EV Adoption Leading To Concerns About E-Waste Management In India: Challenges VS Solutions

A file photo of Shubham Vishvakarma, Founder and Chief of Process Engineering, Metastable Materials

The Electric Vehicles (EV) sector in India is growing exponentially; fuelled by a concerted EV adoption push from the end of Central Government, various State Governments as well as private stakeholders, EVs are currently at the forefront of India’s climate action, emissions reduction, and Net-Zero agenda for the future. As per data from the Federation of Automobile Dealers Association (FADA), India has witnessed a three-fold rise in its EV sales in the last one year; and going forward, the EV market in our country is projected to grow at a CAGR of up to 90 percent till 2030. Notably, India’s apex policymaking body NITI Aayog has aimed to reach EV penetration of at least 30 percent in private vehicles and 70 percent in commercial vehicles by 2030.

The rising popularity and adoption of EVs in India over the years have meant that the demand for Lithium-Ion batteries – which to date remains the dominant and most widely-used batteries for EVs – has shot up too. And along with the growing numbers of lithium-based EV battery packs and cells in use, the concerns regarding spent or nearing-end-of-life batteries and cells – which consist of multiple hazardous materials apart from Lithium – ending up being disposed of in landfills and thereby contributing to the nation’s e-waste burden is also growing in parallel. So far, e-waste in India has been growing rapidly majorly on account of the boom of the country’s IT, electronics, and telecom sectors; although going forward, EV batteries are expected to be one of the biggest contributors towards India’s e-waste (or electronic waste) challenge.

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In fact, the volume of e-waste – which poses several detrimental effects towards the environment and human health when not treated properly, has been increasing in India at around 10 percent year-on-year; and our country has emerged today as one of the biggest producers of e-waste across the globe. Today, e-waste is creating problems and challenges at multiple levels, spanning across handling to transportation, segregation, disposal to recycling, and so on. Due to low or no awareness, a large proportion of e-waste as of today is being picked up and handled by the informal sector, including rag-pickers, local scrap dealers, etc., who are generally unaware or least bothered about the hazardous implications that e-waste can generate in the long run, especially when they contaminate with water bodies and local environments. In addition, there exists a massive gap today between the waste being generated and the existing takeback or recycling mechanisms that are in place in our country. The way out is, therefore, to bring to the fore innovations and regulations that will comprehensively address the aforementioned problems.

Additionally, it has also become imperative to spread awareness of scientific and sustainable methods of e-waste treatment at large and dead batteries’ treatment in particular, as well as to focus heavily on improving the country’s recycling unit infrastructure. One of the most promising approaches in this context is urban mining, which involves the extraction of valuable metals like Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel, etc. from batteries that have reached or are soon going to reach the end of their useful life. The extracted metals can then be thrown back to various native industrial value chains or again used in making indigenously-made EV batteries. Given that India faces a supply crunch and dependency on foreign countries like China to import many of these critical materials used in EV batteries, an increased focus on the implementation and promotion of such novel business models like urban mining can provide further impetus to the EV segment to grow and scale optimally in the years to come and thereby bolster India’s up-and-coming EV revolution, and at the same time, boosting the circular economy as well.

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When it comes to e-waste management, India was among one of the world’s first countries to implement a national E-Waste Policy back in 2016. Another definitive step taken by the Indian Government in the same direction is the Battery Waste Management Rules 2022 that has been notified only a few days back, which introduces the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility, mandating producers (including the importers) of batteries to be responsible for collection and recycling of battery waste after the batteries reach the end of their lifecycle and also prohibiting the producers from disposing of waste batteries in landfills and incineration.

Needless to say, such regulations and policies are bound to go a long way in helping India deal with the growing menace of e-waste in the years to come., but additionally the private sector today urgently needs to lend a helping hand and must make end-of-life management a priority area in terms of the design and development of new electronic and EV products. While in short term we as a nation can and should link up the informal sector with the formal sector for e-waste management, but in the longer run emphasis needs to be laid on establishing
national and regional-based institutional standard infrastructure and solutions for e-waste collection, transportation, treatment, and recovery, among other aspects.

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By Shubham Vishvakarma

The author is the Founder and Chief of Process Engineering, Metastable Materials.

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