How to set up an e-waste recycling business in India?

From small businesses to households to huge firms, nearly all entities have one thing in common: Electric and Electronic Equipment (EEE). Gone are those days when people have to struggle to stay connected. Nowadays, gadgets like computers and smartphones keep everyone connected. Advanced appliances and machinery keep things running. But all this also gives birth to a whooping count of electronic or e-waste that must be managed appropriately.

However, e-waste management can be burdensome, especially when there are a lot of large or heavy items to get rid of. E-waste recycling is the most appropriate solution to eliminate almost anything with a power cord or switch. Because electronics are an indispensable part of everyone's life, e-waste recycling should be standard for every business. It's the most sustainable and often the easiest way for e-waste management. Your old gadgets indeed don't belong to the common trash.

Shockingly, India ranks third amongst the Indian countries that produce the most WEEE by volume. So no wonder why recycling used electronics is quite essential. In case you are also thinking to become an e-waste recycler, read the complete article to know everything in detail. Here's how to start your e-waste recycling business in India now!

What is e-waste?

For the unversed, e-Waste is a general term for EEE, such as transformers, computers, freezers, mobile phones, refrigerators, medical devices, TV, etc., which have reached the end of life. E-waste or WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) includes a wide range of items with a battery or power supply. Surprisingly, it is one of the fastest-growing waste streams and thus poses a critical global challenge. So, environment-sustainable management and e-waste recycling are the keys.

Why is there a need for an e-waste recycling business in India?

E-E-waste has toxic minerals and chemicals such as acid, arsenic, cadmium, etc., which scientifically need recycling. So, not only because e-waste contains hazardous materials & can harm the environment or public health, but e-waste is also a source of rare and precious metals. Hence, e-waste recycling becomes unavoidable.

Challenges faced by e-waste recycling

As mentioned above, e-waste has toxic substances that are released into the environment during informal recycling. This results in a direct negative impact on the environment and people's health. It also causes pollution and even contributes to global warming. While e-waste recycling is a means of income for many people in India, it also casts numerous health and environmental risks if not done correctly.

Notably, over 95% of India's e-waste is recycled illegally by informal waste pickers known as kabadiwalas or radicals. These workers work independently, outside of any formal organisation, making enforcing e-waste regulations impossible.

Introduction of E-waste Management Rules

Moreover, e-waste recyclers often depend on rudimentary techniques that may release toxic pollutants into nearby areas. Releasing toxic pollutants related to crude e-waste recycling can have irreversible and far-reaching consequences. That is why more and more the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has introduced the E-waste Management Rules-2016 and amendments made thereof. Additionally, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) and Pollution Control Committee (PCC) have given processes to guarantee proper compliance with the rules set by the MoEF&CC.

A Brief of E-waste Management Rules 2016

These rules introduced Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), making e-waste generators liable for their proper disposal.

A brief of E-waste Management Rules 2022

As per the latest rules, EEE producers must ensure at least 60% of their e-waste is collected & recycled by 2023, with targets to rise to 70% & 80% in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

The concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

The EPR is an environmental protection strategy that holds the producer liable for the entire product life cycle, especially for take back, e-waste recycling and final disposal of the product.

What happens during e-waste recycling?

Let's quickly know what happens to the broken, discarded or outdated devices after they reach an e-waste recycler. Sometimes electronics recyclers can fix and resell a product that is still functional. In case it is not possible, or isn't the cost-effective solution, the gadgets are taken apart so the individual components can be separated by their type. For example, ferrous metal gets sorted from non-ferrous. Circuit boards are taken apart to extract palladium, copper and other valuable metals that are used to build them. Once separated, these elements are processed and sold to manufacturers. Components that can’t be efficiently recycled, such as plastic switches and casing, ultimately end up in landfills.

What is e-waste recycling?

1. Collection

The first & foremost point to be noted is that e-waste doesn't belong to general waste. While disposing of e-waste, you need to bring it to a designated collection centre, usually a particular recycling bin (black in colour), a certified collection location, or major electronics retailers. After this, the mixed e-waste is sent to authorised e-waste recyclers.

