials. Many of the trends in consumption and production processes are unsustainable and pose serious challenge to environment and human health. Optimal and efficient use of natural resources, minimization of waste, development of cleaner products and environmentally sustainable recycling and disposal of waste are some of the issues which need to be addressed by all concerned while ensuring the economic growth and enhancing the quality of life.[1]

The countries of the European Union (EU) and other developed countries to an extent have addressed the issue of e-waste by taking policy initiatives and by adopting scientific methods of recycling and disposal of such waste. The EU defines this new waste stream as ‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment’ (WEEE). As per its directive, the main features of the WEEE include definition of ‘EEE’, its classification into 10 categories and its extent as per voltage rating of 1000 volts for alternating current and 1500 volts for direct current. The EEE has been further classified into ‘components’, ‘sub-assemblies’ and ‘consumables’.[2] Since there is no definition of the WEEE in the environmental regulations in India, it is simply called ‘e-waste’.

E-waste or electronic waste, therefore, broadly describes loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, broken, electrical or electronic devices[3]


Although no definite official data exist on how much waste is generated in India or how much is disposed of, there are estimations based on independent studies conducted by the NGOs or government agencies. According to the Comptroller and Auditor- General’s (CAG) report, over 7.2 MT of industrial hazardous waste, 4 lakh tonnes of electronic waste, 1.5 MT of plastic waste, 1.7 MT of medical waste, 48 MT of municipal waste are generated in the country annually.[4]

In 2005, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimated India’s e-waste at 1.47 lakh tonnes or 0.573 MT per day.[5] A study released by the Electronics Industry Association of India (ELCINA) at the electronics industry expo – “Componex Nepcon 2009” had estimated the total e-waste generation in India at a whopping 4.34 lakh tonnes by end 2009.[6] The CPCB has estimated that it will exceed the 8 lakh tonnes or 0.8 MT mark by 2012. There are 10 States that contribute to 70 per cent of the total e-waste generated in the country, while 65 cities generate more than 60 per cent of the total e-waste in India.

Among the 10 largest e-waste generating States, Maharashtra ranks first followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Among the top ten cities generating e-waste, Mumbai ranks first followed by Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur. The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 70 per cent of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 15 per cent; the rest being contributed by manufacturers. Though individual households are not large contributors to waste generated by computers, they consume large quantities of consumer durables and are, therefore, potential creators of waste[7].

An Indian market Research Bureau (IMRB) survey of ‘E-waste generation at Source’ in 2009 found that out of the total e-waste volume in India, televisions and desktops including servers comprised 68 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. Imports and mobile phones comprised of 2 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.


In Indian context, the electronics industry has emerged as the fastest growing segment of Indian industry both in terms of production and exports. The Information Technology Revolution of the early 1990s intensified the problem of E-waste in India. Sixty-five cities in India generate more than 60% of the total E-waste generated in India. Ten states generate 70% of the total E-waste generated in India. Maharashtra ranks first followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab in the list of E-waste generating states in India. Among the top ten cities generating E-waste, Mumbai ranks first followed by Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur (Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, 2008). The recycling of E-waste is a major concern in India. The workers in the recycling sector are dominated by the urban poor with very low literacy levels and hence they have very little awareness regarding the potential hazards of E-waste. Among the urban poor, there are a substantial number of women and children engaged in various recycling activities which further exaggerate the problem of E-waste as they are more vulnerable to the hazards from this kind of waste. One of the major concerns related to E-waste, particularly in developing countries like India and China, are dumping of E-waste from some developed countries. Large quantities of used electronics are typically sold to countries like India, China and other countries in the Asia Pacific region. These electronics have very high repair capability and high raw material demand. This can result in high accumulations of residue in poor areas without strong environmental laws. Major reasons for these exports are cheap labour and lack of environmental and occupational standards in Asia. In this way the toxic effluent of the developed nations would flood towards the world's poorest nations. According to a Delhi-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Toxics Link, India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of E-waste domestically, with the booming IT sector being the largest contributor, as 30 percent of its machines reach obsolescence annually. Bangalore, the IT hub of India, alone generates 8,000 tons a year.


The global recession in 2008-09 had resulted in the electronic manufacturing services industry diminishing by 11 per cent in 2009. But the resurgence of consumer spending in the latter part of 2009 led analysts to believe that the electronic industry is going to enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 8 per cent in the period 2010- 2014. It is expected that India and other emerging economies will present some of the best markets for consumer spending in 2010 and beyond[8].

Such a prediction would imply that obsolescence would be an ever recurring factor in the growth dynamics of the electronic manufacturing industry. The generation of such obsolete electronic items or e-waste is therefore, likely to increase manifold in proportion to the growth in the electronics industry. Most of the IT products, especially computers and mobile phones, have a short lifespan. The products are not designed for longevity and become obsolete in no time. The most commonly used PC, which earlier had a lifespan of seven years, today has an average lifespan of two to five years.

