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Waking up to e-waste

India - What if you were to wake up one day being surrounded by obsolescent electronic gadgets? Nightmarish! This horror might soon become reality if India doesn't dismantle the e-waste tangle. The silver lining is that the IT sector, a guilty party with 30% of India's e-waste to its discredit, is connecting to the eco-friendly network by adopting a fool-proof recycling programme.

 

From managing their own waste to take-back programmes of their products, many IT players are plugging into the green sockets. HP and Wipro have been pioneers in e-waste management. HP's recycling plan - Planet Partners Program (PPP) - offers to take back end-of-life HP and non-HP computing equipment from commercial customers to recycle them in an environmentally responsible manner. Soon they plan to replicate their dropoff point model, where customers can deposit their endof-life supplies - now available only for printing consumables - to reach customers directly. "HP exceeded its goal to recycle 450,000 metric tonnes of electronic products by 2007-end," said P Ravindranath, director, public affairs, HP India.

 

Not lagging behind are Cisco, Sun Microsystems, SAP Labs, TCS and KPIT Cummins Infosystems. Cisco has a Surplus Product Utilisation and Reclamation (SPUR) programme that manages e-waste to reduce disposal. Sun Microsystems too is stepping up e-waste disposal. "The EU's directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment says not more than 35% of a company's products should go in landfill (e-waste dumps). In Sun, less than 5% enters," said AL Jagannath, GM, marketing, Sun Microsystems India. SAP Labs India disposed of 300 computers in 2007 and 600 computers and 400 CRT monitors in 2008 through Bangalore-based authorised recycling company e-Parisaraa.

 

Nevertheless, lack of government rules coupled with low consumer awareness, absence of cost-effective methods for e-waste recycling, industry indifference to extended producer responsibility (EPR) practices and fast computer obsolesence make e-waste recycling a longdrawn battle. "EPR makes it the responsibility of IT companies to take back products after the end of their life. This is not legally binding in India. Thus, MNCs make us the dumpyard for their e-waste in the name of charity. It is only in 2008, that the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) placed e-waste under the Hazardous Waste Rules. Issues like the huge number of unorganised scrap dealers remain untouched," said Sudhir Syal, principal investigator of MoEF's project on ‘Impact assessment and bioleaching of e-waste' and senior lecturer, Jaypee University of Information Technology, Solan. Kush Desai, MD, SAP Labs India, said: "The e-waste situation can be addressed by creating awareness and educating organisations. We welcome a clear government policy on this."

 

With technological change becoming rapid, electronic products tend to have short life. They need to be replaced or upgraded. Today, users are opting for replacements. Bina Raj Debur, director, corporate marketing, HP India, said: "A huge challenge we face is the quantum of hardware customers are willing to give back for recycling. Customers prefer to exchange their used equipment for new ones with resellers and this finds its way into unorganised recycling post re-use."

 

"The disposal of consumer electronics by individuals where they are either given to scrap collectors or thrown into dustbins with no e-waste regulation is a challenge," adds Mandar Marulkar, head (IT) and chief information security officer, KPIT Cummins Infosystems. "The issue is lack of awareness. The green consumer is yet to take off. Few know that cadmium and mercury (major e-waste components) related diseases are on the rise," said a Wipro employee. "Green purchase - where consumers buy laptops only from companies with a take-back policy should become a trend. This will force the not-so-green companies to follow suit. It will also give a boost to IT R&D to find some means to upgrade rather than replace," adds Sudhir. TCS is setting an example of green purchase. They procure computers and hardware from United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) who are ready to take back e-waste. "We educate associates to ensure green practices are part of our culture. We also have a green procurement policy," said Pratik D Deshpande, head of health safety environment, TCS.

 

HP is working towards recovering about 1 billion pounds for reuse and recycling by 2010-end. The minerals procured can be an added advantage if they are collected by eco-friendly means like bio-leaching (use of microorganisms for the recovery of metals from finely grained e-waste). "Bio-leaching is done only on a small scale. There is a need for commercialisation of this technology on a large scale for safe handling and recovery of precious metals," said Sudhir. Corporates may have to work closely with partners, customers, government and industry bodies to address the mounting e-waste crisis.

 

Source: Vanisha Joseph, The Economic Times

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