Towards Circularity: E-Waste: India
Next stop: India (2017-2018), where over 90 percent of India’s e-scrap enters the informal sector. In Seelampur and Mustafabad, India’s most concentrated centers of electronics dismantling and recycling on the outskirts of Delhi, an estimated 25,000 informal workers toil.
Though the informal sector has proven its ability to collect huge tonnages of material generated within India and around the world, it also has a dark side. Because unregistered outlets dominate the process, oversight and due diligence are rarely part of the picture. There is also no systematic tracking of where material goes as it changes hands. Lower-value material often ends up in crude processing sites that put workers and the environment at risk.
Increased media scrutiny has helped push Indian policymakers to try to formalize e-waste recycling. In 2016, an extended producer responsibility system went into effect, mandating electronics producers to help manage a nationwide e-scrap system.
That has all led to a unique e-scrap dichotomy. On one side is a well-established, if problematic, informal structure that brings reliable incomes to huge numbers of workers. On the other is a nascent formal sector that must meet lofty health and safety aspirations but which finds itself struggling to compete with unregistered players who can offer better prices and leverage market connections that often run back generations.
Can the two arms find a way to work together? India is trying to find out.
Excerpted from Informal but Integral, Escrap Sept 2017.