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‘If the momentum is lost, the country will lose a big opportunity’


Preeti Mehra

It is estimated that by 2020, India’s production of e-waste will grow by around 30 per cent and increase almost three times from the existing 18 lakh metric tonnes to 52 lakh.

To streamline e-waste management, the Government notified Electronic Waste Rules based on the concept of...

Preeti Mehra

It is estimated that by 2020, India’s production of e-waste will grow by around 30 per cent and increase almost three times from the existing 18 lakh metric tonnes to 52 lakh.

To streamline e-waste management, the Government notified Electronic Waste Rules based on the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR) wherein producers of electrical and electronic equipment were given the responsibility of managing their products after their ‘end of life’ and made them responsible for collecting them from consumers. They were mandated to collect 30 per cent of their production in the first year.

Though the Environment Ministry has proposed to relax the EPR plan by reducing the collection targets for industries to only 10 per cent during 2017-18, 20 per cent during 2018-19, 30 per cent during 2019-20 and 40 per cent during 2020-21, it has retained the 70 per cent collection target by 2023.

This means that producers have a bit of breathing space, but they know sooner rather than later the regulation will catch up with them. They are trying to bring in Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) as the third party that will help them comply with collection and disposal of their old products.

Reverse Logistics Group (RLG) India, is one such company that entered the country recently as a PRO and plans to “roll up its sleeves and get its hands dirty” in trying to help companies with their compliance agendas. BusinessLine caught up with RLG’s CEO Patrick Wiedemann for his perspective. Excerpts:

Why has RLG come to India and what business opportunity do you see in e-waste?

As part of our business in RLG, we are providers in 15 countries for Compliance Management. We are service providers to producers and obligated parties so that they can fulfil their compliance according to the individual regulations of the countries. In each place the regulations and the schemes are different. After regulation in India in 2015-16 based on collection targets, our international customers approached us for help with their collection targets as they needed to get operative. This was the starting point and we had discussions roughly two years ago.

As we are operating as PROs and group instructors in Europe, the Americas and Vietnam as well, we felt our structure would be very suitable for India as we have the outlook on how collection targets should evolve. We saw that the volume of e-waste will be growing in India in the future and we found that there is a need and a possible solution we can offer.

Who are your clients in India?

Primarily the multinationals as a first step. But we have also had a lot of discussions over the past nine months with local brands. We have been working very closely with industry associations and looking at how they can offer solutions to customers. There is also a lot of educational process as we came with our best practices and how we would propose to set things up, how we can apply best practices we have from other countries with the necessary local adaptation.

It is very clear India is a market in itself following its own rules. There are very strong informal operations going on, so these are challenges. How we can use certain elements of operations and adapt them to India. Based on this, we did a lot in the past six months and we have actually a number of customers signed up. We have collected more than 1,000 metric tonnes of e-waste and closely connected with informal collectors and integrated them into our systems. We have helped to formalise them as we obviously cannot work with them otherwise. We have filled them in on all the mechanisms necessary to work with them, not only in financial terms but also professional terms.

Most of the informal collectors, recyclers and aggregators have a lot of constraints. They do not have the machinery to dismantle. How are you going to help in that?

What we are helping them with is our best practices and with our audit mechanisms. The investments into the dismantling process are relatively small. Most of the processes are manual and simple.

Much higher investment will be needed when we come to smelting activities and the material processing after tier I as the majority of recyclers we see in India are only dismantlers. So everything that happens to e-waste in the tier II and tier III process still needs to be built up.

Have you seen children being used for processing e-waste?

We have not seen operations with children and we would not accept them in operations with any of our partners. That is why even today we are using informal collectors but not informal dismantlers. We work with known recyclers and have some on board. With others, we are still in discussions. We only work with the ones who have our certificates as we have a very clear code of conduct.

I am told in several places children are used in the dismantling processes...

This is exactly the challenge. How to formalise the informal sectors and tell them that this is acceptable and this is not. I also see the willingness to learn and many of them come and ask what they need to do to become formal. They are seeking our help because they don’t know what is really required. Out of our visits we have generated several partners on the collection side already and we work with them. This is after we have helped them to formalise, have their own bank accounts… you really start from the basics.

But this has worked out and we have collected several hundred tonnes in these past months and are continuously enlarging our network. On the dismantling front we still have to get them formalised and we worry on the durables front where there are cooling gasses that require special processes for handling.

Are they many recyclers working on durable products?

There are limited capacities and few capabilities. There is a lot of investment needed here.

So what are you doing to build consumer awareness?

That’s an important part of our activity and that is why we have launched the “Clean to Green” brand where we do various activities to build collection awareness in schools, offices, Resident Welfare Associations…

Are customers in other countries more aware and behave differently with e-waste?

In some countries citizens have grown up treating waste differently and segregating it at source, so there are less challenges. It is education and over time it becomes a habit and I see it as a journey in every country. Now the regulation has been brought to India and needs to be enforced. As I see it, if the government loses this momentum, the country will lose a big opportunity.

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