One fine Sunday morning, Poonam’s breakfast was spoilt when her 4-year-old pop-up toaster suddenly stopped working. Instead of getting it repaired, she and her husband decided to invest in a multi-utility appliance that not only offered perfectly toasted bread but could make waffles and grill sandwiches as well. The faulty toaster was disposed off with the kabadiwala (“scrap or junk dealer”). Just a few days back, Poonam’s neighbour had also upgraded her old semi-automatic washing machine with a fully-automatic washer with dryer that make the laundered clothes look pristine and ironed right out of the machine.
This is one of the trends that is being increasingly observed especially in urban areas where people are upgrading to new technology, better utility products that offer convenience, ease of use, and multi-tasking functions. What this is resulting in is a faster turnover of various types of electronics and electrical gadgets, leading to the growing problem of electronic or e-waste across the world.
Of the total e-waste recycled in India, more than 95% is done informally with unauthorised recyclers adopting crude and outdated waste management techniques that result in not only adversely affecting the health of the population but the environment as a whole. Therefore, there is a need for e-waste management to be considered not as a problem of the governments, manufacturers, and environmental agencies alone, but of each and every individual in the ecosystem.
While the government has made it mandatory to have a formal, well-structured e-waste management ecosystem, more organizations like RLG India need to step up and act as Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) to support them in this journey. Manufacturers need to take their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) seriously to make a notable difference.
E-waste management has to start at grassroots level and that requires bringing each and every customer on-board by spreading e-waste awareness. Once that happens, customers need to be actively involved in being equal contributors in establishing a formal, streamlined, e-waste recycling and disposal system in the country. Here, the need for incentivizing the customer arises.
Producers can adopt ‘Exchange and Take Back’ programmes, deposit refunds at the time of returning end-of-life products, highlighting the importance of these initiatives through their widespread retail networks, marketing and advertising activities and so on. So, in order to establish a cyclic e-waste management system wherein each stakeholder is responsible for its end of the deal, it is becoming increasingly clear that the buyer has to be brought into the fold of this network. What remains crucial here is that the producer – the one whose closest to the end- user understands the criticality of its role and carries out its responsibilities towards a greener and cleaner planet for us to live in.
On the same lines, the Vehicle Scrappage Policy is a welcome move within the auto industry. Something like this is the need of the hour to tackle the burgeoning environmental issue of e-waste and the simplest way to do this is to get the customers on board.