Policy Paper on Circular Economy to Deal with E-Waste

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    The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has formulated a policy paper on “Circular Economy in Electronics and Electrical Sector” to deal with e-waste.

    Key Points of Paper

    • India is the third largest consumer of raw materials produced globally and estimated to consume nearly 15 billion tonnes of material by 2030 with the current economic trends. 
    • The paper focuses on the life cycle of electronics including stages of raw material acquisition, design, manufacturing/production stage, consumption to end of life (e-waste) management, and secondary raw materials utilisation and makes short, medium and long term suggestions about CE.
    • It is aimed to deal with e-waste as part of the larger plan of the Indian government to encourage a circular economy, or ensuring zero to minimal wastage in the use of electronics and electrical sector.
    • The focus areas include 11 end-of-life products/recyclable materials/wastes that either continue to pose considerable challenges or are emerging as new challenge areas that must be addressed in a holistic manner.
    • Centre has formed 11 committees, each led by a ministry, to prepare action plans for transitioning from a linear to a circular economy in their respective focus areas.
    • It further recommends regulation to increase Electronic and Electrical Equipment (EEE) warranty from 2 to 6 years, measures against planned obsolescence, legal warranty of second hand products and promoting green public procurement (GPP) by government agencies.

    Important Recommendations

    • Material sampling labs: Support in setting up material sampling labs across the regions to assess the material value in the end of life product
    • Incentives for secondary resources: The producers using critical materials from secondary resources will be preferred in government procurement. 
    • Eco-design: CE measures should be introduced to ensure that the manufacturers follow the eco-design principles to enhance the durability, reparability, and upgradeability of the product.
    • Skill Building: This will have a positive impact on health, livelihoods, incomes and also enhance resource efficiency and circular economy in the electronics sector in India.
    • Ecolabelling: Ecolabelling of products for CE criteria with information on recycled content, type, value, weight of different materials used can also inform decision making of consumers.
    • Awareness programs on e-waste management: Information dissemination and awareness generation play a significant part in driving consumer behaviour. 
    • Digital Infrastructure for circular e-waste management, pan India
    • Introduce standards for dismantling/recycling units including de-pollution practices to ensure removal of toxic fractions

    Circular Economy (CE) 

    • It is an industrial system, which is an alternative to the highly extractive and resource intensive linear economy principle of take-make-dispose
    • CE replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration and regeneration, shifts towards usage of superior design of materials, products, systems and business models for waste elimination. 
    • CE aims at –
      • Retaining value of resources, products and materials at their highest by keeping them in use as long as possible;
      • Minimizing wastage at each life-cycle stage; and 
      • Extracting the maximum value through reusing, repairing, recovering, remanufacturing and regenerating products and materials at the end of each service value. 
    • Circular economy as a concept has been gaining ground globally, International Telecommunication Union, World Economic Forum, the United Nations and others stressing the need to ensure minimum wastage in the electrical and electronics sectors.

    Need for Circular Economy

    • Fulfills Resource needs: The Rate of extraction of these abiotic resources for EEE manufacturing is significantly higher than the rate of their formation in nature. CE approach will thus be imperative to fulfill the resource needs for the country. 
    • Recycling the waste: India is the third most electronic waste (e-waste) generated country (with 3.2 million tonnes in 2019), however, only 10 percent of the waste is collected for recycling. The collection and management of EEE waste remain a key challenge. This necessitates the shift to a more circular approach for the sector.

