E-waste is a headache, no matter how developed your technology is. And, recycling it is a bigger headache. Reports on the third-world countries being turned to an e-waste dump-yard of the developed nations could prove that further.
However, the southern state Karnataka has a different story to tell. It has taken a lead in e-waste recycling to recover precious metals, including gold, silver, copper and palladium, from electronic products, computers and peripherals.
"We have tied up with the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET) and e-waste recycler e-Parisaraa to set up a 100-tonne per annum integrated processing plant near here for recovering precious metals from electronic goods like printed circuit boards," IT Minister S.R. Patil told IANS.
According to a study by the electronic hardware industry apex body Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT), around 500,000 tonnes of e-waste is generated across India every year, thanks to growing consumption and disposal of electronic products and consumer durables.
Though an additional 100,000 tonne of e-waste enters the country through illegal imports annually, only 40 percent of it gets recycled due to inadequate and poor infrastructure which is mostly in the informal sector.
"As natural wealth in the form of precious metals are shipped outside India in the form of e-waste by recyclers due to lack of right technology to process them, India's first integrated e-waste management facility will recycle metals, glass, plastics and other hazardous materials in an eco-friendly way," Patil said.
The Hyderabad-based C-MET is an autonomous scientific society, formed by the central government under the Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY), to assist states in setting up e-waste processing units in the country.
For the Rs.11.3-crore pilot plant, DeitY will contribute Rs.8 crore and the state government Rs.75 lakh through the IT&BT department over the next four years.
As the first state government's approved e-waste recycler, the Bengaluru-based e-Parisaraa handles, recycles and reuses waste electrical and electronic equipment in an eco-friendly unit.
The project will process e-waste from secondary sources and replenish depleting natural resources used in making e-products and devices.
"As a majority of recyclers send discarded or disposed e-waste to other countries for processing due to lack of indigenous and cost-effective technologies, our directorate is partnering in the e-project to process it within the country," Patil said.
C-MET has developed expertise to initiate research and development (R&D) projects and help stakeholders in setting up plants to process electronic materials for industrial use and transfer the technology to the strategic sector.
"The plant will reduce piling up of used and discarded electronic and electrical equipment, which mostly end up in landfills or partly recycled in unhygienic conditions by backyard recycles and thrown into waste streams harming the ecology," e-Parisaraa founder managing director P. Parthasarathy told IANS.
The objective of the joint project is to transfer e-waste into socially and industrially beneficial raw materials like valuable metals, plastics and glass using home-grown, cost-efficient and eco-friendly technologies suitable to Indian tropical conditions.
E-waste is generated by the industry, intermediaries and end-users when electronic and electrical equipment and products become obsolete due to advancement in technology or wear and tear.
"If managed safely by recognising that e-waste can be a secondary source of raw material with socio-economic benefits such as natural resource conservation, reduction in pollution and job creation, we can minimise environmental damage to cities and towns, Parthasarathy said.
Growing consumption of electronic goods and their high rate of obsolescence are reasons behind massive generation of e-waste in India. Dumping from developed countries has compounded the problem.
"The situation could assume alarming proportions if we do not pay attention to e-waste problem and take corrective actions. As the first principle of recycling is reuse, it is essential the electronics industry encourages reuse of obsolete items by refurbishing them and providing service support," MAIT's former executive director Vinnie Mehta said.
The apex body also wants institutional users to enforce e-waste management policy to dispose of obsolete electronic equipment, as 60 percent of it remains stored in warehouses and garages due to poor and inefficient collection system.