India’s “informal” e-waste economy is built on generations of elaborate, sustainable waste disposal systems.
Before laptops, there was telecom equipment, and before telecom, there were gold-coated watches, and before watches, there were mill tailings from gold mines.
Supporters of factory-style processing of electronic waste argue that the so-called “informal economy” fails to dispose of certain toxic chemicals. In reality, “formal” facilities have their own toxic practices and in India, they often rely on local community systems to keep their operations afloat.
Contrary to skeptics’ claims, the informal community e-waste systems have demonstrated an ability to develop sophisticated refurbishing and metal recovery methods to create value from increasingly complex forms of waste.
Their obstacle is not internal knowledge, but external recognition. Until the government grants these processors industry status, they cannot apply for business loans to acquire safer tools and equipment.
The city of Moradabad, India’s hub for e-waste processing, traces its e-waste expertise back to the internationally renowned metal crafts industry that has been existing from 17th century.
The e-waste processing economy persists in Moradabad not because its people are poor, but because their knowledge is rich.
India’s local e-waste processors already have a global impact, attracting foreign precious metal refiners who value the clean segregation of materials that distinguishes these systems.
These processors not only offer sustainability solutions, but also financial incentives for foreign businesses.
At the World Sustainable Development Summit on February 10, the European Union launched the second phase of its Resource Efficiency Initiative in India.
But if the EU and the Indian government want to make the project a real success, they would do well to include the local community experts who drive electronic waste management across the country.
By investing in the success of “informal economy, ” India can optimize its human capital and become a global leader, rather than a global follower.
This article is based on a story in Scroll.in; edited by Clean-Future Team. The author Mr.TS Krishnan is a former faculty member of the Indian Institute of Management Nagpur and an expert in India’s e-waste processing systems