Homegrown Recyclers Rule the Roost in India

by Muntazir Abbas    Aug 07, 2009

Ninety-five percent of the waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is managed by the unorganized sector in India, says German Technology Cooperation (GTZ). India is one of the pioneers of recycling of e-waste, and it has become a business as a lot of value is attached to it, said J Bischoff, director of GTZ-ASEM.

India, China and Bangladesh are fast emerging as dumping grounds of e-waste for the developed nations. As 95 percent of the waste from the electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is managed by the unorganized sector, the subject has apparently been put on the back burner until a recent wake-up call by the German Technology Cooperation (GTZ).  
E-waste has become a lucrative downstream business in India, said Bischoff. The dealers who act as middlemen procure WEEE products from rag-pickers and scrap vendors who have access to the lanes and bylanes of towns and cities. These middlemen sell waste to backyard recyclers in the unorganised sector for the recovery of valuable materials. These recyclers then resell the recovered material to the vast domestic market. In addition, some leechers treat high-grade materials, including gold and copper extracted from IT chips, mobile phones and PCBs.

According to a recent report, The Management of WEEE in India, by Greenpeace, the vendors and workers are locked in a one-way dependent relationship with so-called waste mafias in the chain. Basel Action Network (BAN), Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) and Toxics Link have revealed that these backyard homegrown recycling industries are working with the most primitive processes.

Speaking to CXOtoday, Rajesh S Kurup, director (group business) of eTech, IMRB International, said that 95 percent of the recycling was being carried out by the unorganized sector using crude processes, which are harmful to the environment and human health. In fact, most of the formal recyclers are also in their initial stages if a parallel is drawn with their Western counterparts, said Kurup.

The major unorganized recycling facilities have presence in Shastri Park, Seelampur, Mandoli and Mayapuri in Delhi; Kurla, Malad, Kamthipura, Jogeshwari and Saki Naka in Mumbai; Howrah, Chandni Chowk, Raja Bazar and Phool Bagh in Kolkata; and New Moore Market and Urapakkam in Chennai. The groups in this sector lack viable working model, and are sometimes vulnerable to local political changes.

With the absence of legislation, there is no monitoring and enforcement for recovery and recycling procedures involved in India. The informal sector has a widespread and active network, which is quite extensive and operates through various links to source material, said Ashish Chaturvedi, technical manager at GTZ.

It has some implications that include environmentally-harmful processing, adherence to minimum wages and child labour as well as conflicts among groups for e-waste procurement, he added. According to Chaturvedi, no long-term health studies are done, and this section is exposed to physical injuries, skin diseases, eye irritation and asthma due to open burning of wires, and lead and mercury fumes.

Given their widespread role, any working model for e-waste management requires integration of the informal sector, added Chaturvedi. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are among the top e-waste generating states in the country.

The WEEE is expected to grow 8 lakh tones by 2012 in India. Ironically, the formal sector handles only 5 percent of the total e-waste in India through nearly 15 recycling facilities, including in Noida, Manesar and Roorkee.