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The Recycling Of Electronic Waste In India Environmental Sciences Essay

Info: 3394 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 1970 in Environmental Sciences

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E-waste is growing rapidly and becoming the major issue of all over the world. E-waste components contain different types of toxic and hazardous substances those are harmful for environment and human health so it is necessary to handle and manage the E-waste in a proper and better way. In India the management of E-waste have a great significance due to the generation of large amount of E-waste in opposite to lack of appropriate infrastructure and proper procedure for recycling and disposal of the E-waste. This paper endows with current situation of E-waste in India, trends of disposal and recycling of India, status of E-waste management of India and at the last the required action steps for better handling of E-waste and its management.

Key words: E-waste, hazardous substances, Recycling, Disposal and E-waste management.


In today’s globalisation world, the consumer market for electrical and electronic products is expanding continuously on high rate. On the other hand due to increasing demand and development of new technology, the life span of the products is dropping that result in large amount of electronic scrap. As mentioned by UNEP in 2005:

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“Every year 20 to 50 million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment waste (“E-waste”) are generated world-wide, which could bring serious risks to human health and environment, while 4 million PCs are discarded per year in China alone”. (K. Brigden et al., 2005)

This large amount of E-waste also contains toxic and hazardous elements in different electrical and electronic components those create serious problem regarding their handling, recycling and disposal.

What is E-waste?

Electronic waste (“E-waste”)or Waste Electrical and Electronic Elements (“WEEE”) is the term generally used to describe disposed electronic and electrical products which are old and end of life household appliances including laptops, TVs, DVD players, mobiles, i-pods. However sources of E-waste can be classified into three main categories (Pinto, 2008):

Large Household Appliances

IT and Telecom

Consumer Equipment

The pie chart in figure 1below indicates the percentage of electrical and electronic waste generated by different household appliances, IT and consumer products.

Figure 1: Sources of E-waste (Source: India E-waste guide)

Environmental and Health hazards of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment):

As per knowledge E-waste contains more than 1000 different substances and chemicals which are hazardous and non hazardous (Pinto, 2008). From that some hazardous substances are toxic and can create some serious problem for the environment and human health. E-waste contains many toxics like heavy metals including lead, cadmium, mercury, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), plastics, Brominated flamed Retardant, barium, beryllium, phosphors and additives etc. The impacts of these toxics and hazardous substances on environment and human health are described in table 1 below:

Table 1: Hazardous Substances and their Impact on Environment and Human Health


Used components

Impact on health and environment


Glass panel and gasket in computer monitors

Solder in Printed Circuit Board

Causes damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, kidney.

Effects impede brain development among children.

Lead tends to accumulate in the environment and has high acute and chronic effects on plants, animals and microorganisms.


Infrared detectors and semiconductor chips

Some old cathode ray tube

Accumulate in the human body and it damages the kidneys.


Thermostats, relays, switches, mobiles, lamps and medical equipments.

Damage to brain and kidneys.

It affects the food chain by accumulating in the living organism particularly via fish.

Hexavalent chromium

Galvanised steel plates

It can cause damage to DNA.


Electronic equipment and computer housing

When it burns it release Dioxin which can damage to human health.


Circuit board and plastic housing of equipment

Cause neurobehavioral alterations and it affects the immune system of body in animals.


Mother board and finger clips

It can cause lung cancer and skin deceases.

Phosphor and additives

Applied as a coat in inside of the CRTs.

It can damage those human who dismantle CRTs by hand.

Situation of E-waste in India:

Telecommunication and information technology are the fastest growing industries today not only in India but world over. Based on the growth of electronics and IT equipment in India; Manufacturer’s Association of Information Technology (MAITD) has collected the following statistics. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/19009739/E-waste-India, Accessed on May 10th 2010)

During 2007-08, PC sales were over 7.3 million units growing by 16% and there is an installed base of over 25 million units.

The consumer electronics market is growing by 13-15% annually and has an installed base of over 25 million units.

The cellular subscriber base up by 96% during 2007-08 and its installed base are estimated to cross 300 million marks by 2010.

E-waste generated in India during 2007 was around 332,979 MT besides about 50,000 MT entering the country through imports as per a GTZ-MAIT (Gesellschaft Technische Zusammenarbeit – Manufacturer’s Association for Information Technology) sponsored study by IMRB (Indian Market Research Bureau). Unprecedented growth of the IT industry during the last decade and early product obsolescence due to continuous innovation resulted in the generation of this large quantity of E-waste. Out of this quantity only 144,143 MT was available for recycling and refurbishing and only 19,000 MT of E-waste was processed.