    Significance of Circular Economy

    • Raw material security: Raw material security will address sustainable product package/ policy wherein material sourcing can look at addressing reducing GHG emissions, foot-print and reduced pollution. 
    • Better product design: The companies need to design products which have a longer product life and are easier to recycle. This may mean multiple things e.g limiting use of multiple types of materials for product creation, eliminating toxicity or any materials of concern, enabling ease of dismantling; decreased product obsolescence and restricting single use. 
    • Collection Systems: Creating systems which can result in large scale participation by the people. Systems that bring ease of participation and ensure no leakages of the collected e-waste to the informal sector for recycling. 
    • Recycling Systems: Creating systems that enable recycling/dismantling not far from the source of generation, ensure full traceability of materials, recovery of critical materials; ecosystem of secondary material buyers; harmonized tax structures; strong enforcement and publicly available datasets 
    • Secondary Materials Usage: Setting up norms for use of recycled material for new products; Incentives for procurement of products with high recycled content; mandating traceability on utilization of secondary materials; financial incentives/tax breaks for use of secondary materials.

    (Image Courtesy: Weforum )

    Opportunities of Circular Economy

    • Economic Opportunity: The movement towards a circular and resource efficient design has the scope of business savings for businesses. There is a lot of economic value in e-waste, particularly from such materials as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium, among others. 
    • Enhanced resource availability: In India, lack of domestic reserves and supply of rare earth elements makes a circular economy even more important for a large and growing country like India, where a CE approach provides an opportunity to enhance resource availability for domestic manufacturing. 
    • Jobs Creation: Although repair, refurbishment and recycling activities are already undertaken in India, a CE action plan and associated measures towards supporting these activities has the potential to create more jobs.
    • Environmental Benefits:  Responsible and circular resource use can also contribute towards reduction of GHG emissions and help meet the climate change commitments. 
    • Social Benefits: Reduced extraction pressures due to adoption of CE measures have the potential to reduce conflict and displacement in mining areas, as well as improve health and welfare of local communities. CE measures can also contribute towards preserving resources for future generations. 

    Challenges in Implementation

    • Improper waste infrastructure: The developing countries like India lack strong waste management infrastructure. Thus, improving waste management and recycling systems could make a big difference.
    • Poor Recycling technology: There is a need for better recycling technology that can maintain quality and purity so that product manufacturers are willing to use recycled wastes. 

    • Complex Government regulations: Sometimes, laws and regulations unintentionally incentivize wasteful behavior among companies and consumers. This is a common problem in the food and beverage sector. 

    • Value of raw materials: A circular economy still needs to operate within economic boundaries. While there may be differences in environmental impacts between materials, most of the organization’s decision-making will be based on economics and risk.
    • Ownership of end-of-life materials: Most supply chain organizations lose control of products and raw materials at their respective point of sale. This creates problems while recycling or regeneration at the end of a product’s life. 

    Way Forward

    • The transition to a circular economy must take place in a way that benefits all stakeholders from the consumer to workers, government, businesses, entrepreneurs and society at large. 
    • EEE waste is considered as one of the rich sources of secondary raw materials and can contribute towards resource security and environmental sustainability. 
    • There will be a need for mass collaboration, system changing ideas, new policy frameworks and new ways of doing business. 

    Global E-waste Monitor 2020

    • The third edition of the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 launched by the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, provides comprehensive insight to address the global e-waste challenge.
    • It is a collaborative effort between the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme currently co-hosted by the United Nations University (UNU) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
    • A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones – is reported to be generated worldwide in 2019, up 9.2 Mt? in five years.
    • Toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame-retardants (BFR) or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are found in many types of electronic equipment and pose severe risk to human health and the environment if not handled in an environmentally sound manner.
    • It estimates that in 2019 as only 17.4 % of e-waste was collected and recycled leading to loss of nearly $47 billion in recoverable materials including gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high value materials
    • The new report also predicts global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost double the 2014 figure, fuelled by higher electric and electronic consumption rates, shorter lifecycles and limited repair options.
    • ITU Member States also set a target to raise the percentage of countries with e-waste legislation to 50 per cent – or 97 countries – by 2023. 

    Image Courtesy: UNU 2018, OECD 2018

    Electronic and Electrical Equipment (EEE)-manufacturing 

    • It is dependent on high material consumption with metals like iron, copper, silver, gold, aluminum, manganese, chromium and zinc along with various rare earth elements. 

    Source: BS