Ever wondered what happens to your old mobile phones, computers, television sets and refrigerators the moment you discard them? They are most likely to land in an unauthorised scrap yard waiting to be recycled in a hazardous and unscientific manner — causing great damage to the environment. The rapid growth of the information technology sector in India has only contributed to this problem of accumulating e-waste or electronic waste.

The government finally woke up to this growing problem a couple of years ago when studies by its information technology department estimated the e-waste burden on the country to touch 800,000 metric tonnes by December. It responded by framing the e-waste (management and handling) rules – 2011 which came into effect this month. While the rules seem impressive on paper, environmental groups have expressed concerns about its ability to bring about change due to the sheer oversight of the ground situation.

To begin with, the rules put India along with a select club of nations like the United States and many in Europe to have legislation to regulate and manage electronic waste. Not just that, the rules also propose several ambitious measures to regulate waste.

For instance, according to government data, close to 95 percent of all the electronic waste is currently recycled by the unauthorised sector — scrap dealers. They usually resort to recycling methods that cause great damage to environment and human health, according to various studies conducted by environmental agencies including the Central Pollution Control Board. Printed circuit boards and electronic parts are usually immersed in chemical solutions or burnt to extract small amounts of metals.

The newly framed rules aim to change this situation by entrusting the responsibility of collection and safe disposal of waste with the manufacturers of electronic goods. It mandates manufacturers to collect electronic scrap directly from consumers and route them to authorised recycling centres across the country. The rules also try to address other issues such as restricting the usage of hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium, mercury, PCB, PVR and BFR in electronics.