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Electronic Waste UPSC NOTE

Electronic Waste

  • Electronic waste or e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. 

  • It is also commonly known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) or end-of-life (EOL) electronics.

  • Used electronics which are destined for refurbishment, reuse, resale, salvage recycling through material recovery, or disposal are also considered e-waste. 

  • Informal processing of e-waste in developing countries can lead to adverse human health effects and environmental pollution. 

  • The growing consumption of electronic goods due to the digital revolution and innovations in science and technology, such as bitcoin, has led to a global e-waste problem and hazard. 

  • The rapid exponential increase of e-waste is due to frequent new model releases and unnecessary purchases of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), short innovation cycles and low recycling rates, and a drop in the average life span of computers.

  • Electronic scrap components, such as CPUs, contain potentially harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. 

Does India have e-waste management?

  • E-waste management is largely informal in India, as in the case of recycling. 

  • The informal sector is good at salvaging older devices for parts and profiting from repairs with them. 

  • The Union Government notified the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2022 last November in order to digitise the process and provide more visibility to the movement of e-waste in the economy. 

  • The level of e-waste may grow, too, as phones get cheaper and people use them more on the back of cheaper data plans. 

  • The informal sector relies on a number of tools and techniques to stay competitive. 

  • For instance, the report’s authors speak of ‘cannibalisation,’ a euphemism for repair shops buying whole devices and breaking them down to serve as spare parts for repair. As tariffs for finished products are sometimes lower than they are for parts, this works out in the repair shop’s favour.

Why is a circular economy important?

  • Demand for electronics is growing across all price segments, even as the production of these devices entails the use of scarce elements and high emissions. 

  • Instead of merely salvaging these parts, a circular economy seeks to bring them back into the electronics ecosystem. 

  • By 2019, China ensured that 5% of their secondary raw material went into manufacturing of new products. By 2030, they are targeting 35%.

How can e-waste be recycled?

  • The ICEA report suggests public-private partnerships to distribute the costs of setting up a sprawling “reverse supply chain”.

  • An expensive prospect that envisages collecting devices from users, wiping them clean of personal data, and passing them along for further processing and recycling. 

  • It also suggests launching an auditable database of materials collected through this process, and creating geographical clusters where these devices come together and are broken apart. 

  • A key recommendation is to incentivise so-called ‘high yield’ recycling centres. 

  • Facilities that recycle are generally not equipped to extract the full potential value of the products they handle, for instance extracting minute but precious amounts of rare earth metals in semiconductors. 

    • The IT Ministry launched a scheme April 2023 to cover 25% of the capital expenditure on such facilities.

  • Simply encouraging repair and making products last longer — perhaps by supporting a right to repair by users — is also a policy recommendation that may reduce the environmental burden of electronic waste.

Challenges

  • Beyond the large informal sector that is hard to track or hold to environmental norms, there are basic challenges. 

  • For instance, a whopping 200 million devices are estimated to be lying at consumers’ homes, who don’t hand them in for recycling after they stop using them. 

  • Many people are concerned about what may happen to the personal data on their devices if they hand them in for recycling.

  • Building recycling plants on a large scale also requires more than the initial capital costs.

  • Lack of materials. And the materials to stabilise these plants are scattered.

  • Making a circular economy out of e-waste is tempting, especially given the unpredictable supply chains for electronics components.

  • Extracting the full value of electronics is capital intensive, and will require better clustering of materials, and a viable business model. 

  • The challenge is to be able to replicate the success of the informal sector in a formalised and reliable way. 

 

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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Electronic Waste UPSC NOTE
Electronic Waste UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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