India’s E-Waste Challenges Amid Boom in EV Sector, Explains Attero CEO Nitin Gupta

Electronic waste is becoming a serious concern for India as the 2020 report from Global E-Waste Monitor said the country’s e-waste generation has increased over 2.5 times to 3.23 million metric tonnes in six years till 2019.

The exponential growth of the information and communication technology sector has increased the use of electronic equipment. Consumers are being forced to abandon outdated products due to faster obsolescence and subsequent up-gradation of electronics products, resulting in massive e-waste entering the solid waste stream.

E-waste is increasing at a 10% annual pace in India. The majority of e-waste recycling takes place in the informal sector, utilising crude and hazardous processes, said an expert, Dr S Chatterjee in a report — Electronic Waste and India.

Though e-waste is not harmful if stored in a secure location, recycled using scientific processes, or transferred in parts or in its entirety in the formal sector. However, e-waste that is recycled using rudimentary technologies might be harmful.

E-waste comprises a variety of substances such as heavy metals, polymers, and glass, that are potentially harmful and detrimental to the environment and human health if not treated properly. The use of crude ways to recycle e-waste in the informal sector can also harm the environment.

Now, there is a clear indication of a boom in the electric vehicle sector, it could put an extra load on the e-waste challenges.

To understand the issues and how to deal with them, News18 spoke to Nitin Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Attero Recycling, which is end-to-end e-waste management and Li-ion recycling solution provider in India.

Attero can recycle the E-Waste and Li-Ion waste and also supply critical raw materials for the battery cells. The company is planning to double the capacity to 3 lakh metric tonnes by the end of 2022 in the e-waste management.

How to deal with India’s growing e-waste?

After China and the US, India is the third-largest producer of e-waste. According to the report by Central Pollution Control Board, India generated 1,014,961 tonnes of e-waste in FY 2019-2020. This was 32% higher than the E-waste generated in FY 2018-2019.

The most effective way to deal with e-waste is to make sure that it is recycled effectively in a sustainable manner. The majority of the e-waste in the country is still collected and handled by the informal sector. Steps will have to be taken to ensure that e-waste moves through proper channels and is recycled properly.

International practices to manage e-waste

E-waste management policies vary from country to country. In India, we have a great framework. The biggest challenge that we face is awareness. Even today, not many people know the best way to dispose of e-waste.

Some of the countries in the European Union recycle almost 80% of e-Waste produced. In contrast, nearly 90% of E-waste in India is still managed by the informal sector.

India’s E-Waste Rules

India is the only country in South Asia to have specific laws in place for e-waste management since 2011. From transportation and storage to the recycling of waste, these laws provide a complete framework. The government has also introduced the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR). Under this, it becomes the responsibility of the producer to ensure that the end-of-life products get collected and recycled. The government will assign specific targets to the producers who will be responsible financially and/or physically for these products from the time they are sold to when they are recycled.

A draft EPR regulation for Li-Ion battery is also in the works and should be out soon. It will help in streamlining the process and ensure that the end of the life products is properly recycled. In addition to this, there is a draft regulation in work for the circular economy. The intent behind this is to increase the adoption of recycled output. This regulation makes it compulsory for companies that use metals to have at least some percentage of their input come from the recycled output.

EV’s Popularity and E-Waste Challenges

By 2030, India aims to have EV sales accounting for 30% of private cars, and 70% of commercial vehicles. The growing popularity of EVs and consumer electronic material will increase the e-waste and Li-Ion waste by many folds. The most efficient and effective solution to tackle hazardous materials is to recycle them.

India has minimal reserves for all key metals required to make EV batteries including Lithium, graphite, cobalt, and nickel. Recycling EV batteries will also help in overcoming that challenge as well.

Li-Ion Waste Solution

Attero can recycle the E-Waste and Li-Ion waste and also supply critical raw materials for the battery cells. The company is planning to double the capacity to 3 lakh metric tonnes by the end of 2022 in the e-waste management. “In the Li-Ion recycling business, we are currently recycling 1,000 metric tonnes of Li-Ion waste in India. We are already in the process of expanding this capacity and reaching 11,000 metric tonnes by October 2022. In the next five years, we will reach a capacity of more than 50,000 metric tonnes,” the company CEO said.

Future Plans

Li-Ion batteries are becoming ubiquitous in nature. More than $100 billion have been invested in the Li-Ion battery ecosystem from a manufacturing standpoint. “We started Li-Ion battery recycling three years ago. We knew when these batteries become the end of life, they would be an ecological hazard and will have to be recycled in an environmentally friendly manner,” said Gupta. Another important consideration was that almost 50% of the cost of an EV is the cost of the battery. Out of this, at least 35% cost is that of the metals that make up this battery, which include Cobalt, Lithium, Graphite, Manganese, and Nickel. Each of these metals has significant ESG issues and supply security issues.

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