WEE Generating Top Ten Cities

City WEE (Tonnes)

Mumbai 11017.1

Delhi 9730.3

Bangalore 4648.4

Chennai 4132.2

Kolkata 4025.3

Ahmadabad 3287.5

Hyderabad 2833.5

Pune 2584.2

Surat 1836.5

Nagpur 1768.9

WEE Generating Top Ten States

State WEE (Tonnes)

Maharashtra 20270.59

Tamil Nadu 13486.24

Andhra Pradesh 12780.33

Uttarpradesh 10381.11

West Bengal 10059.36

Delhi 9729.15

Karnataka 9118.74

Gujarat 8994.33

Madhya Pradesh 7800.62

Punjab 6958.46


Table 2&3: The generated E-waste in Major states and Major cities (source: ENVIS, 2008)

E-waste Handling Process in India:

E- Waste is mostly generated in Metropolitan cities in India, where a complex E-waste handling infrastructure on a long tradition of waste recycling has been developed. So far, the E-waste recycling is purely market driven, operated by a very entrepreneurial informal sector. A large number of new business es focusing on reuse or extraction of secondary raw materials resulted due to easy adaption of rag pickers and waste dealers to the new waste stream. (http://india.ewasteguide.info/ , Accessed on April 27th 2010)

Figure 2: E-waste Handling Process in India (Source: Indian E-waste guide)

The E-waste from corporate consumers and households enters a city specific familiar E-waste recycling system. The collection and allocation of E-waste is done by middlemen, scrap dealers and rag pickers, also known as «kabadiwalas». The informal recycling system includes acceptable processes such as dismantling and sorting but also very harmful processes such as burning and discharging in order to extract metals from electronic equipment. Harmful techniques like burning wires are common practice in the informal recycling sectors in big cities in India.

Trends in Disposal and Recycling:

E-waste has become more desirable due to soaring price of gold, silver and copper. E-waste round-ups are used as fund raisers in some communities. E-waste processing industry in Europe was marked by the ban imposed on disposal of electronic waste in landfills. European Union advanced E-waste policy by implementing the waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive in 2002, making manufacturers responsible for the disposal of E-waste at the end-of-life. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/20784043/Managing-E-waste-Indian-Perspective, Accessed on May 2nd 2010)

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Large amount of used electronics have been sent to countries like China, India, and Kenya, where lower working conditions and environmental standards make E-waste processing more profitable due to lack-luster enforcement of legislation regarding exports of E-waste.

In Switzerland after implementation of first electronic waste recycling system in 1991, since 2005 it has been possible to return all the E-waste at collection points and sale points free of charge. The total amount of recycled E-waste exceeds 10 kg per capita per year and two established Producer Responsibility Organizations (PRO) are responsible for handling electronic waste and electrical appliances. A policy known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) was implemented by European Union, designed to make equipment manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their equipment at the end-of-life cycle. This policy internalized the end-of-life costs and provided a competitive incentive for companies to design equipment with less costs and liabilities. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/20784043/Managing-E-waste-Indian-Perspective, Accessed on May 2nd 2010)

Some states in the US developed policies banning CRTs from landfills recently due to the fear of heavy metals being leached into the ground water. Diversion from landfill has been driver for legislation in many states requiring collecting and processing of E-waste separately from the solid waste stream. Increased regulation of E-waste and concerns over the environmental harm has lead to disposal costs. The toxic trade by brokers or recyclers with an incentive to export the E-waste to developing countries was first exposed by the Basel Action Network (BAN) in their report in 2002. United States has not ratified the Basel Ban Amendment and no domestic laws forbidding the export of E-waste. From 2004, State of California and Canada has begun to impose an Electronic waste recycling fee on the purchase of new television, computers and computer components, making recycling mandatory for all those products. The European Union, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have already demanded that manufacturers and sellers be responsible for recycling 75 per cent of electronics item.

Computer scrap is managed through various alternatives such as product reuse, conventional disposal in landfills, incineration and recycling in India. Since the methods of disposal are very rudimentary and pose grave environmental and health hazards, it has become a very serious problem. Processing the waste by uncontrolled burning and disposal are causing environmental problems. The biggest source is through imports of E-waste in India. (ENVIS, 2006)

Recycling Steps in India:

Manual Dismantling: – The accrued electronic and electric waste in India is dismantled and sorted manually to fractions cathode ray tubes, printed wiring boards, metals, plastics, cables for component recovery and invaluable materials like wood, plastics and other invaluable metals for mechanical shredding. Refining and conditioning processes are used for treating valuable fractions.

Refining and Conditioning: – In a variety of refining and conditioning processes like separation, open burning, acid baths, different E-waste fractions are processed to useful components and to secondary raw materials.

Final Disposal: – Solid waste is deposited in a municipal landfill where significant emissions to air and water are caused as systematic gas and water collecting systems are not installed. Site is crowded with informal waste pickers and valuable materials for recycling collected by people.

Figure 3: Different stages of Recycle steps in India (source: K. Brigden et al., 2005)

E-waste Management in India:

The major concern all over the world today is environment preservation and its protection. The Basel convention on the control of Tran boundary Movement of Hazardous wastes and Disposal was signed by India on 15th March, 1990, ratified in 1992 and amended in 2003. India cannot export the Hazardous wastes listed in Annex VIII of the convention from the countries who ratified the ban agreement and is free to import E-wastes from countries not ratified the Basel Convention. The classification of E-waste as hazardous is unclear in Indian legislation.

