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Changes in Electronic Waste Management

From E-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2011 to Draft E-Waste Management Rules 2015

Kalyan Bhaskar (kalyanb@iimahd.ernet.in) is a Research Fellow (Public Systems Group) at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

The proposed changes to the electronic waste management rules will address the issue of multiple stakeholders and responsibility of producers. But issues of implementation as well as regulatory frameworks are yet to be addressed in the new rules.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has released a draft e-waste management rules on 7 April 2015 and has invited comments from the public at large. The new rules aim to supersede the existing E-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2011 that had come into effect three years ago on 1 May 2012.

There is however no information so far from the MoEFCC as to when the new rules would be finalized. It could still be months before the new e-waste rules replace the existing e-waste rules.

This article tries to compare the existing e-waste rules with the draft e-waste rules by analysing what has changed between the two. There are two key changes in the proposed draft and those are discussed below.

Inclusion of More Stakeholders

The 2011 rules applied to every producer, consumer, and bulk consumer involved in the manufacture, sale, purchase and processing of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). It also applied to collection centre, recycler, and dismantler of e-waste. The intent behind the rules was to channelise e-waste from the informal sector to formal sector as much as possible. However the rules had left out three key stakeholders in the e-waste chain—manufacturers, dealers, and refurbishers of EEE. The new draft rules have included these three in the list of entities on which the rules would apply to (MoEFCC 2015: 1). 

The inclusion of manufacturer is important since it clearly identifies manufacturer as separate from producers. The 2011 rules, as well as the current rules define producers as those who i) manufacture or sell EEE under their own brand, or ii) offer to sell assembled EEE produced by other manufacturers under their own brand, or iii) offer to sell imported EEE (MoEF 2011: 29, MoEFCC 2015: 4).

This definition leaves manufacturers who do not sell products under their own brand outside the ambit of rules. EEEs are made up of several electrical and electronic components and for some types of EEE, such as mobile phones, there could be several manufacturers involved in the manufacture of those components. While such manufacturers remained outside the ambit of 2011 rules, the new draft rules aims to bring them under the law by including the term manufacturer.

The inclusion of dealer is significant as it would mean that retail shops, from both the organised retail sector as well as unorganised retail sector involved in the sale of EEE would be governed by the new rules. From the discussion the author has had with certain people who were involved in the drafting of the 2011 rules, it is understood that dealers were intended to be included in the 2011 rules itself. However owing to several reasons, it was decided to include dealers at a later stage and the draft rules seem to have done that.

Finally the inclusion of refurbishers, as defined in the draft rules, is important since it would include all types of shops involved in the repairing of used EEE either for the purpose of extending its working life or for selling. It is a common practice in India to get EEE repaired as much as possible and many shops, particularly in the unorganised sector are involved in repairing of mobile phones, televisions, audio devices, and other EEE. Some e-waste collected by the informal sector also end up at the repair shops. So in the light of these, the inclusion of refurbishers is significant.

Responsibilities of Producers

The 2011 rules had introduced the framework of extended producer responsibility (EPR) for management of e-waste in India. It was the first time that EPR was introduced in India for management of any stream of waste. The rules defined EPR as “the responsibility of any producer of electrical or electronic equipment, for their products beyond manufacturing, until the environmentally sound management of their end-of-life products (MoEF 2011:28).”

However apart from mentioning EPR, the rules did not go beyond further into commenting on the responsibilities of producers and suggesting how they were to implement EPR in India. The 2015 draft rules have tried to throw some light on the responsibilities of producers and have suggested ways in which EPR could be implemented by producers.

Specifically the 2015 draft suggest producer responsibility organisation (PRO) and deposit refund system (DRS) as two possible instruments. In case of PRO, instead of setting up individual collection centres, firms can collaborate and collectively set up and manage collection centres. For firms, this is intended to reduce the cost involved in setting up an infrastructure to collect e-waste. In case of DRS, a firm can charge an initial amount from the consumer (deposit) which shall be refundable (refund) to the consumer upon the channelising of e-waste by the consumer in the manner suggested by the firm.

Discussion

Inclusion of three key stakeholders, manufacturers, dealers, and refurbishers is a welcome step but there remain several challenges and unanswered questions. A larger proportion of refurbishers and to a smaller extent manufacturers and dealers operate in the informal sector. Managing waste management in the informal sector in India has remained a challenge for governments and regulators alike for many years now. One of the key reasons for that has been the sheer number of players involved in waste management in informal sector. In that context, inclusion of more players from the informal sectors raises question on the capacity of regulators to identify, monitor and regulate them.

Then there is the issue of regulatory cost. As is the case with air and water pollution, where the regulatory costs of identifying and monitoring several distributed point source of emissions is much more than those associated with relatively few large point source of emissions, the regulatory costs in case of identifying and monitoring large number of refurbishers, manufacturers, and dealers is likely to remain high and emerge as a challenge for the PCBs.

Besides, there is also the issue of inadequate regulatory capacity. Pollution control boards (PCBs), at both national and state levels suffer from manpower shortage. This in turn affects their capacity to effectively carry out their responsibilities which include controlling and regulating air and water pollution from various sources, and management of waste from different streams. Assigning more responsibilities on PCBs without enhancing their regulatory capacity would only serve in increasing the burden on the already stretched PCBs.

Finally, though the increased clarity on responsibilities of producers and suggestions to introduce PRO and DRS is welcome, it remains to be seen if such measures can be effectively introduced and managed by firms in India. An analysis of the steps taken by producers in India using publicly available information (information appearing on their websites) in response to e-waste rules suggests that there is a wide disparity in the type of actions taken by firms.

While some firms have introduced their own network to take back e-waste, some others have tied up with recyclers registered with PCBs. There are also some firms which do not seem to have taken steps to collect e-waste from consumers. If a similar disparity is observed in case of approach towards DRS, individual firms might be wary to introduce it for the fear that it may make initial acquisition cost (purchase price) too high for consumers leading to loss of sales. In an extremely competitive industry scenario, firms might also be wary of the possibility that such move could lead consumers to switch to other firms which do not decide to collect the “deposit” upfront from consumers.

Lastly, it must not be forgotten that consumers remain a vital cog in the management of e-waste. Unless there is a greater awareness among consumers on e-waste and unless there is adequate motivation for them to recycle e-waste through formal sector, initiatives like PRO and DRS might face several challenges.   

References

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) (2011): “e-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2011”, 12 May, http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/rules-and-regulations/1035e_eng.pdf.

Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) (2015): “Draft rules”, 7 April, http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/vetted%20ewaste%20rule%202015.pdf

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