The shorter lifespan of products is a marketing strategy to maintain the pace of consumption and production processes. Therefore, new technologies and ‘upgrades’ come into the market almost every 18 months influencing consumption patterns. Further, the availability of choices, changing pace of life, rapid urbanization, and increased purchasing capacity of the middle class have all contributed to the growth of the electrical and consumer durable industry.[9] The increasing affordability and availability of these products leads to a gradual penetration into smaller towns which are now showing impressive sales of consumer electronics. Some of the consumer products like refrigerators, televisions and so on were once a lifetime purchase. But today consumers outgrow older models as new products come into the market and find that it is easier and cheaper to buy new electronic equipment than repair an old product. Due to the extreme rate of obsolescence, the electronic industry is producing much higher volumes of waste. This has been compounded by the change in the consumption pattern in India which has also contributed to the large volumes of e-waste being generated in the country.


Following Supreme Court directions,43 the states have notified a set of hazardous waste laws and built a number of hazardous waste disposal facilities in the last ten years. However, the CAG report found that over 75 per cent of state bodies were not implementing these laws.44 According to the MoEF, presently there are 28 operational Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs) for hazardous waste management in the country. The rising quality of life and high rates of resource consumption patterns has had an unintended and negative impact on the environment through the generation of wastes far beyond the handling capacities of governments and agencies. Added to the burden of the management of hazardous municipal waste, the management of huge and growing quantities of electronic waste is emerging as one of the most important environmental problems of developing countries, especially India.

Approximately 2 lakh tonnes of e-waste was generated in the country in 2007. With the prediction that nearly 8 lakh tonnes of e-waste would be generated by the end of 2012, e-waste has become more of a problem than all other wastes because of the very significant health and environment hazards associated with it.

The problems associated with electronic waste are now being recognized. E-waste is highly complex to handle due to its composition. It is made up of multiple components some of which contain toxic substances that have an adverse impact on human health and environment if not handled properly. Often, these problems arise out of improper recycling and disposal methods.[10] This underlines the need for appropriate technology for handling and disposal of these chemicals.


The Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Amendment Rules, 2003

Under Schedule 3, E-waste is be defined as “Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment including all components, sub-assemblies and their fractions except batteries falling under these rules”. The definition provided here is similar to that of Basal Convention. E-waste is only briefly included in the rules with no detail description.

Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, 2008

This guideline was a Government of India initiative and was approved by Ministry of Environment and Forest and Central Pollution Control Board. It classified the E-waste according to its various components and compositions and mainly emphasises on the management and treatment practices of E-waste. The guideline incorporated concepts such as “Extended Producer Responsibility”.

The e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011

This is the very recent initiative and the only attempt in India meant solely for addressing the issues related to E-waste. These rules are not implemented in India as yet and will only come into practice from 1st May, 2012. According to this regulation, ‘electrical and electronic equipment’ means equipment which is dependent on electric currents or electro-magnetic fields to be fully functional and ‘e-waste’ means waste electrical and electronic equipment, whole or in part or rejects from their manufacturing and repair process, which are intended to be discarded. These rules are meant to be applied to every producer, consumer or bulk consumer involved in manufacturing, sale purchase and processing of electrical and electronic equipment, collection centers, dismantlers and recyclers of e-waste. Responsibilities of producers, collection centers, consumers, dismantlers, recyclers etc. are defined and incorporated in these rules.


  1. Poor information on e-waste generation rates:

The 2012 regulations acknowledged the lack of waste inventories as a limitation and placed the responsibility of developing state-wise e-waste inventories on the respective state pollution control boards (SPCBs). Seven years since these regulations, to our knowledge, no SPCB has released an inventory as yet. The sales data on electronic products, which is an important input in the estimation of e-waste quantities, is often available at the national-level aggregation, making it challenging to produce inventories at the state levels. In addition to domestic generation, e-waste is also imported from developed economies, often illegally. There is little understanding of the nature and amount of e-waste that gets imported into the country. Designing systems for effective collection, transportation and processing requires reasonably accurate knowledge of waste generation, composition and flows.

  1. Environmentally unsustainable informal sector practices:

Despite the growth in the formal dismantling and recycling sector (in terms of the number of such facilities), the actual waste processed in the formal sector still remains very low. Anecdotal evidence indicates that most of these formal facilities are operating well below their approved capacities because of their inability to source enough waste. The lack of awareness regarding e-waste and costs of returning the end-of-life equipment to formal collection centres are reducing the willingness of household and institutional consumers to return their waste to formal sector. Most importantly, the informal sector, through the convenience of household collection and monetary incentives (even if nominal), makes it more attractive for consumers to return their waste, relative to the formal sector, which is yet to invest in robust systems of collection and processing. The informal e-waste sector provides livelihoods to millions of people, often belonging to the most marginalized groups; on the other hand, the sector’s waste management practices pose serious environmental and health hazards to the workers themselves as well as the larger public. This presents a potential moral dilemma for public policy and sustained success of any e-waste management system will hinge on our ability to resolve this dilemma.

