| Last Updated:: 29/09/2015



         Electronic waste or e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal are also considered as e-waste. Informal processing of electronic waste in developing countries may cause serious health and pollution problems, as these countries have limited regulatory oversight of e-waste processing. Electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. Even in developed countries recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaking of materials such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes

"Electronic waste" may be defined as discarded computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, television sets, and refrigerators. This includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. Others are re-usables (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be "commodities", and reserve the term "waste" for residue or material which is dumped by the buyer rather than recycled, including residue from reuse and recycling operations. Because loads of surplus electronics are frequently commingled (good, recyclable, and non-recyclable), several public policy advocates apply the term "e-waste" broadly to all surplus electronics. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are considered one of the hardest types to recycle. CRTs have relatively high concentration of lead and phosphors (not to be confused with phosphorus), both of which are necessary for the display. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes discarded CRT monitors in its category of "hazardous household waste" but considers CRTs that have been set aside for testing to be commodities if they are not discarded, speculatively accumulated, or left unprotected from weather and other damage. The EU and its member states operate a system via the European Waste Catalogue (EWC)- a European Council Directive, which is interpreted into "member state law". In the UK (an EU member state). This is in the form of the List of Wastes Directive. However, the list (and EWC) gives broad definition (EWC Code 16 02 13*) of Hazardous Electronic wastes, requiring "waste operators" to employ the Hazardous Waste Regulations (Annex 1A, Annex 1B) for refined definition. Constituent materials in the waste also require assessment via the combination of Annex II and Annex III, again allowing operators to further determine whether a waste is hazardous. Debate continues over the distinction between "commodity" and "waste" electronics definitions. Some exporters are accused of deliberately leaving difficult-to-recycle, obsolete, or non-repairable equipment mixed in loads of working equipment (though this may also come through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes). Protectionists may broaden the definition of "waste" electronics in order to protect domestic markets from working secondary equipment. The high value of the computer recycling subset of electronic waste (working and reusable laptops, desktops, and components like RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for a larger number of worthless pieces than can be achieved with display devices, which have less (or negative) scrap value. In A 2011 report, "Ghana E-Waste Country Assessment", found that of 215,000 tons of electronics imported to Ghana, 30% were brand new and 70% were used. Of the used product, the study concluded that 15% was not reused and was scrapped or discarded. This contrasts with published but uncredited claims that 80% of the imports into Ghana were being burned in primitive conditions.


Types of e-waste-

e-waste types

Effects on Environment and Human Health-

Disposal of e-wastes is a particular problem faced in many regions across the globe. Computer wastes that are landfilled produces contaminated leachates which eventually pollute the groundwater. Acids and sludge obtained from melting computer chips, if disposed on the ground causes acidification of soil. For example, Guiyu, Hong Kong a thriving area of illegal e-waste recycling is facing acute water shortages due to the contamination of water resources. This is due to disposal of recycling wastes such as acids, sludges etc. in rivers. Now water is being transported from faraway towns to cater to the demands of the population. Incineration of e-wastes can emit toxic fumes and gases, thereby polluting the surrounding air. Improperly monitored landfills can cause environmental hazards. Mercury will leach when certain electronic devices, such as circuit breakers are destroyed. The same is true for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from condensers. When brominated flame retardant plastic or cadmium containing plastics are landfilled, both polybrominated dlphenyl ethers (PBDE) and cadmium may leach into the soil and groundwater. It has been found that significant amounts of lead ion are dissolved from broken lead containing glass, such as the cone glass of cathode ray tubes, gets mixed with acid waters and are a common occurrence in landfills. Not only does the leaching of mercury poses specific problems, the vaporization of metallic mercury and dimethylene mercury, both part of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is also of concern. In addition, uncontrolled fires may arise at landfills and this could be a frequent occurrence in many countries. When exposed to fire, metals and other chemical substances, such as the extremely toxic dioxins and furans (TCDD tetrachloro dibenzo-dioxin, PCDDs-polychlorinated dibenzo­dioxins. PBDDs-polybrominated dibenzo-dioxin and PCDFs­poly chlorinated dibenzo furans) from halogenated flame retardant products and PCB containing condensers can be emitted. The most dangerous form of burning e-waste is the open-air burning of plastics in order to recover copper and other metals. The toxic fall-out from open air burning affects both the local environment and broader global air currents, depositing highly toxic by products in many places throughout the world. Table I summarizes the health effects of certain constituents in e-wastes. If these electronic items are discarded with other household garbage, the toxics pose a threat to both health and vital components of the ecosystem. In view of the ill-effects of hazardous wastes to both environment and health, several countries exhorted the need for a global agreement to address the problems and challenges posed by hazardous waste. Also, in the late 1980s, a tightening of environmental regulations in industrialized countries led to a dramatic rise in the cost of hazardous waste disposal. Searching for cheaper ways to get rid of the wastes, "toxic traders" began shipping hazardous waste to developing countries. International outrage following these irresponsible activities led to the drafting and adoption of strategic plans and regulations at the Basel Convention. The Convention secretariat, in Geneva, Switzerland, facilitates and implementation of the Convention and related agreements. It also provides assistance and guidelines on legal and technical issues, gathers statistical data, and conducts training on the proper management of hazardous waste.

Basel Convention-

The fundamental aims of the Basel Convention are the control and reduction of transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes including the prevention and minimization of their generation, the environmentally sound management of such wastes and the active promotion of the transfer and use of technologies.
A Draft Strategic Plan has been proposed for the implementation of the Basel Convention. The Draft Strategic Plan takes into account existing regional plans, programmes or strategies, the decisions of the Conference of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies, ongoing project activities and process of international environmental governance and sustainable development. The Draft requires action at all levels of society: training, information, communication, methodological tools, capacity building with financial support, transfer of know-how, knowledge and sound, proven cleaner technologies and processes to assist in the concrete implementation of the Basel Declaration. It also calls for the effective involvement and coordination by all concerned stakeholders as essential for achieving the aims of the Basel Declaration within the approach of common but differentiated responsibility.

