E-waste: The circular economy will cure many ills

By Ajai Chowdhry

The circular economy offers the right alternative to the current linear take-do-dispose economy. It replaces the concept of end of life with restoration and regeneration and moves towards superior design of electronic products to enable longer product life. The need for a sustainable ecosystem was highlighted by India at COP21 when signing the Paris Agreement in 2015, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasizing the circular economy mission. last year.

I believe circular economy action plans are being developed for 11 waste categories by the Niti Aayog. For electronics, this is all electronic waste from electronic products, lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, etc. India is the third largest producer of electronic waste after China and the United States. More than 95% of this waste is treated by the informal sector. According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board, in 2019-20 India generated 1,014,961.2 tonnes of e-waste from 21 types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). The electronic waste stream contains various materials, including hazardous substances such as lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, etc. and valuable substances such as iron, steel, copper, aluminum and plastics. These require special handling and cannot be dumped in landfills.

Although most electronics manufacturers promise long-lasting products and mention “wear-resistant”, you are expected to replace them periodically, instead of opting for upgrades which could lengthen the cycle. life of the product. These frequent and unnecessary buybacks create e-waste and limit affordability. Most companies work on the concept of forced obsolescence. This can be implemented in several ways. For example, if you are using the latest software version, an Apple phone slows down. Europe fined Apple 25 million euros for this. Printers have chips that prevent ink cartridges from being used after a certain threshold of use.

Therefore, there is a huge “right to repair” movement taking place all over the world. The basis for such a move is that in the absence of competition, manufacturers charge excessive costs for repairs or third-party alternatives. Governments around the world are creating laws to this effect. In November 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution requiring certain products like televisions to be repaired free of charge for a certain period of time. This is deeply linked to the environmental impact of e-waste and also aligned with EU policy objectives to create a sustainable market for clean and competitive technologies. However, this does not take into account “tricks of the trade” like planned obsolescence and the “void warranty” strategy.

There is an urgent need for a “right to repair” policy in India. I believe MeitY is reviewing it but it needs to be prioritized and introduced urgently. In a country like ours, there is absolutely no need for planned obsolescence. And extending the life of electronic products is essential for the circular economy. For a country like India, the “right to repair” would mean lower cost of ownership and the creation of huge job opportunities by having millions of small repair shops.

Jaideep Prabhu of the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge thinks India can lead the way to a circular economy. According to him, India has developed three pillars of circularity – resource sharing, self-made goods and reuse – recycling. India has a philosophical tradition of being able to live well without excessive possessions. He can offer this worldview to the world.

The writer is co-founder, HCL

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