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Towards Circular Economy in E-Waste: Legal Path

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Electronic waste in short can be termed as E-Waste, nowadays found mainly in electric and electronic equipment. The circular economy is the main point of discussion globally. Globally this circular economy is being popularized and the main purpose of this is to curb pollution all over. The main theme of this circular economy can be summarised into 3R’s: “Reuse, Repair and Recycle” as much as possible. 

Electronic devices, Mobile phones, other networks which are being generated with the help of solar panels and other related products together can be put forth which help in bringing up new development processes. The concept of a circular economy acts as a valuable asset that helps in facilitating quality education, trade, commerce, health care services, and other challenges which are to be faced due to changes in climatic factors. While generating this due process, extraction of the resources plays a vital role. Resources such as iron, copper, gold, zinc, etc. are involved in the composition of electronic products during their production, transportation, and other retail sales. In the due course of eliminating these extractions, it increases the pollutants which are being released into the environment. As per the latest data, nearly half-billion tons of e-waste are let out into the environment. As per the reports drafted by the UN within the next 5years, the E-waste generation would be increased by 74million tons. The same amount of waste can be used to build a commercial aircraft. As per the same reports, only 17.4% of E-waste throughout the globe is being gathered and recycled. 


Waste collected from electronic devices and electric equipment includes a lot of instruments such as computers, mobile phones, television, etc… All the waste accumulated from these instruments includes a wide range of materials mixed together. Some of these mixtures do cause major environmental and other health issues, if not disposed of properly. It is to be noted that these materials can be reused and recycled if it is managed efficiently. 

With the same purview, the EU has introduced the “WEEE Directive” and “RoHS Directive” to tackle the issue of growing E-waste from modern equipment. Along with this, a new project called “Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO)” The producers have set a target for themselves,i.e 20% of the e-waste has to be recycled and should be sold. The same percentage will keep on growing by 10% in the coming 5 years. 

Concept of Circular Economy in India:

E-Waste is calculated in the terms of “Compound Annual Growth Rate (CARG)” which is about 30% as of now in the country. In India, ASSOCHAM is the leading trade association. This association has recently estimated that 1.8MT per annum in the year 2016 would reach 5.2MT per annum by the year 2020. With the help of this trade association, India has now registered 178 E-Waste recyclers, but it is to be noted that the waste isn’t being recycled well. 

6 insights that are enacted as principles in India in relation to the Circular economy:

  1.     The development of a Circular Economy would create an annual income of 14lakh crore by the year 2030, and 40lakh crore by the year 2050. 
  2.     Development in the concept of a Circular economy could also help in achieving profits in business. 
  3.     Development on Circular Economy would also reduce loss related to environmental externalities. 
  4.     Circular Economy would initiate the process of 3R’s i.e. Reuse, Repair, and Recycle. This would lower the cost of products and services, in turn, would reduce pollution as well. 
  5.     A circular Economy could enhance India’s position in the field of technology and innovation. 
  6.     Venturing into the Circular Economy helps countries like India to achieve a high growth rate in economies of market. 

Recent developments in Circular Economy – Long term prosperity in India:

Recently there are certain initiatives taken by our Indian government which include “vehicle-sharing schemes”, “investing in renewable energy”. India is amounting to rapid change. India is now on the verge of emerging itself as a powerhouse which in turn connects supply chains in global markets. The new developing circular economy model is ramping towards the development of a strong framework that would work in the fields related to innovation, policies, and education. 

Key policies adopted by India to boost up the process of Circular Economy:

  1. Resource-efficient Mining practices: Enhancement of resource efficiency in this sector would mean improved mining practices leading to minimal wastage, beneficiation, better transportation, as well as fewer environmental and social conflicts. Policies established under this head include:
  •  National mineral policy (2008)
  • Sustainable development for Mining sector (2011)
  • MMRD Act (2016)
  1. Resource efficiency methods in the manufacturing sector: Over the last few decades, the Indian manufacturing sector has played a key role in the development of the economic sector. The new schemes such as “Make in India”, “Skill India”, “Startup India” etc.. played a crucial role in modifying the manufacturing sector. Policies listed under this head include:
  • National Manufacturing policy (2011)
  • Manufacturing competitiveness program (2014)
  • Financial support to MSME’s (2017)
  1. Efficiency in terms of Consumption Phase: Material resources to be used at the consumption phase acts as a key factor in terms of savings. The following are the policies developed and modified by the government in recent times to initiate sustainable consumption and production. 
  • Biofuel program (2009)
  • Perform, Achieve and Trade Scheme (PAT) (2012)
  • Auto fuel mission plan (2015)
  1.   Efficient disposal of Waste / 3R’s: The schemes introduced under this head followed the concept of 3R’s: “Reuse, Repair and Recycle”. These 3 R’s would ensure efficient disposal of the waste being generated from sustainable consumption and production. 
  • Fly Ash Utilization Policy (1999)
  • Solid Waste Disposal and Management Rules (2016)
  • E-Waste and Plastic Waste Management rules (2016)
  • Reduction of GST on waste products (2017)

How would a Circular economy look like in India:

  • As of now, India represents 2/3rd of the population being situated in Urban areas and the rest in rural areas. In both areas, India is now critically focusing to meet the basic demands of the people such as food, shelter, and resource mobility. The Agri sector and Manufacturing sector are the largest sources of employment in India amounting to 60% of employment generation. These two sectors are also prominent in consuming larger amounts of raw materials as well. 
  • To know the impact of a Circular economy, India has analyzed and interpreted two different scenarios i.e. 2030 and 2050. 2030 would mainly focus upon the current development path, whereas 2050 is mainly planning to have deep-rooted discussions about the circular development path. “Both scenarios take into account projected increases in population, urbanization, and income and the associated growing needs for housing, food, and mobility”. 
  • The “Current Development Path” focuses on the desirable trends and technological innovations. The main agenda of this path is to cut down the costs and increase convenience to the people.
  • The “Circular Development Path” approaches a system-based rule that would take the full benefit arising out of circular economic opportunities and hence leverage the available as well as emerging technologies. 

