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e-Recycling efforts go to waste

By Ishita Russell in New Delhi
January 28, 2008 08:36 IST
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Lack of awareness, a cumbersome process of disposal for individuals and poor marketing of the concept have resulted in poor response to the electronic waste (e-waste) recycling programmes in India - both from individuals and companies.

Of the 330,000 tonnes of e-waste generated in India in 2007, only 19,000 tonnes was processed, reveals a study conducted by the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology.

The bulk of the e-waste was generated through disposing of televisions, and computers came second at 56,324 tonnes. However, only 12,000 tonnes of disposed computers were processed.

"There is a need for a larger number of recyclers across the country for which government support is required," said George Paul, executive vice-president, marketing, HCL Infosystems, adding: "If the number of recyclers increases they would also approach companies or promote this cause to expand their business."

IT solutions provider Wipro Infotech, too, is facing a similar response to its "e-waste disposal service".

A Wipro customer would be required to pay nominal logistics cost of about Rs 5 to Rs 7 per kg of packed material towards freight and logistics costs. This typically amounts to Rs 150 to Rs 170 for a typical computer system consisting of a base central processing unit, keyboard and monitor.

HCL Infosystems wing does not charge its customers, but they have to drop off the electrical item at a collection centre, which might not be a convenient option.

"The response has been disappointing, particularly from companies, considering the number of electronic items used by them. The end-user, too, has not been very responsive to the programme," rued Ashutosh Vaidya, VP (personal computing) of Wipro Infotech.

"There is an obvious lack of awareness among consumers in this regard. There are no monetary incentives to lure the Indian consumer. Besides, individuals find the process too cumbersome. They prefer to sell off the e-waste to a kabadiwala or a local PC seller, who would then refurbish or resell it," he pointed out.

Only two per cent of computers are sold to recycling companies, while 48 per cent are sold back to vendors or through exchange schemes.

Even multinational companies Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which run successful recycling campaigns across the globe, are yet to receive a positive response to their campaigns in India.

"Dell offers recycling programs that allow for the free return of all Dell branded products. The recycling programme was launched in India about a year back. Recycling used consumer electronics remains a challenge but Dell is committed to taking concrete steps to remove the barriers of cost and inconvenience for consumers," a company spokesperson commented.

HP's recycling programme is currently focused on two segments - the company's enterprise customers and its own personal productivity equipment.

HP also runs a company-wide product take-back programme called Plant Partners Program aimed at enterprise customers.

"The response from enterprise customers, though encouraging, does offer room for improvement. HP is actively exploring ways to increase awareness of PPP among its customers," said Bina Raj Debur, country communications manager, corporate marketing, HP India Sales Pvt Ltd.

The study by MAIT reveals that 94 per cent of the organisations studied did not have any policy of disposing of obsolete IT products/e-waste. The study further states that while a lot of business organisations were aware about e-waste, the depth of knowledge was lacking.

"The companies usually donate their obsolete computers, or they go into storage," said Vinnie Mehta, executive director, MAIT.

"Corporate firms are aware of recycling mechanisms, but there is a severe lack of recyclers in the country, which is the major reason for the slow response on the corporate side," he added.

The government is formulating guidelines to provide a broad framework and legal provisions for this cause, Mehta pointed out. The policy is expected to be out within the next two weeks.
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Ishita Russell in New Delhi
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