Skill development in the informal sector for e-waste management is the need of the hour.

The E-Waste Management Rules, 2016, were recently notified in supersession of the E-Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2011, seeking to address the problem of E-Waste in the country. In this context, ET and Eco Recycling Limited (Ecoreco) are organizing a series of roundtable discussions on 'E-Waste Management'. The second session in the series was held recently in New Delhi and moderated by Ravi Agarwal, CEO of Toxics Links.

Agarwal kicked off the proceedings on 'Skill Development in the Informal Sector for E-Waste Management' at New Delhi's Le Meridien hotel by presenting a grave scenario that electronic waste poses. "About 95-97% of the current E-Waste is recycled in the informal sector today and it's done with very low efficiencies and high health hazards," he observed.

Agarwal even commented on the updated 'E-Waste Recycling & Management Rules, 2011', which now has a provision for extended producer responsibility (EPR), wherein the manufacturer gets involved in the collection of E-Waste thereby attempting to shift almost 97% of E-Waste collection that is being done today by the informal sector to the so-called 'green channel'.

The challenge, however, lies in creating awareness and training the half-amillion unorganized workforce countrywide who collect E-Waste. Given that by 2050, about 40% of the country will get urbanized, Agarwal invited the august panel to comment on how CSR can best be deployed to educate, train and develop the skills of the unorganized workforce.

The Skilling Imperative

Nikhil Pant, Chief Programme Executive, National Foundation for CSR, IICA and Co-Founder, REACHA, was quick on the uptake and pointed to four things for CSR--funds; good CSR professionals; quality NGOs; and healthy projects. "Though there is confidence in the ecosystem of spending, the spender is hesitant as they may not have CSR professionals, there may not be good NGOs and there may not be good projects," he highlighted. Pant also added how his organization was working on developing all the four pillars of CSR.

BK Soni, Chairman & Managing Director, Eco Recycling Ltd., opened up the discussion further by highlighting how his company was involved in a project skilling 300,000 kabadis across the nation over 10 years in order to formalize the disposal of E-Waste. He said there were 39 million waste workers in India, which is 3% of its 1.3 billion pop ulation. "Out of 39 million, half-amillion are en gaged in E-Waste management, right from collec tion till disposal and so skilling of this half-amillion is much easier rather than creating an awareness of 1.3 billion people. Secondly, Ecoreco is providing a 360-degree solution from skilling to entrepreneurship. We are also providing an opportunity to skilled people to open their collection centers for E-Waste and then supply such waste to Ecoreco for disposal," he elaborated.

Jayant Krishna, CEO, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), mentioned how skilling the informal sector was a critical ingredient of the over all 'Skill India' initiative. “Of our 49 crore workforce, 93% comes from the informal sector. No country anywhere in the world has such a huge composition of informal sector," he opined, adding how NSDC is taking the lead in the formation of several sector skill councils, some of which are focused towards the unorganized sector.

As Namrata Rana, CEO, Futurescape, pointed to entire households in the informal sector that get impacted in the collection of E-Waste, she empha sized on the need to work on the ecosystem rather than look at E-Waste management only from the kabadi's perspective. "You need to work on an entire ecosystem as many organizations are doing projects but they are finding that designing such projects pose a bigger challenge than taking them up.“

Again, Vijay Chadda, CEO of Bharti Foundation, held that education was a great platform to bring about any kind of transformation. In its tenth year, his foundation runs 254 schools in villages educating 42,000 children. "We would believe that informal skilling is happening in the whole system," he contended, claiming how teachers and mothers of students have been roped in for various aspects of training and entrepreneurship. "Children are fantastic catalytic agents and the change that they can bring about, no one else can." EPR Versus CSR However, Vinod Babu, In-charge, Hazardous Waste Management Division Central Pollution Control Board, was more pointed in his approach as he made no bones about CPCB's objective that waste should not reach the informal sector at all. “The entire responsibility has been given tire responsibility has been given to producers who are placing it in the market, and we are also putting a target to collection,“ he said. By holding EPR sacrosanct, Babu questioned the scope of CSR in E-Waste management. However, BK Soni was quick to point out how CSR can play a role in funding. “CSR can play a great role in skilling these people so that the informal sector gets integrated with the formal sector,“ he observed.

The argument was further crystallized by Hitesh Sharma, National Manager CSR & Environment, Ricoh India, who highlighted that while EPR helps create ecosystems, CSR can actually leverage and grow such ecosystems. “Creating awareness and funding on my marketing and setting up collection centers is my EPR but if I can grow the ecosystem of recyclers, then it is CSR,“ he said.

Meanwhile, Atul Trivedi of Power Grid Corporation of India, DK Patankar of NTPC and Shrikar Dole of IL&FS Academy of Applied Development illustrated how their companies were involved in skilling the informal sector. “Any activity can be covered (under CSR) and so can waste management but the prior ity has to be decided by each company as to where they want to put their money,“ said Trivedi. As for Patankar, skill development remains a focus area at NTPC hogging 25% of the power major's CSR funds.

“With NSDC, we have entered into a tie up of devel oping skills of 30,000 youth," he added.

Shrikar Dole of IL&FS Academy of Applied Development also echoed Vinod Babu's argument that EPR was sufficient for companies to actually spend money on skilling people to handle waste. He was also confident that E-Waste training programs will be a part of the skill council for green jobs at NSDC shortly.

"No matter what producers do, there will always be a market where the informal sector will go and pick up hazardous material and make their lives and the environment miserable,“ he said, further highlighting the need for sound E-Waste management.

The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game Again, bearing in mind how skilling the informal sector should be the country's topmost agenda, Jayant Krishna shared some startling numbers. “If you look at Korea, 96% of their workforce goes through skilling and about 50% of China's work force goes through formal, lab-based skilling pro grams. In our country, it is only 4%.“

The panel discussion was summed up by Nikhil Pant who said that IICA would be happy to facili tate projects around E-Waste management as it already possesses the 'Samman' platform (ad dressing the four pillars of CSR). "The target that the platform has this year is Rs 25 crore to be in vested by March 2017. The funders could collabo rate in the platform and we can sort out things like where ERP ends and where CSR begins."

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