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E-Waste Supply Chain Management in India : Opportunities and Challenges

Faculty Contributor : J. Hazra, Professor
Student Contributors : Abhijit Sarkar and Vishal Sharma

India is at a crossroads with tremendous growth in the electronics industry but it also faces the exponential growth of electronic waste (e-waste). This article focuses primarily on the possibilities of improvement in waste management. It also analyses the role of different stakeholders and policy making by identifying opportunities in the business models through recovery of precious metals around e-Waste management. This article also tries to study the current state of reverse supply chain of e-Waste in India compared to global practices, and the scope for improvement and challenges that are likely to exist during its implementation.

The growth in India since liberalization reveals an impressive Digital Revolution story. Following closely on the heels of this revolution is the tremendous growth in electronic waste. India generates about 400,000 tons of waste annually1 which is increasing at the rate of 10-15%, seventy percent of which comes from government institutions and business houses. High obsolescence of electronic products and the necessity for supporting upgrades compound this problem.

The informal sector mostly referred to as ‘kabadiwalas’ carry out almost 90% of the e-waste management in India. They are primarily involved in the dismantling rather than recycling disposed products. Formal reverse supply chain management of e-waste did not happen until 2004 which brings out the issue of health and safety of the informal recyclers. It also highlights the delayed response of the Indian government caught without any policy on e-waste management and the business opportunity in the unexplored market.

Existing Indian Legal Environment of e-Waste Management

Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules2, 2008 currently covers the management of e-waste in India3. However it does not mention guidelines to handle e-waste differently from any other electrical waste. Government has issued a voluntary guideline to demarcate IT products from other electrical products but it is insufficient to initiate actions from enterprises. Therefore, a set draft rules were prepared and submitted to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB)4.

The European WEEE holds the manufacturer of the product liable for recycling and disposal activities.

The European regulations i.e. the legislation of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) addresses environmental impact of e-waste at all stages of the equipment’s lifecycle5 but is mainly focused on the end-of-life stage through extended producer responsibility (EPR)6. This holds the manufacturer of the product liable for recycling and disposal activities. In comparison to these regulations, Indian regulations seem to be in a stage of infancy.

Typical Formal Sector e-Waste Management in India

This section synthesizes primary inputs from multiple formal recyclers currently operating in South India. The sole objective of this sector is to profitably dismantle and extract precious metals like gold, copper and silver in addition to the disposal of waste.

The sourcing happens by different bidding methods for various lot sizes followed by the logistics of transportation. A typical breakup of the components7 in the lot obtained by the recyclers is as follows in Exhibit 1:

Equipment Category % Composition (by weight)
Computer equipment 75
Telecommunication equipment 13
Entertainment equipment 3
Electrical equipment 4
Medical equipment 4
Other equipment includes household E-waste 1
Exhibit 1 e-Waste material breakup for recycling

Sourcing of e-Waste

Other than bidding, sourcing is through tie-ups with various corporate consumers like TCS, WIPRO, HP, Infosys etc. The procurement happens at the rate of Rs. 10-15/kg. Incidentally, procurement from individual household consumers has proved to be a difficult task and poses a significant challenge. Currently, some innovative methods of collection exist which is mostly done through breaking a particular area into clusters and then placing a bin to collect recyclable products.

In-plant Processes of e-Waste Recycling

The process initiates with the dismantling of the components like motherboards, hard drives, cartridges, cabinets, cables etc. Manual labour separates metal, glass and plastics from the components followed by shredding of printed circuit board (PCB). Glass dismantling is done in a protective semi-automatic environment and adhering to the pollution control measures.

Recovery from e-Waste and Final Disposal Process

The Exhibit 2 below mentions the different rates at which the sale of different output happens. It also mentions the most common purchaser for each type of e-waste.

Output Selling Price (Rs/kg) Purchaser
Shredded Plastics 8-10 Plastic granule manufacturer
Scrap Metallic parts 14-22 Metal scrap trader
Aluminium parts 70-80 Aluminium scrap trader
Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) glass cullets 1-2 TV manufacturer
Exhibit 2 Purchasers of dismantled e-Waste output

High economic value items like shredded printed circuit boards, gold and silver plated pins are exported to Belgium for the recovery of precious metals. This is the most important aspect of the overall reverse supply chain that is executed outside India. The recyclers dispose the remaining non-recyclable wastes like battery cells to Treatment Storage Disposal Facility (a Government facility).

