This article is written by Paridhi Goel, a B.A.LLB student from Symbiosis Law School. This is an exhaustive article which deals with the rules on Batteries waste management that came in the year 2001, its provisions, and the need for certain reforms and changes for enhancement.
There is an increasing demand for batteries all over the world because of an increase in the usage of portable power-consuming products for example- laptops, computers, cellular phones, video cameras, TV Remotes, toys, and other electronic devices. It is known that these batteries that we use contain toxic metals and sometimes even corrosive materials like cadmium, mercury, lead, lithium, etc which can be harmful to the environment and can pose a threat to the health of living beings when disposed of improperly. Since these devices that we use have become a part of our daily life, it was necessary to draft some rules regarding the efficient disposal of batteries and proper waste management only to reduce the harmful impact of the batteries on the environment and to safeguard the health of the living species.
The Central Government viewed the disposal of battery waste as more important than battery production and thus, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) notified the final rules to regulate the collection and recycling of all the used lead-acid batteries in India entitled as “Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001 on May 16, 2001. The Act is applicable for the management of batteries in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and it extends to the whole of India. Since the problem of battery waste management has become a global concern,it is only the right step for India to prevent it from deteriorating our air, water bodies, or soil. The rules are expected to be followed and further, the article talks about the main provisions that we all should know about waste management.
Need for a Plan
Handling of battery waste is an important issue to be addressed because we are using a lot of battery-operated equipment only to make our work quick and easy. A battery is used to convert the chemical energy stored in its active materials into electrical energy through a system of circuits. So, when it comes to disposing of the waste or used up batteries, they cannot be treated as regular trash due to the presence of heavy metals and toxic chemicals in it that may lead to soil contamination if dumped in landfills or may cause water pollution if thrown into water bodies. Such waste is even more hazardous to burn as the quality of air has not been very good in India and more importantly, burning chemical waste like these will pollute the air enough to cause serious respiratory problems.
Our environment is already going through Global Warming, Ozone Depletion, and all other kinds of toxic pollutants contaminating the air, water, and soil. The last thing we need is to add the burden of air acidification or destruction of aquatic lives by mishandling the battery waste. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) did come up with an idea of ‘Recycling’ the waste as the only possible way from letting the chemicals enter into the atmosphere, the aquatic ecosystem, or the lands. The rules were drafted keeping in mind the protection of the environment as well as of those living in it as the main goal that has to be achieved through the management of waste batteries.
Objectives of the Act
The Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001 came with a set of objectives that provided an overview of the plans of the Government for the execution of these rules and how they will help us to not only handle the used up battery waste efficiently but also no harm will come to the environment. The objectives are as follows:
- As the name suggests, the initial objective behind the Act or the rules is proper management of discarded batteries that are thrown when not in use. The Rules have specifically focused on Lead-Acid Batteries which are more commonly used among the people and ensures the safe disposal of such batteries so that they further do not cause any harm. The problem with lead-acid batteries is that they contain huge amounts of sulphuric acid and a toxic metal like lead which is highly corrosive. It can have adverse effects on humans and other living organisms like brain and kidney damage, impaired hearing, and breathing problems if they are exposed to such chemicals. The disposal of batteries is a difficult task as it cannot be burned or incinerated because the chemicals might pollute the air quality creating a photochemical smog. If released into water bodies, heavy metals like lead and mercury can cause a potential threat to aquatic life. The batteries have been dumped in landfills for many years and after careful observation, the consequences of dumping chemical waste can be seen. The land has become barren and toxic, incapable of supporting any kind of plant life or vegetation. Moreover, the chemicals sweep down to the groundwater levels making the groundwater unfit for drinking as it will contain high levels of lead, mercury, and lithium that can cause severe problems even death.
- The second objective is to keep a proper record of the sale and import of these lead-acid batteries only to control their production and accordingly plan the disposal for these batteries. Keeping a track is important to gather enough resources that would be required for the disposal of battery waste. Also, if this record is not accurate and a part of the sale goes missing, the disposal of the waste of that part of the consumers will then become nearly impossible to handle.
- To use an environment-friendly method for disposal of lead-acid batteries. The Government came up with the idea of recycling the waste batteries so that they can be used again and do not have to be led into the environment. Recycling of batteries is not an easy process. It takes a lot of effort and time for the companies to make use of the waste batteries and also the money involved in this process can leave a dent in the economy of a nation. Yet these measures have to be taken to safeguard the people from the harmful effects of this waste.
