Indian IT Industry Wants Environmental Laws to Cover E-waste

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India's IT industry, together with Greenpeace and other organizations, are pushing for changes in the country's environmental laws to better reflect the complexities of managing and handling electronic waste.

Current rules regulating hazardous materials are focused on the handling and disposal of industrial waste generated in manufacturing. They do not take into account waste generated by products like computers at the end of their lifecycle, Ramapati Kumar, a campaign advisor at Greenpeace, said on Thursday.

The Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 and Hazardous Material (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules of 2008 govern how India handles its waste.

Greenpeace, Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT), a trade body of the IT industry, and other organizations hosted a seminar on Thursday in Delhi to discuss new proposed legislation on e-waste management and legislation.

The organizations are proposing specialized legislation, called "E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2008" under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.

The new rules will enforce extended producer responsibility through a product's lifecycle, said Vinnie Mehta, executive director of MAIT.

MAIT became involved in drafting the new rules last April. Before that MAIT published in 2007 a report on India's e-waste problem.

"We couldn't refuse to face the facts about the problem of e-waste in India," Mehta said.

About five years ago, India's IT industry believed that it was a "clean industry" free of pollution since it mainly assembled products. That assessment omitted the problem of e-waste generated at the end of a product's life, Mehta said.

Some key IT companies in India have adopted environmental friendly production, eliminated hazardous substances and offer product recycling, Kumar said. But there is a need for formal rules, he added.

The new e-waste rules also propose to ban importing used electronic equipment for recycling or disposal.

A number of social organizations and environmentalists have expressed concern that India has become a dump for e-waste from developed countries. Some of this waste is recycled under hazardous conditions.

India may continue to import some e-waste that is being donated to local charities, Kumar said. Greenpeace is canvassing the Indian government to restrict the import of old computers that are unusable. "We don't want to block genuine charity," he added.

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