Advantages of Circular Economy: 

  1.  Benefits for Business Environment: By introducing the concept of Circular Economy, businesses can develop new ideas and also explore new working techniques specifically in the digital world. India can turn into an innovation hub which could help the businesses in drafting these new ideas and capture new profit opportunities. Also, this concept would gradually lower the costs of purchasing raw materials. It is estimated that the costs would be lowered by 39% and by 62% by the years 2030, 2050 respectively. Development of Circular Economy can also help in making more productive use of material inputs, this would, in turn, increase economic activities which boost the whole economic growth. 
  2. Benefits for the Environment: As stated above Circular economy would reduce the usage of material inputs and other harmful raw materials which would directly reduce the emissions of GHG by 23% and 50% in the years 2030, 2050 respectively. Overall, it is estimated that from the years 2030-2050 almost 436 tonnes to 1040 tonnes of GHG and other methane-related emissions into the environment would be reduced. Also due to continuous usage of land for Agri activities, the soil would be degraded and hence lead to the problem of soil erosion making the land unfit for any further activity. Applying circular economy principles to the food and agriculture sector would increase land productivity, decrease waste in the food value chain, and return nutrients to the soil. At the same time, there would also be a reduction in usage of water, both in urban as well as in rural areas. 
  3. Benefits for Individuals living in the society: It is expected that the costs related to products and services would be cut down by 30% within the year 2050. It is also stated that the costs related to households would be lowered by 24% and 50% in the years 2030 and 2050 respectively. Lower costs in the food system would also help India implement the National Food Security Mission. Lower costs for housing would support the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Housing for All) initiative. The impact created by the Circular economy would also work towards the reduction of congestion, pollution, and ill-health. Development in the Circular economy would generate zero-emission vehicles and regenerating farming techniques which would eliminate failure of crops and soil erosion. 

International laws related to E-Waste and Circular Economy:

National E-Waste policies and regulations play a vital role since they have defined the standards which would govern shareholders who are in relation with public and private spheres. It is equally to raise awareness of the proposed E-Waste concept and ensure that stakeholders are complying with their obligations, as well as setting up IT systems to receive and process the data. Also, it is to be noted that every country has different types of E-wastes, which are considerably different. This develops the problem of coordinating and recycling the waste accordingly. Furthermore, strategies that are present as of now ought to add to the improvement of round economy models through approach estimates that don’t just support assortment and reusing. Concrete activities are expected to alter the bearing of strategy measures towards reusing, repairing, and remanufacturing the finish of life of EEE. Likewise, arrangements should point towards both a more proficient utilization of assets to improve the creation measures and to the recuperation of important materials joined in EEE.

The policies which are framed currently refer to the principle termed as “Extend Producer Responsibility”. Three main principles are laid down under this EPR: 

  1.     Manufacturers shall be insisted to improve the environmental design which will, in turn, increase the supply of the products manufactured. 
  2.     It is to be noted that products manufactured may achieve a high utilization rate. 
  3.     Materials should be effectively preserved, collected accordingly, reuse, repair, and then recycle. 

Under an EPR principle, responsibility can be assigned either individually, where producers are responsible for their products, or collectively, where producers in the same product type or category fulfill the responsibility for EoL management together. A system as close as possible to Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) can more easily stimulate the improvements in the design phase because the producer is interested in the benefits obtained by the improved design. Developing countries, a major hurdle to the producer adopting responsibility, results from the lack of treatment facilities (TF) that are compliant with international standards and a lack of collection infrastructure that channels e-waste to these sites. This can be addressed by harnessing the government.

Challenges in Implementation of Strategies related to Circular Economy:

  • As we discussed above there are many strategies, and many international approaches are not only being discussed but also launched by them for its effective implementation. But are these strategies being implemented effectively? How well are these strategies implemented and built up accordingly? The core idea is to reduce waste. In certain sectors such as the manufacturing sector, the goods are manufactured using different types of raw materials, at this point, it becomes tedious to lower the limit of the raw materials used. For example, recycling paper is limited only in certain centers also, reusing mercury and other specific metals might also reach an endpoint since recycling them is difficult.
  • Also, it is strongly believed that in terms of environmental sustainability, the strategies formulated for the development of the circular economy lack a proper wide description of the social dimension of sustainability. For example fulfillment of human demands and territorial implications. Moreover, people’s basic needs at a global level may still be further undermined by abuses of power, unhealthy or unfair labor and living conditions, or disrespect of human rights. As such, the circular economy framework does not necessarily fulfill all the dimensions of sustainability.
  • At present, the Circular economy didn’t provide any specifications in favor of the actions which are to be implemented nor any guidelines on how to implement this concept since every country has different issues related to E-Waste and each has to be dealt with accordingly. Due to the difference in Markets and products sold, it becomes difficult to implement the concept of a circular economy. There is not yet an internationally recognized standardization with regards to circularity performance.
  • Apart from all these issues faced during the implementation of the circular economy, the basic crux of this principle does offer a lot of promises to society. First, it allows reconciling environmental stewardship with business concerns, stating that value creation can still be achieved within strong planetary boundaries.
  • The circular economy brings clear business opportunities making it much more attractive than the concept of sustainable development, a notion often criticized for lacking balance between environmental and economic objectives. As the notion still bears weaknesses, it makes it worth studying from an academic perspective as well as in practical terms,  to understand how at the practical level, the notions and principles of circular economy can effectively be implemented in current business practices.


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