Table I: Effects of E-Waste constituent on health

Source of e-wastes


Health effects

Solder in printed circuit boards, glass panels and gaskets in computer monitors

Lead (PB)

  • Damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems and kidney damage.
  • Affects brain development of children.

Chip resistors and semiconductors

Cadmium (CD)

  • Toxic irreversible effects on human health.
  • Accumulates in kidney and liver.
  • Causes neural damage.
  • Teratogenic.

Relays and switches, printed circuit boards

Mercury (Hg)

  • Chronic damage to the brain.
  • Respiratory and skin disorders due to bioaccumulation in fishes.

Corrosion protection of untreated and galvanized steel plates, decorator or hardner for steel housings

Hexavalent chromium (Cr) VI

  • Asthmatic bronchitis.
  • DNA damage.

Cabling and computer housing

Plastics including PVC

Burning produces dioxin. It causes

  • Reproductive and developmental problems;
  • Immune system damage;
  • Interfere with regulatory hormones

Plastic housing of electronic equipments and circuit boards.

Brominated flame retardants (BFR)

  • Disrupts endocrine system functions

Front panel of CRTs

Barium (Ba)

Short term exposure causes:

  • Muscle weakness;
  • Damage to heart, liver and spleen.


Beryllium (Be)

  • Carcinogenic (lung cancer)
  • Inhalation of fumes and dust. Causes chronic beryllium disease or beryllicosis.
  • Skin diseases such as warts.


Responsibilities of consumer or bulk consumer-

1.Consumers of electrical and electronic equipment shall ensure that e-waste are deposited with the dealer or authorized collection centers.
2.Bulk consumers of electrical and electronic equipment shall ensure that e-waste are auctioned to or deposited with the dealer or authorized collection centers or refurbisher or registered dismantler or recyclers or avail the pick-up or take back services provided by the producers.
3.Bulk consumers shall file annual returns in Form 3, to the concerned State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee on or before the 30th day of June following to the financial year to which that return relates.
4.Every producer(s), dealer(s), collection centre(s), refurbisher(s), dismantler(s), recycler(s), auctioneer(s) consumer(s) or bulk consumer(s) shall not import used electrical and electronic equipment in India for use.

Responsibilities of the producer-

1.Collection of e-waste generated during the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment and channelizing the same for recycling or disposal.
2.Collection of e-waste generated from the 'end of life' of their products in line with the principle of 'Extended Producer Responsibility' (EPR), and to ensure that such e-wastes are channelized to registered refurbisher or dismantler or recycler.
3.Setting up collection centers or take back system either individually or collectively for all electrical and electronic equipment at the end of their life.
4.Financing, and organizing a system to meet the costs involved in the environmentally sound management of e-waste generated from the 'end of life' of its own products and historical waste available on the date from which these rules come in to force. Such financing system shall be transparent. The producer may choose to establish such financial system either individually or by joining a collective scheme.
5.Providing contact details such as address, telephone numbers/helpline number and e-mail of distributors and authorized collection centers to consumer(s) or bulk consumer(s) so as to facilitate return of used electrical and electronic equipment.
6.Creating awareness through publications, advertisements, posters, or by any other means of communication and information booklets accompanying the equipment, with regard to the following:
  • information on hazardous constituents in e-waste electrical and electronic equipment;
  • information on hazards of improper handling, accidental breakage, damage and/or improper recycling of e-waste;
  • instructions for handling the equipment after its use, along with the Do's and Don'ts;
  • affixing the symbol given below on the products to prevent e-waste from being dropped in garbage bins containing waste destined for disposal;
7.Obtaining an authorization from the concerned State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee in accordance with the procedures prescribed under rule-11;
8.Maintaining records in Form 2 of the e-waste handled Such records should be available for scrutiny by the appropriate authority.
9.Filing annual returns in Form 3, to the concerned State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee, on or before the 30th day of June following to the financial year to which that return relates.


India fifth biggest generator of e-waste in 2014: U.N. report

India is the fifth biggest producer of e-waste in the world, discarding 1.7 million tonnes (Mt) of electronic and electrical equipment in 2014, a UN report has warned that the volume of global e-waste is likely to rise by 21 per cent in next three years. The ‘Global E-Waste Monitor 2014’, compiled by U.N.’s think tank United Nations University (UNU), said at 32 per cent, the U.S. and China produced the most e-waste overall in 2014. India is behind the U.S., China, Japan and Germany. Most e-waste in the world in 2014 was generated in Asia at 16 Mt or 3.7 kg per inhabitant. The top three Asian nations with the highest e-waste generation in absolute quantities are China (6.0 Mt), Japan (2.2 Mt) and India (1.7 Mt). The top per capita producers by far are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the U.K. The lowest amount of e-waste per inhabitant was generated in Africa (1.7 kg/inhabitant). The continent generated 1.9 Mt of e-waste in total. In 2014, people worldwide discarded all but a small fraction of an estimated 41.8 Mt of electrical and electronic equipment — mostly end-of-life kitchen, laundry and bathroom equipment like microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers. While only 7 per cent of e-waste last year was made up of mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, printers, and small information technology equipment, almost 60 per cent was a mix of large and small equipment used in homes and businesses, such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, washing machines, electric stoves, mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, and lamps. — PTI