Management and handling of Lead-Acid Battery Waste is a tough job that requires a huge team consisting of a manufacturer, an importer, re-conditioner, assembler, dealer, recycler, auctioneer, consumer and bulk consumers. With a huge team comes huge responsibilities that each member is expected to fulfill. This means that every one of these members has certain duties assigned to them and tasks that they have been entrusted to complete by their idea of expertise. The provisions laid down for waste management are incomplete without the involvement of all these people however, knowing each of their duties is not necessary. Mentioned below are only the main provisions of the Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001 focused on giving a general idea of the Act:
- The Rules have made it mandatory for the consumers to return the batteries that have been used up. The responsibility of collection is given to the manufacturers, assemblers, re-conditioners, and importers. They also have to ensure the onward transportation of these collected batteries to the recyclers who are registered with the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
- The recyclers should have environmental sound technology for processing and recycling the lead-acid batteries. This technology is tested with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and then accordingly the recyclers are registered officially. This processing is expected to result in cutting down the lead emissions in the atmosphere that are caused due to backyard smelting of these batteries and also to reduce the discharge of acid into open grounds or sewers.
- Manufacturers are required to set up the collection centers either individually or jointly, to collect the used batteries from the consumers. They should keep a record of a collection of batteries and also if possible, classify them into types.
- Batteries that are sold to the bulk consumers like Centre, State, Road Transport undertakings, and Equipment manufacturers for example- automobile manufacturers have been excluded from the obligation of collection of batteries. Also, the bulk consumers and even the auctioneers could auction the used batteries to registered recyclers under MoEF while the small scale manufacturers are given the liberty to procure recycled lead from these registered recyclers for further manufacture.
- Dealers are also assigned the duty to collect the used batteries as per the schedule of the sold ones and auction them in favor of the registered recyclers. They also have to provide sufficient discount to the consumer for the used battery. Also, the classification of batteries into similar types has to be done by them. Lastly, they also file the applications for registration.
- All the Manufacturers, Assemblers, Re-Conditioners, Importers, Auctioneers, Recyclers, and Bulk Consumers have to submit half-yearly returns to the State Pollution Control Boards who are designated as the Prescribed Authority. The forms regarding the same have been designed to enable easy verification of all the responsibilities that the above persons have under the Rules.
- The Ministry has prescribed a collection schedule to provide a gradual enhancement in the collection of the used batteries to achieve a level of 90 percent collection from the third year. The batteries have also been categorized for similar collection.
The Rules of Battery Waste Management, 2001 did prove to be effective and useful in protecting the environment from the hazardous chemicals that the waste produced. However, today the risks have increased in number with more and more use of batteries in day to day equipment like phones, laptops, alarm clocks, watches, etc. The year 2020 is a digitalized era where every person is technology driven and so the use of batteries among people is also rising. This calls for some changes to be made in the Rules that were notified in the year 2001. To strengthen the ecosystem for management and handling of disposal of batteries all over India and ensuring the safety of the people, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published a draft of Battery Waste Management Rules, 2020 on February 20, 2020, which is supposed to supersede Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001. The Provisions are almost the same; they have just been improved a little to meet the present status of battery waste disposal.
- The New Rules have brought under the purview both the Primary (non-rechargeable) and secondary (chargeable) types of cells and not just focused on Lead-acid batteries.
- With the advancement in technology, now batteries can be tracked through online records and data management to control the sale and collection of batteries all over the country. This record will also ensure a formalized recycling of batteries.
- It lays down the responsibilities of the manufacturers, dealers, assemblers, auctioneers, recyclers, importers, re-conditioners, consumers and bulk consumers regarding the collection, processing, and sale of the batteries with a more advanced method.
- The new rules make sure that the recycling of the batteries is done safely by taking effective control measures and also it seems that the spare parts can be brought to some use.
- The Ministry has taken the task of setting up the collection centers on itself, either individually or jointly at various places for collecting batteries from consumers and dealers. New arrangements have been proposed for the safe transportation of the old batteries from the collection centers to the authorized recycler. Moreover, manufacturers will also need to file an annual record of their sales and buyback to the State Board by December 31 of every year.
- To use the 3 R’s as much as possible- even though recycling is the best way for safe disposal of the used battery waste, the other two components that are REDUCE and RECHARGE can also prove to be effective in handling the battery waste. The main goal is protecting the environment and living beings from hazardous substances that come out of this waste. Thus, reducing and limiting the use of batteries to only important electrical devices and technology can be a good way to lessen the burden of disposal. Using Rechargeable batteries is another possible way to cut down the expenses of recycling.
- Importance of Awareness- increasing awareness among the people about the harmful impacts of waste batteries is the most crucial step towards managing Battery waste disposal. The people have to know that blindly using and disposing of the batteries will be their loss in the coming future. The Government alone cannot handle all the disposal and management of e-waste like batteries. The people need to support and work with the government for safe disposal of this waste because by doing so they are safeguarding the future interests of themselves as well as the environment.
Even after the introduction of a new draft of Rules set by the needs of the present era, the Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001 was quite successful in its own time. Batteries are just one thing out of so many that are a threat to our environment and us. We cannot ignore the polluted air that we encounter while stepping out of our homes, or the barren lands that once held huge trees in its soil or even the beautiful, clean lakes and rivers that we have in our cities, all of this is slowly getting destroyed at the hands of the humans themselves because they are not ready to look at the bigger picture in front of their own selfish needs. However, there is still hope to protect whatever is left of the environment and so I believe that we should make as many people aware of the current environmental situations as possible.
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