2. Sorting, dismantling and shredding

The next step in e-waste recycling includes manual sorting to extract specific items, like bulbs and batteries, for further processing. During this phase, certain products are dismantled manually to extract valuable materials or components for reuse. After manual sorting, e-waste is shredded into small pieces to encourage the precise sorting of items. This is a crucial phase of the process since EEE usually consist of various things that can be separated mechanically when broken down into small-sized pieces.

3. Mechanical separation

This phase involves multiple sequential processes, with magnetic and water separation being the primary steps.

Magnetic separation

The e-waste is shredded and sent for magnetic separation to gain ferrous metals such as iron and steel, while non-ferrous metals are separated using eddy currents. These items are then sent to specialised recycling facilities for smelting. Other things, like circuit boards and metal-embedded plastic, are separated during this phase.

Separation by water

After magnetic separation, the rest of the solid waste majorly consists of glass and plastic. Water is used in the next separation phase to purify the waste further and separate different types of plastic. Obvious contaminants are also sorted manually during this process.

4. Recovery

Once segregated, the materials are prepared for sale and reuse. Certain items, such as steel or plastic, are directed to other recycling streams. However, others can be processed onsite and sold directly, along with usable parts extracted during earlier phases of the e-waste recycling process.

What materials can be extracted from e-waste while recycling?

E-waste recycling is often called urban mining. The reason is it has some valuable and rare materials. Extracting certain items is not only sustainable but also very economical. In the case of copper, gold and other metals, it can be much cheaper than extracting metals from mines.

Materials that can be extracted and reused during e-waste recycling

  • Precious metals like gold, platinum, silver, copper, rhodium, or ruthenium
  • Important raw materials like palladium, cobalt, indium, or antimony
  • Non-important metals like iron and aluminium, plastic, glass and other materials.

What can’t be recycled?

Obviously, not all e-waste parts can be reused and recycled. For example, the glass screens of monitors and Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT) TVs are highly contaminated by lead. Thus, at this moment, a large portion of this glass is stored indefinitely.

In this blog, we will talk in detail about how to import medical equipment in India while complying with the EWM Rules.

Making a shift towards becoming a green entrepreneur with e-waste recycling

e-waste recycling

To become a green entrepreneur, one must adopt green electronics. Green electronics have fewer toxic constituents. The use of recycled materials obtaining by recycling used electronics in new products promotes the following benefits:

  • More easily upgraded or disassembled
  • More energy efficient
  • Use minimal packaging
  • Offers take back or leasing alternatives
  • Meets performance criteria and proof they are more environmentally preferable

Is it profitable to recycle e-waste?

Whether it is profitable or not to recycle e-waste depends on many factors. The initial cost of materials and equipment engaged in e-waste recycling is higher than creating new products from those materials. This is because of the finite resources needed for the recycling process and the increased labour costs required.

The second thing to pay attention to is that although there is a market for recycled products, they can be more expensive than new products created from raw materials.

The third factor related to the profitability of e-waste recycling is its proper disposal. Proper e-waste disposal means cleaning and separating hazardous substances, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

But, despite these costs, it is possible to make a profit from e-waste recycling if done correctly. An entity must identify the specific needs and costs for product components to evaluate an appropriate rate for transforming e-waste into new products.

Also, e-waste recycling is a potentially profitable business for those intending to invest in the necessary equipment and understand how to implement the recycling process effectively. Although there lie several challenges, with enough perseverance and dedication, e-waste recycling can reap several benefits.