Closure of Reverse Supply Chain Loop

The formal recycling processes indeed helps in the reutilization of extracted materials for making another product that need not be fully electronic in nature. Videocon makes CRTs of television using glass cullets. Secondary metal refiner uses metal scraps for smelting processes and makes pure steel, aluminium and copper for manufacturing of metallic appliances. Umicore Metal Refining (an integrated material recycling firm in Belgium) extracts metals like gold, silver, nickel, copper, bismuth, palladium and vanadium8. Plastic granules help in making moulding and investment casting. The reverse supply chain of e-Waste indeed exhibits an opportunity to create a new market where further investment will only lead to a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

Growth Opportunities in Formal Sector and Business Model

Currently this business that caters to 10% of the net demand has a margin of nearly 25-30% that is critically dependent on the partnership contracts with suppliers like state owned enterprises (e.g. BSNL, MTNL) and corporate houses (e.g. HP, IBM). Currently, the capacity for effective disposal is a matter of concern for the recyclers as well as the suppliers.

Implementation Challenges for Better e-Waste Management in India

The challenges of e-waste management can be classified as lack of appropriate infrastructure, legislation and framework for end-of-life products. The following describe the implementation challenges for better e-Waste management in India:

  1. Due to diversion of large chunk of e-wastes from retail consumers to informal recyclers and demand-supply mismatch organised e-recyclers are not getting adequate e-wastes to recycle.
  2. Lack of legislation has been the core concern for e-waste management. There is no centralized mandatory or strict legislation in this regard. For better management, the legislation must clearly define e-waste and the limitations in terms of quantities of e-waste generated.
  3. Collection centres are currently present only in a few cities in India and the collection process for these facilities are restricted due to logistical and geographical problems.
  4. Lack of motivation for the top management of producers is one of the major concerns and is unable to drive the e-Waste management initiative. 90% of Indian electronic producing companies and IT companies are not in favour of the EPR concept.
  5. Donation of obsolete equipments by companies to schools without any monitoring as to what happens to the donated material when it reaches its end of life. Hence the loop of reverse supply chain is unable to function in an organized manner.
  6. There is no recycler for materials of lamps (CFL bulb, tube light etc.) in India because of cheaper sources in China. Hence lamp recycling is a great challenge in India. There is no recycler for Ni-Cd batteries, Alkaline batteries and Dry cell batteries within the country. Such materials are either dumped in landfills resulting in loss of resources or exported to authorized recyclers in foreign countries resulting in logistic costs.
  7. There is a lack of authorized recyclers for Ni-MH batteries and Li-ion batteries in the country. There are some back-yard recyclers for Ni-MH and Li-ion batteries but are unregistered with the MoEF. Therefore formal intermediate recyclers (like E-Parisaraa) are unable to dispatch them.


Formal e-recyclers have to be supported by the central and the state governments to avoid the bottlenecks in building a better reverse supply chain of E-waste. In the long run formal e-recyclers have to be merged and have to make a presence of an influential body in this industry. They can do lobbying with the government to promote some innovative methods of collecting e-waste from retail consumers and promote awareness of the environmental impact of e-waste.


Operation Strategy, Electronic Waste, Supply Chain, India, Regulation, Sourcing, Bidding, Information Technology, Manufacturing, Logistics, Government, Environment, Health


J. Hazra is a Professor in the Production and Operations Management Area at IIM Bangalore. He is also the Chairperson of the Production and Operations Management Area. He holds Ph.D. in Operations Management from University of Rochester, New York, USA. He can be reached at

Abhijit Sarkar (PGP 2009-11) holds a B.Tech degree in Manufacturing Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. He can be reached at

Vishal Sharma (PGP 2009-11) holds a B.Tech degree in Computer Science and Engineering from IEM, Kolkata. He can be reached at


  1. Manufacturers Association for Information Technology website, 2011, “About MAIT Green IT Initiatives”, Last accessed on July 23, 2011.
  2. Centre for Environmental Law Education Research & Advocacy (CEERA), 2009, “Hazardous Waste Second Amendment Rules 2009”, Last accessed on September 14, 2010.
  3. Sinha, Satish, 2010, “Sustainable E-waste Management”,, website of Toxics Link. Last accessed on September 22, 2010.
  4. Karnataka State Pollution Control Board Website, 2008, “Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2008”, Last accessed on September 7, 2010.
  5. Official Journal of European Union, 2003, “Directive 2002/96/EC of The European Parliament And of The Council of 27 January 2003 on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)”, Last accessed on June 25, 2011.
  6. Lindqvist, Thomas, Doctoral Dissertation at The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, 2000, “Extended Producer Responsibility in Cleaner Production: Policy Principle to Promote Environmental Improvements of Product Systems”, Last accessed on June 25, 2011.
  7. Henning Schreiber, Presentation at Roundtable for Environmentally Sound Management of End-of-Life Electronics, 2009, “Experiences on setting up the first formal recycling unit in India”, Last accessed on July 23, 2011.
  8. Umicore Precious Metals Refining website, 2011, “Excellence in recycling”, Last accessed on July 23, 2011.
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