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The first company established to responsibly dispose of the e-waste generated by these companies, however, was established much later – in mid-2005 to 2007. E-waste (management and handling) rules were brought into force in May 2012. Extended Producer Responsibility Requirements and targets were introduced in 2017-2018.

Computers and laptops have collectively generated around 70.0% of e-waste in India this year, when the penetration of mobile phones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets is much higher than in the era of Nokia’s earliest phones.

The amount of India’s e-waste that has gone into the country’s landfills when computers and laptops dominated all communication, before e-waste management became an environmental concern, and a necessity, is best left to one’s imagination.

The arduous journey undertaken by pioneers in the Indian e-waste management industry, and policymakers, to encourage the responsible disposal and recycling of e-waste over the last two decades, has resulted in a high-growth e-waste management industry today.

The sector has been evolving and transforming by leaps and bounds, ready to handle the growing volumes of e-waste – estimated to reach at least 11.5 million metric tons in 2025 – propelled by the proliferation of connected devices and an app-driven world. India has 400 registered e-waste recyclers with an installed capacity of recycling 1.07 million tons per annum (up by 36.6% from 2019) as of March 2021. India’s largest e-waste recycling facility has a capacity of handling 96,000 tons per annum and holds five ISO certifications for recycling – the only company in Asia to hold all five ISO certifications.

Such scale of growth would have been impossible without the awareness creation programmes inspiring responsible waste disposal behaviour in consumers, and the innovative strategies adopted by early market entrants to build the waste collection network.

Incentivising the formal waste recycling processes, in addition, prevented informal recyclers from engaging in hazardous and potentially life-threatening e-waste recycling processes. The Indian e-waste management industry has thus been able to achieve several objectives that benefit society and the environment, by the collective efforts of the industry participants in the short span of a little over a decade and a half.

The growth of the Indian e-waste management industry has been phenomenal and some key initiatives are suggested below for the benefit of stakeholders in the industry:

  1. Reward responsible e-waste disposal: While there is heightened consumer awareness with respect to waste disposal in general and e-waste disposal, in particular, thanks to the foundation laid by several e-waste companies, NGOs, and policymakers, rewarding responsible e-waste disposal will significantly improve the amount of e-waste brought into the formal recycling sector. For instance, Asus has recently announced collection of e-waste from your doorstep at no cost to consumers – it rewards the intent to be responsible and the e-waste producers’ effort of scheduling a pick-up. It has also announced a social media contest that rewards participants who post pictures taken during their responsible disposal of e-waste. Some organisations offer vouchers to reward responsible disposal that can be redeemed for electronic purchases in their stores. Professionalising the e-waste management workforce will be a reward in itself. The collective benefit to the society and the industry is multiplied with appropriate rewards.
  2. Expand collection network: This could be through installing e-waste bins at strategic places to maximise collection rate, or partnering with plastic waste management companies that have built an extensive network, that e-waste management companies can capitalise on. E-waste bins in shopping centres are common in other geographies and this can be adopted in India, too.
  3. Expand your service portfolio:  Given the huge market potential, recyclers have the opportunity to transition from mere collection and recovery to offering a widened service portfolio to include refurbishment and secure data wiping. Cross-industry opportunities exist in Solar PV panel waste management, and while still at least a decade away, there is huge future potential in the electric vehicle market for e-waste management companies. Expansion can happen from plastic waste to e-waste or vice versa.

Immense potential for growth is guaranteed in the Indian e-waste management market, and with strategic investments, and the right partnerships, Indian e-waste management companies seem to be well-positioned to ride the wave of accelerated growth while simultaneously supporting India’s environmental safety and decarbonisation initiatives.

For a detailed report on Growth Opportunities in e-waste management, click here.

Jonathan Robinson,

Jonathan Robinson, Global Energy Program Lead, Frost & Sullivan’s Industrial Practice

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