New Delhi: M/s Attero Pvt Ltd, barely a year old recycling plant, based out of Rajpur Industrial Area in Roorkie has been given permission for import of 8000 MT of hazardous e-waste from UK and USA by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. Now over 10 to 15 recyclers who have recently started operating in India, all of them with hardly any installed capacity, are trying to get import permissions based on this clearance, says Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.
In a press release, Toxics Link has alleged that this decision of government, for the reasons best known to it, would open the floodgates of hazardous electronic waste dumping into India under the guise of recycling. Over 95 to 97% of the 400,000 MT of waste which is nationally generated, is being recycled in a hazardous manner in the informal sector. It puts a huge strain on the environment and on health. The NGO has suggested that the Ministry should instead have been helping organize local collection to reduce this burden and to ensure that this waste is properly recycled in the upcoming facilities.
Besides, permitting the import of hazardous e-waste, is in disregard to the letter and spirit of international regulations, the Basel Convention and Ban. Toxics Link has already reported large amounts of illegal imports of e-waste through India's ports, which has been constantly denied, instead of being investigated.
The NGO cautions that new recyclers have been opening shop in India, evidently to recycle waste, but in actuality only to trade in international waste, since such waste contains precious materials like gold, copper and palladium. However these are cherry picked while the hazardous components are dumped. E-waste contains over 51 very toxic materials like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFRs, PVC and phosphorus compounds, which are of concern worldwide.
It is for that reason that countries like USA, UK and Japan have been trying to send such waste overseas to India, China and Africa since the cost of such disposal is very high there. In the US over 40% of the lead found in landfills comes from e-waste. This will now be India's burden.
"It violates all principles of managing waste sustainably and follows the logic of dumping of hazardous waste on the poorest communities in India," said Priti Mahesh, Senior Programme Officer, Toxics Link.
It is also unclear how such important permissions are granted. Evidently a committee in the Ministry, the composition of which is not in the public realm, processes such applications. However it seems to operate in complete secrecy and there is no public consultation even on such important policy matters, which concern the health of the poor and the environment. Clearly granting permissions overrides environmental concerns, and there is nothing to prevent misuse of such permissions.
Toxics Link has demanded that the Ministry of Environment and Forests should not grant such clearances and instead provide protection to the environment. Despite suggestions by Industry and the NGOs to legislate a collection mechanism in India for nationally generated e-waste, on the contrary clearances are now given to imports while the local waste lies uncollected or is recycled in very hazardous conditions by the urban poor.
"India should manage its waste sustainably, and there is enough e-waste generated in India for any recycling industry to survive on. Investments only to import waste cannot be the way ahead" said Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxics Link.
Environmental activists have asked the government to withdraw this import clearance immediately and to make the process of granting such clearances transparent and public. Demands have also been made to enact an e-waste law to streamline collection.