What Does India’s E-Waste Law Mean?

May 17th, 2011


In 2009, SVTC traveled to India to work with Chintan, a group in Delhi working on the electronic waste (e-waste) issue. Together we produced the film, Citizens at Risk . In the following blog series we will be updating you on the progress of the work to work with informal recyclers to improve working conditions and legalize their operations. Below is a blog authored by Bharati Chaturvedi, Executive Director, of Chintan and Sheila Davis, Executive Director of SVTC.

India has seen a dramatic change in laws for handling e-waste in India. As India grows, more e-waste is generated, not to mention the e-waste that is dumped there from the West. In India there isn’t a safe e-waste recycling infrastructure to handle the nation’s waste.

One of the challenges in India is the unique role of the informal sector. The informal sector is compromised of people (men, women and children) who collect, refurbish, dismantle and even recycle the metals found in e-waste.

For us in the U.S. it might be hard to relate to the term informal sector – you might think of individuals you see pulling recycling out of trash cans. These individuals are providing the service of recycling and at the same time will reap some small financial benefit for the work.

In India, the informal sector recyclers are unregistered entrepreneurs who see e-waste as a new form of livelihood in a changing society. In fact, they are the ones who handle over 95% of all e-waste generated in India today. A recent study suggests that Delhi is the site of work for 25,000 workers in the industry. In all, they handle 10,000-20,000 tons of e-waste annually. This waste is recycled by some of the poorest people in Delhi.

The problem is, a lot of the work, particularly at the metal extraction, is highly polluting and harmful to workers (see video documentary Citizens at Risk).

In 2010 Indian lawmakers passed an e-waste policy that included Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR means that the brand owners such as Apple, Dell and Hewlett Packard will be required to take financial responsibility for recycling their products.

This is incredible news! No similar law exists in the U.S. on a federal level. It is an important milestone that India is trying to get a handle on this issue and make sure the manufacturers are held responsible.

The Indian EPR law also requires electronic manufacturers partner with Indian recyclers, including the informal sector, in setting up collection centers. This is the first time in Indian history the informal sector participation was written into the law.

This means that informal sector recyclers who establish a legally recognized association and/or cooperatives will have an opportunity to participate in collection, refurbishing and dismantling of ewaste. Just a few years ago, Indian lawmakers would have ignored the informal sectors role in recycling. But widespread advocacy about the relevance of the informal sector by civil society groups, such as Chintan and echoed by groups such as SVTC, has changed this.

In the last two years, Chintan has worked with several informal e-waste dismantlers from East Delhi to set up an association, called 4R. Several of these recyclers were featured in our video documentary Citizens at Risk.

In future blogs we will inform you of the progress of the 4R Association well as update you on some of the individuals featured in Citizens at Risk.