In India there is wide range of environment legislation but still there are no any specific rules or laws for E-waste (Joseph, 2007). As per the Hazardous Waste Rules implemented, in 1989 particular E-waste is not treated as hazardous unless it is not proved that they contain higher concentration of toxic substance. The electronic waste included under List-A and List-B of Schedule-3 of the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989 are amended in 2000 & 2003 and now it requires specific permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

At this time informal sector collect the all electronic waste around the country and recycle them, Government has taken the following steps to improve the awareness about recycling of E-waste and to establish a sound E-waste management with healthy environment. (Joseph, 2007):

• Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) collaborated with Toxics Link and organised several workshops on E-waste management.

• CPCB has started to take quick action for rapid assessment of the E-waste generated in major metropolitan cities of the country.

• To formulate effective strategy for better E-waste management CPCB has made up a national working group.

• The Department of Information Technology (DIT), Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has published full comprehensive technical guide book titled “Environmental Management for Information Technology Industry in India” and circulated this guide book all around the country.

• The DIT at the Indian Telephone Industries has set up demonstration projects showing how to recover copper from the Printed Circuit Boards.

Challenges involved in E-waste management in India:

Despite of such awareness and willingness for implementing improvements is increasing rapidly; there are still few challenges or major obstacles in the way of managing the E-wastes safely and effectively. These Challenges are

Policy makers are very keen to make a better strategy for an effective E-waste management but they have to face the challenge of lacking of reliable data.

There is no any efficient take back scheme for consumers so that only 10 % E-waste can reach to recyclers.

The formal sector of the country does not pose a safe E-waste recycling infrastructure so they have to depend on informal sector that create severe risks to the environment and human health.

The existing e waste recycling systems are purely business-driven that have come about without any government intervention. Any development in these e waste sectors will have to be built on the existing set-up as the waste collection and pre-processing can be handled efficiently by the informal sector, at the same time offer numerous job opportunities.

Recommendations for Reducing E-waste:

The new paradigm of sustainability demanding products to be cleaner, long-lived, upgradable and recyclable should be adopted instead of cheaper and faster products. To achieve these goals for sustainable production, environmental justice, corporate and government accountability, few recommendations for action needs to be taken. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/23359394/E-waste-System-failure-imminent, Accessed on May 14th 2010)

Ban Hazardous Waste Imports: Complying with the rules and regulations forwarded by the Basel Convention that import of all the hazardous waste containing any hazardous elements should be banned dumped from developed countries to developing countries. There is no reason that developing countries of the world should bear the environmental risk without benefiting from this sort of E-waste.

Make the Producer Responsible: The principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) makes manufacturer responsible for the products throughout the end-of-life cycle. This will make producer to focus more on designing products with recyclable materials, at the same time less hazardous. Incentive provided by the legislation for product take back policy to the original equipment manufacturer will eventually boost this principle, reducing E-waste all over the globe.

Inform the Consumer: Electronic and Electrical manufacturers must specify the hazardous elements contained in their products thus creating awareness among the masses about environmental and health risks posed through these hazardous elements. Proper waste management protocols should also be prescribed to the consumer.

Design for Recycling: Mechanisms for recovering raw materials while decommissioning an electronic device must be clean, safe and efficient to environment and human health. During recycling and dismantling process, warning must be placed for possible hazards in the work place and products must be made to recyclable form with rapid and easy reduction.


Overall the situation of E-waste can be controlled by achieving zero land fill and Zero land fill is only available if we implement the cycle of four “R”. This four “R” are:

Reduce – try to reduce the E-wastes

Reuse – reuse the E-waste product

Recycle – recycle the available E-waste for reuse

Recover – Recover the valuable products after recycling

Figure 4: Cycle of Four “R”

A Case Study on Recycling of E-waste:

Name of Company: Infotrek Syscom Ltd.

Initiative of Socio environmental concern:

To build an environmentally safe recycling pattern

Building a forum of Creators of Electronics, corporate houses and Original Equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) to help for the cause.

Create partnership program.

Key Features of Infotrek Syscom Ltd (www.docstoc.com/docs/33807398/E-waste-Management-_-Recycling, Accessed on May 14th 2010)

An ISO 9001:2000 Certified, probably first of its kind and 100% export oriented unit for carrying recycling activities.

Well Structured facilities spread over 7000 Sq.ft of building and further plans to acquire 45,000 sq.ft of land near JNPT.

Modern Material handling equipments.

Fully equipped laboratory to facilitate R& D.

Facilities of extending latest knowledge to the qualified & experienced engineers.

Bar code system for maintaining inventory movements.

Registered with green online initiative.

E-waste Management and Recycling

Equipment Refurbishment and resale

De-manufacturing and disassembly

Recovery of valuable components

Hazardous and base metal recovery

Hazardous component management and environment friendly disposal.


In a span of just two years of its existence, Eco Recycling Ltd (subsidiary of Infotrek Syscom Ltd), has developed great awareness about the hazards of waste electrical & electronic equipments (WEEE) and need for systematic handling. The change is visible, more and more corporate and individuals have started taking interest and approaching to Ecoreco. It may not be out of place to mention that Ecoreco is presently serving to more than 200 corporate entities spread across India. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/18020190/EWaste-PPT, Accessed on May 16th 2010)


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