E-waste recycling best practices

Here are some ideal practices to implement to encourage e-waste recycling

  • Don’t place small electronics in curbside recycling bins. They often comprise glass or metal components that may shatter when electronics are dumped into a truck and covered with more recyclables. This can create safety hazards for recycling workers and contaminate other recyclables in the same load.
  • Think carefully about data security before disposing of any electronics. This is so because that item may still be able to store private information. Only give away or sell used electronics that can't store such info. Anything with a hard drive can hold sensitive data about you. Even new scanners and printers have hard drives, which may contain images of a business’s documents. Tech-savvy and new owners can recover those images.
  • Remove batteries before recycling e-waste, whenever possible. Battery recycling is sometimes possible, but many common types of batteries can land in the trash. One notable exception is lithium-ion batteries, which can generally be returned to their manufacturer.

Strategies that help to reduce e-waste

  • Do some research when you wish to get a new product. Ensure it will stay intact after you buy it. Go for products with a longer lifespan so you don't have to replace them within a few years or even months.
  • Consider limiting the number of gadgets you own. If you don't really need an extra EEE, go for a device that has multiple functions.
  • Aware kids and people about e-waste recycling. Children and youths are our future, and it helps if we can instil within them a commitment to e-waste recycling.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle. No matter what you have, you must dispose of your e-waste permanently. That means promoting e-waste recycling.
  • Follow the EWM Rules and guidelines made thereunder.

Guidelines for Environmentally Sound E-waste Recycling

Roles of an e-waste recycler

According to the E-waste Management Rules per these rules, any entity that is involved in e-waste recycling and reprocessing is a recycler. So, they must follow specific responsibilities.

  • E-waste recyclers must set up their collection centres, information of which must be filled in their authorisation. These collection centres must not require separate authorisation.
  • Recyclers can get raw materials like WEEE or its assemblies or components or used components from PRO (Producer Responsibility Organisation)/PIBOS/e-waste exchange/consumers/dismantlers/ bulk consumers.
  • The product of recyclers must be sent or sold to users or other e-waste recyclers having valid CTO and CTE from SPCBs/PCCs.
  • Any hazardous waste generated while e-waste recycling must be sent to TSDF (Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility).
  • An e-waste recycler must be a part of the producer's channelisation system.
  • A recycler must obtain authorisation from SPCBs/PCCs under EWM Rules, 2016, given that any person registered/authorised under the norms of the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movements) (HWM) Rules, 2008 and the EWM Rules, 2011 before the day of coming into force of these rules must not be required to make an application for authorisation till the period of expiry of such authorisation/registration.
  • An e-waste recycler must have weigh bridge and other appropriate weighing devices for weighing each delivery received and maintain a record of the same.
  • The unloading of end-of-life products must be done so that there shouldn't be any damage to the environment, health and to the product itself.
  • Unloading of Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT), LED/LCD/Plasma TV, Refrigerator, Air Conditioners and fluorescent and other mercury-containing lamps must be done under supervision in such a manner to avoid breakage.
  • A recycler must have facilities for permanently deleting or destroying data stored in the memory of end-of-life products (Telephones, Hard disks, Mobile phones) either via grinding or shredding or through data erasers.

What is done in an e-waste recycling unit?

  • The e-waste recyclers should follow the following processes in the facility:

    • (i) Manual/automatic/semi-automatic dismantling processes
    • (ii) Shredding/crushing/wet grinding/fine grinding/enrichment operations, gravity/ magnetic/density/eddy current separation
    • (iii) Pyrometallurgical operations - Smelting furnace
    • (iv) Hydrometallurgical operations
    • (v) Electro-metallurgical operations
    • (vi)Chemical leaching
    • (vii) CRT/LCD/Plasma processing
    • (viii) Toner cartridge recycling
    • (ix) Melting, casting, and moulding operations (for metals and plastics)
  • An e-waste recycling unit must accept e-waste and even those EEE or components not listed under Schedule- I for recycling, given that they don't have any radioactive materials, and the same must be declared while taking the SPCB authorisation.
  • The recycling facilities must comply with the requirements as mentioned in the rules for dismantling.
  • An e-waste recycling facility must install adequate air pollution control equipment (off-gas treatment, wet/alkaline/packed bed scrubber and carbon filters) and wastewater treatment facilities for processing the wastewater, depending on the operations performed.
  • Fume hoods connected with bag dust collectors followed by wet (chemical) scrubbers and carbon filters must be installed to control fugitive emissions from furnaces or reactors.
  • De-dusting equipment like suction hood must be installed where manual dismantling is performed.
  • Noise control arrangements for equipment such as grinder, crusher and shredder must be provided.
  • The discharges from e-waste recycling facilities must comply with general standards under the Environment Protection Act of 1986 for the release of wastewater.
  • In case of air emissions, the e-waste facility must comply with emission norms prescribed under the Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. In the case of the furnace, a minimum stack height of 30 meters must be installed based on the emission rate of SO2.
  • The workers engaged in recycling operations must use proper personal protective devices like masks, goggles, gloves, gumboots and helmets, etc.
  • Adequate facilities for storage and onsite collection of floor cleaning dust, bag filter residues, and other hazardous items must be provided and sent to a secure landfill by obtaining membership of TSDF.
  • The LCD/CRT/Plasma TV must be processed only at an e-waste recycler’s facility.
  • Care must be taken to restrict the release of harmful substances for recycling CRT TVs and monitoring
  • For Plasma and LCD TV, an e-waste recycler must have a sealed vacuum dismantling platform for the dismantling of Plasma/LCD panels. The LCD/Plasma TV must be dismantled piece by piece, starting with removing the printed circuit boards, plastic backing shell, aluminium steel frame, PET plastics, screen, LCD Panel and backlight. The wire, metal frame, other metallic material and plastic backing cabinet must be sent to e-waste recyclers having valid CTO by SPCB.
  • Printed circuit board and LCD panel must be recycled, or if a recycling unit is unavailable, then sent to a respective authorised e-waste recycling plant.
  • The user of the products processed in the e-waste recycling plant must be identified, and an agreement may be entered with them to sell the products. This is for tracking the product of recycling to ascertain where the products are going.
  • Recovery of resources and especially of precious metals present in the e-waste must be given importance.
  • The e-waste recycling facility must have the desired systems to recycle fluorescent and other mercury-containing lamps.
  • The fluorescent and other mercury-containing lamp recycling facility must adhere to the required obligations.
  • The e-waste recycling plant in India must have a trained/skilled workforce to handle hazardous substances.
  • The e-waste recycling plant must maintain records.

Space requirement for establishing e-waste recycling plant in India

An e-waste recycler with a capacity of 1 Ton daily must need a minimum of 500 square meters area. Authorisation to recyclers is recommended if they poses atleast an operational capacity of 5 MT/day with a land of about 2500 square meters.

Some facts related to the e-waste recycling

  • Tokyo Olympic medals were made from the precious metals extracted from e-waste recycling.
  • Serial numbers and essential documents must be shredded before throwing them out. This can stop someone from stealing your identity or applying for a credit card with your data. The hard drive within the computer or the memory stick in the smartphone is a significant liability. There are various disposal methods, but most of them could be better. Proper recycling of e-waste is the only surefire way to get it done. However, it should be done by an authorised e-waste recycler. Otherwise, batteries in the gadgets can explode if dismantled incorrectly or heavily damaged.
  • India generates about 350000 tonnes of electronic waste annually. The country further imports another 50000 tonnes of e-waste.
  •  In 2020-2021, India processed 3.4 lakh tonnes of e-waste. The e-waste generation in India is skyrocketing, with waste generated totaling 7.1 lakh tonnes in 2018-19 & 10.14 lakh tonnes in 2019-20. Every year, there is a hike of 31%.
  • India has only 468 authorised e-waste recyclers and 2,808 collection points. The capacity of 468 recyclers is 13 lakh tonnes, which needs to be increased to meet India's e-waste management needs.

No wonder establishing an e-waste recycling business In India can offer several benefits in addition to protecting the environment and human health. Most of the items that go into production our smartphones and computers are extracted from non-renewable minerals. Recycling e-waste can prevent the supply of consumer goods that become inevitable in our lives from being suspended until substitutions are found.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!

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