The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy tool that is currently used globally for effective waste management. Many of India’s current waste management policies hinge on the principle of EPR. This paper will investigate the role of EPR in India’s e-waste management system to highlight the urgent need of effectively disposing the enormous volume of e-waste that is currently being generated within the country. It analyses the challenges around handling legislations in India regarding e-waste management with recommendations to promote a circular economy for it.
A. The Principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Faced with soaring levels of waste generation, governments around the world have explored new regulatory options for handling the issue. Several have concluded that placing responsibility for some items' post-consumer phase of handling on producers may be a viable option. One of the most common ways for regulating e-waste globally is the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which places the responsibility of the end-of-life management of products on the producers or manufacturers.
In this approach, producers are assigned significant degree of financial and physical responsibility for the treatment or disposal of goods post its consumption phase (OECD 2016). It has been observed that assigning such responsibility may create incentives to reduce waste at the source, promote environmentally friendly product design and support public recycling and waste management goals. This research article analyses the potential benefits of adopting the EPR principle for India’s e-waste policies. It provides recommendations based on this principle to improve India’s current process of e-waste management.
B. The EPR Principle and its Objectives
Thomas Lindhqvist coined the term "Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and identified five different categories of producer responsibility, including liability (implying that the producer is responsible for any environmental harm produced), economic responsibility (implying that the producer is responsible for all or part of the costs of product collection and recycling), physical responsibility (implying that the producer is responsible for the physical management of the products or their effects), ownership (implying both physical and financial accountability of the producer) and informative responsibility which implyies that the producer is responsible for providing information on the product and its effects (Lindhqvist 2000).
The general goal of EPR is to encourage producers to effectively modify electronic product design and process technology to prevent pollution and minimise resource use at each stage of the product’s life cycle. Currently, the principle of EPR states that a product's producer's responsibility extends beyond traditional sales to the product's post-consumer or end-of-life (EOL) stage, implying that the producer is responsible for the collection of used products and ensuring that they are properly disposed (Bhaskar and Turaga 2018).
EPR is based on the principle of Producer Responsibility, which implies that producers carry primary responsibility for their products' environmental effects; for waste generated during the manufacturing process and after the product is discarded. The EPR principle is now being expanded to include the management of additional products, product groups and waste streams of electrical appliances and electronics (OECD 2016). The long-term goal is to achieve sustainable development by encouraging the development of environmentally friendly products that require fewer resources, include fewer toxic ingredients and are easier to recycle (Wath, Vaidya, Dutt and Chakrabarti 2010).
II. India’s E-waste Management system
India is the world's third-largest contributor of e-waste, with 3.2 million tonnes generated each year. India created 1, 014, 961 tonnes of e-waste in FY 2019-2020, increasing 32% from FY 2018-2019, but only 3.6% and 10% were collected in 2018 and 2019 respectively (Garg and Adhana 2019). E-waste management in India is plagued by ineffective execution and stronger legislative enforcement will accelerate India's progress in this.
India's E-waste Management and Handling Rules (2011) incorporated the EPR approach by requiring producers to set up collection centres and informing consumers on returning used products to these centres. These guidelines were a step in the right direction but ultimately inadequate for significantly improving practices. The Indian e-waste sector has therefore undergone several significant changes since 2011 due to the government’s changes in regulations, which include increase on emphasis in producer’s efforts, expansion of the formal waste management sector, the emergence of producer responsibility organisations (PROs) and developing indigenous technologies to process different components of e-waste.
One of the defining features of the Indian e-waste management system is the PRO, defined as a professional organisation authorised and financed collectively or individually by producers to collect and channel e-waste generated from the 'end-of-life' of their products to ensure environmentally sound handling of such e-waste (Gupt and Sahay 2015). They assist producers on achieving collection goals, setting up collection methods (such as door-to-door processes), establishing collection centres, ensuring that dismantling and recycling are done in an environmentally friendly manner and providing a producer’s accountability plan as laid down by the law.
III. Current Challenges of the Indian E-Waste Management System
A. Illegal Imports
Imports of toxic materials are one of the biggest causes of e-waste, contributing to the total amount of waste generated in the country. According to recent estimates, imports account for nearly as much as what is produced in the country. Lack of stringent execution of environmental legislations, complex laws and legal frameworks, inadequate enforcement mechanisms, and insufficient awareness have all led to this issue (Turaga, Bhaskar, Sinha, Hinchcliffe, Hemkhaus, Arora, Chatterjee, Khetriwal, Radulovic, Singhal, Sharma 2019).
B. Discrepancies in Indian E-waste Policies
In India, criminal provisions within environmental laws around e-waste are weak and difficult to enforce.