  1. Frictions in markets for the end-of-life products:

The inability to reliably source e-waste quantities that create economies of scale restricts entry of private players, such as PROs to set up e-waste management systems in the formal sector. For example, employing effective recycling technologies for e-waste may require significant upfront capital expenditures, which may not be justified for private entities in the absence of certainty around sourcing of enough quantities of e-waste. Also, these markets suffer from information barriers. First, given that e-waste recycling is a relatively new business, potential lack of information on cost-effective recycling technologies itself could be a market barrier. Second, the low awareness, partly because of the lack of reliable information on e-waste management among consumers, affects the functioning of markets. Public policy may have to play a greater role (beyond the current e-waste regulations) in enabling better markets for e-waste.

  1. Inadequate regulatory design and enforcement:

In the 2012 regulations, the mandatory take back system for producers, without accompanying collection targets, provided no incentives to take responsibility and thus induced little improvements in e-waste management practices. This was addressed in the 2016 amendments, which provided more regulatory certainty by specifying gradual and increasingly stricter collection targets. Nevertheless, the regulatory design places a significant burden on the already ill-equipped regulatory agencies. The regulators are expected to review the EPR plan submitted by the producers, grant authorization and enforce the provisions of the EPR plan. The regulations also specified elaborate standards and processes for other entities—collectors, dismantlers, recyclers and bulk consumers—and require the agencies to enforce compliance with these standards. Regulatory capture by lobbies that benefit from poor enforcement, lack of transparency and unwillingness to publicly share information on compliance and regulatory actions have long afflicted environmental regulatory enforcement in India, and e-waste regulations are no exception. This poses a significant public policy challenge to the future of e-waste management in the country.


E-waste legislation —

an introduction The issue of electrical and electronic equipment disposal, import and recycling has become the subject of serious discussion and debate among the government organizations, environmentalist groups and the private sector manufacturers of computers and consumer electronic equipments. The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests in its 192nd Report on the ‘Functioning of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)’, has concluded that e-waste is going to be a big problem in the future due to modern life style and increase in the living standards of people and augmentation of economic growth. The Committee has suggested a more proactive role for the CPCB by stating that it “should conduct studies to make future projections and devise steps to check the menace”.

Regulatory regime for e-waste

There are some important features in Schedule 1, 2 and 3 which cover e-waste. Schedule 1 defines hazardous waste generated through different industrial processes. Although there is no direct reference of the electronic waste, the “disposal process” of e-waste could be characterized as hazardous processes.

The indicative list of these processes is:—

· Secondary production and/or use of Zinc

· Secondary production of copper

· Secondary product of lead

· Production and/or use of cadmium and arsenic and their compounds

· Production of primary and secondary aluminum

· Production of iron and steel including other ferrous alloys (electric furnaces, steel rolling and finishing mills, coke oven and by product plan)

· Production or industrial use of materials made with organo silicon compounds

· Electronic industry

1. The Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2003

2. The Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008

3. Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, 2008

4. The Draft E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2010


Need for stringent health safeguards and environmental protection laws in India

Environmental activists opine that environment protection laws in India are not stringent enough to address the issues relating to either domestic waste or imports of hazardous waste including e-waste. We do not have appropriate technology to ascertain the quantum and quality of wastes in the imported items. For instance, it has been reported that the problem of toxic waste imports cannot be addressed properly as none of the Indian ports (except the Jawaharlal Nehru Port at Nhava Sheva) has scanners to detect the actual contents of the consignments.184 There are expectations that the proposed E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2010 will lay down explicit laws concerning e-waste and systematize various aspects of the e-waste recycling sector. The Government has consulted various non- governmental organizations (NGOs) in the process of developing a dedicated set of rules, which would govern the management and handling of electronic and electrical waste.

· Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR)

· Import of e-waste under license

· Producer-Public-Government cooperation

· Awareness programme

· Choosing safer technologies and cleaner substitutes

· Monitoring of compliance of Rules

· Effective regulatory mechanism strengthened by manpower and technical expertise

· Reduction of waste at source

[1] [2] Amit Jain, 'Global e-waste growth' in Rakesh Johri, E-waste: Implications, regulations and management in India and current global best practices, TERI, New Delhi, 2008, p.4 [3] "Rules on e-waste management by March", The Hindu, 20 December 2009. [4] Ravi Agarwal, 'A Policy? Rubbish', The Hindustan Times, 4 May 2010 [5] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question no.650, dt. 28.07.2010 [6] Sandeep Joshi, 'Growing e-waste is causing concern', The Hindu, 28 February 2009 [7] Satish Sinha, 'Downside of the Digital Revolution',Toxics Link, 28 December 2007, [8] Research Network, ‘Worldwide Electronic Manufacturing Services Will Return to Steady, But Uneven Growth in 2010’, 26 April 2010, < http://> [9] Satish Sinha, ‘Dark shadows of digitization on Indian horizon’ in Rakesh Johri, E-waste: Implications, regulations and management in India and current global best practices, TERI, New Delhi, 2008, [10] P. Srisudha, ‘Tackling e-waste’, The Hindu, 28 June, 2009. [11]

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