India Targets Discarded Electronics That May Poison Environment

E-waste Sorted On The Streets Of The Capital

A worker stacks used computer monitors at a workshop in New Delhi. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said India will mandate collecting 30 percent of the units by 2018 and 70 percent by 2023. Those who produce the goods will be required to establish a method to pick up the units as their customers discard them.

Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg
  • Ministry says those who sell goods must collect waste units
  • Mercury-containing CFL bulbs brought under the rules

India is proposing stringent new rules to crack down on waste from discarded electronics that will require those who make and sell the units to be responsible for collecting old devices that otherwise would end up in landfills.

The rules are aimed at preventing toxic chemicals included in electronics from leaching into the environment. For the first time, the rules will cover compact fluorescent lamps, most of which include quantities of mercury that can poison or kill humans as it seeps from landfills into the groundwater or farmland. They apply both to manufacturers and the companies that sell electronics.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said India will mandate collecting 30 percent of the units by 2018 and 70 percent by 2023. Those who produce the goods will be required to establish a method to pick up the units as their customers discard them.

“A provision for financial penalty for violation of rules has also been introduced,” Javadekar said at a a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The new rules will help improve the accountability of companies producing electronics by making them responsible for waste, said Toxics Links, an environmental research and advocacy organization.

Workers sort through a pile of used mobile phones.
Workers sort through a pile of used mobile phones.
Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg

The current systems with few restrictions on dumping electronics raises the risk that toxic substances inside can leak into the water table, farmland or atmosphere. Some goods are thrown into landfills, where poisonous materials can escape. Others are either burned or picked apart by scrap dealers in an unsafe way.

“Government will have to ensure strict penalties for defaulters in order to ensure compliance and transparency," said Satish Sinha, associate director of Toxics Link.

The environment ministry’s inclusion of recycling mercury-containing CFL bulbs in the new norms is also a result of an order by the country’s green tribunal. Toxics Link has been pressing for the move since 2014.

About 1.7 million tons of electronic waste was generated in India in 2014, and the volume is growing at a rate of 4 percent to 5 percent a year, the minister said.

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