To begin with, e-waste regulations only apply to producers, collection centers, dealers and consumers, without mention of the informal sector's recycling and dismantling of electronic garbage which accounts for 90% of all electronic waste recycled. The mandated take-back system for manufacturers under the 2011 legislation provided no incentives for producers to take responsibility and so resulted in little progress in e-waste management procedures (Turaga, Bhaskar, Sinha, Hinchcliffe, Hemkhaus, Arora, Chatterjee, Khetriwal, Radulovic, Singhal, Sharma 2019). A delayed justice delivery system, regulators' inadequate monitoring and enforcement capacity and a lack of comprehensive databases to establish infractions exacerbate the situation (Borthakur and Govind 2017).
C. Technological and Institutional Challenges
The lack of sufficient recycling infrastructure in India makes the take-back system difficult to enforce. India's recycling systems are still in the early stages of development and are inefficient at handling and processing massive volumes of waste instantaneously. Due to the small scale of operational and locational aspects of producers and users, it is not economically or physically feasible for each producer to establish an e-waste recycling unit individually or collectively, nor will it be feasible for them to establish collection centres individually or collectively (Borthakur and Govind 2017). There is a lack of accurate estimation of current trash volumes in India, making efficient enforcement of impossible. Additionally, efforts to train and strengthen the capacities of current employees for the efficient implementation of EPR have been insufficient, resulting in uncoordinated behavior in institutions (Nivedha and Sutha 2020).
D. The Informal Sector
Although the official dismantling and recycling industry is expanding (in terms of the number of facilities), the amount of garbage handled in this sector remains low. According to anecdotal information, most of these formal facilities are running significantly below their allowed capabilities due to a lack of waste sources. On the other hand, the informal sector is more appealing for consumers. But the sector's waste management techniques pose major environmental and health risks to workers and the public. The informal sector has an element of opacity connected with it, and the state's regulatory and supervision mechanisms are not equipped to deal with the issues posed by the informal sector (Chaturvedi, Arora and Ahmed 2010).
A. Improvements in the Current Policy Framework
There is a need for the government to rethink its policy and implementation. To begin with, the government must establish evidence-based realistic goals, such as tracking the amount of e-waste created as well as the recycling capability to treat it. An online portal can serve as a feasible replacement for increasing system openness and accountability, which can track waste creation and transportation.
Secondly, though the Indian central government’s E-waste Management Rules of 2016 emphasize provisions on waste creation, storage, transportation and disposal, they do adequately describe the model for collecting e-waste. Municipalities must take an active part in e-waste management to make it a more effective and accountable model, overseeing the collection of e-waste from households and storing it until it is collected and processed by the producer (Rode 2012).
There is also a requirement for India’s policy framework to emphasize indigenous technologies for adopting environmentally friendly e-waste management methods (Izugbara 2004). This implies that EPR policies must be multi-stakeholder in nature for effective solutions to emerge. A vital first step is to engage with informal sector workers to establish a shared understanding of their challenges and their innovative recommendations.
The government must develop clearly defined cross-sector stakeholder relationships. A platform that facilitates consultations among various stakeholders such as informal sector workers, NGOs working with the informal sector and third-party private entities such as PROs and registered manufacturers would accomplish this goal (Nelson, Dongjie, Mwamlima and Mwitalemi 2021). These can be established at the federal level under the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change, and at the state level under the State Departments of Environment.
The existing e-waste regulations require producers to provide information on the effects of e-waste, proper disposal techniques, and other issues on their websites. But they must also conduct awareness initiatives on a regular basis. Overall awareness among bulk consumers remains poor and producers must be required to run these awareness campaigns through grassroots organisations (Rode 2012). On the government's part, e-waste awareness initiatives should be integrated with other waste streams such as solid waste materials.
Additional policy instruments that embody the EPR principle for improving India’s current e-waste management system include the practice of mandatory take-back, which involves extending the producer's responsibilities into the post-consumer phase of a product's life cycle, standards around minimum recycled content which set a minimum quantity of recycled material per product as a goal, advance disposal fees (a fee charged to the customer or manufacturers and placed on certain items or product categories based on expected costs of collection and treatment procedures), removing subsidies for virgin materials, and incentivizing the procurement of environment-friendly items (Chandra 2020).
E-waste management is a great challenge for governments of many developing countries such as India. This is becoming a huge public health issue and is exponentially increasing in urgency. Given the magnitude of the problem, the EPR model being implemented in India has to be modified to meet the country's localised requirements. In the end, the sustained success of any e-waste management system in India hinges on our ability to resolve the challenges that are made evident in the above sections.
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