Collaborative efforts towards a formalised and sustainable e-waste recycling ecosystem

International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and Karo Sambhav, a tech-enabled and socially responsible e-waste Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), hosted a media sensitization workshop in order to facilitate an interactive discussion around the current and future scenario of e-waste in India. The objective was to create awareness around the severity of India’s mammoth e-waste problem for both, the well-being of its value chain partners as well as the larger environmental scenario.

In building a sustainable ecosystem that integrates the informal sector; different stakeholders with specific roles need to be integrated into the value chain. Some of them who addressed the media during the workshop included Upasana Choudhry, Sustainability Manager, HP; Ranjan Kumar Singh from Nidan (running socio-economic development programmes in Bihar); a few waste aggregators and waste pickers from Delhi, Bihar and Rajasthan.

Elaborating on the workshop, Ronojoy Sircar, Consultant, Advosiry Services, International Fincance Corporation said, “The 2016 E-Waste management Rules have given the E-Waste management sector an opportunity to not only develop a sustainable ecosystem but also create a formal market that will attract investment and grow employment. The current perception that E-Waste is solely a matter of compliance should evolve into an understanding that E-Waste, if managed strategically, is a resource rich waste stream capable of self-sustaining itself and generating value. The central challenge is lack of awareness. This workshop is an opportunity to build awareness and understanding among stakeholders”.

India is the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world.  As per the ASSOCHAM-cKinetics study released in 2016, India’s e-waste production is estimated to be 5.2 million tonnes per annum by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 30%. Only 1.5% of the e-waste generated in India gets recycled and over 95% of the e-waste collected is handled by the informal sector, using unsafe methods for recycling and dismantling. This leads to a wastage of natural resources, irreparable environmental damage and hazardous health implications due to toxicity from exposure through inhalation or build-up in the environment.

On the policy front, existing norms under the E-waste (Management) Rules 2016 that brought producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) were partially relaxed to give producers some more time to work towards building appropriate capacity for responsible e-waste recycling and hence facilitate market creation within a sustainable e-waste recycling ecosystem.

Upasana Choudhry, Sustainability Manager, HP India, said “Making products that improve people’s lives has been our driving purpose. Our long commitment to the responsible processing of used electronics has been driving transformation within the industry. We launched our industry-leading recycling program 25 years ago, much before any legislation or customer requirement kicked in. We published list of our global recycling vendor sites to promote transparency and progress social and environmental standards in the electronics industry supply chain. We believe collaborations with partners and governments to advance responsible recycling are crucial in delivering desired outcomes.”

The workshop highlighted the effectiveness of the PRO model and collaborative efforts undertaken in tandem with producers, NGOs, government bodies (centre and state), industry associations, bulk consumers, waste pickers and aggregators. This included a glimpse of the on-ground implementation of the programme and milestones achieved. The personal experience of the waste-aggregators vis-à-vis elevation in their socio-economic status was also highlighted.

Rahul Agarwal, Manager, Environmental Affairs & Sustainability, Lenovo India said, “In an increasingly environmentally conscious world, business-owners have an ethical and moral obligation towards promoting green practices and encouraging customers to do the same. E-waste management is one of the key areas which needs immediate attention, and we are happy to partner with Karo Sambhav to foster a sustainable ecosystem to support this cause. Lenovo continuously strives to exhibit leadership in environmental affairs in all of its business activities and provide long-term, innovative solutions to support our customers.”

The underlying goal of the workshop was to reiterate the importance of addressing key challenges in India’s e-waste management supply chain via concerted interventions and solutions by the government, media and community at large. In the long term, this requires facilitation of supportive and sustainable ecosystems that keep e-waste out of landfills, promote circular economy, develop responsible recycling infrastructure and standards, and integrate waste collectors into the formal system, among others.

Pranshu Singhal, Founder, Karo Sambhav said, “Karo Sambhav is a movement which is enabling stakeholders within the e-waste sector to become a part of a sustainable ecosystem. This movement has been made possible because producers like Apple, Dell, HP and Lenovo are willing to make investments in solving India's e-waste problem and believe in developing a grassroot ecosystem. Solutions are possible today more than ever- what is needed is for different stakeholders to work together and catalyze collaborative solutions."

IFC and Karo Sambhav have come together to develop a pan-India PRO solution for India’s e-waste industry, by engaging with schools and colleges, corporate and government offices, repair shops, waste pickers/ aggregators, and markets across India, to ensure optimal recovery of resources and develop responsible methods of e-waste management. Key areas of collaboration include awareness creation, capacity-building and knowledge transfer.