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Is Solar Energy Really Green: A Legal Perspective on E-Waste Management

Solar photo-voltaic rooftop has emerged as a potential green technology to address climate change issues by reducing reliance on conventional fossil fuel based energy. This paper deals with how solar energy may not be as green as it may seem, and can cause great harm to the environment.

This problem arises when solar photo-voltaic panels used in the generation of electricity are not effectively disposed of or recycled. Since these panels are made out of materials very harmful for the environment, their effective disposal and recycling plays a huge role in contributing to the ideals of sustainable development in the nation. Additionally, the problem of poor management of E-waste in the country has also been dealt with as it is the policies regarding E-waste management that govern the disposal and recycling of solar panels. Lastly, the researcher has also given various suggestions to improve the current situation in the country.

The universe is finite, it’s creatures finite and its resources finite. If left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction. It is the curse of the knowledge of this impending doom that has led the world towards switching to renewable sources of energy. One of the most prominent sources of such renewable energy is the energy generated through solar radiation.

The question that arises out of the above statement is that, whether solar energy is actually as clean and green as it seems to be. This paper deals with how generation of electricity and power through solar radiation has certain implications, which may change the perspective of the people towards this “green” source of energy.

The researcher has relied on both primary and secondary data in order to analyse the situation of E-waste management in India and its implications on the environment and sustainable development of the nation as a whole.

Disposal of Old Solar Panels

The concept of generating electricity faces many drawbacks, but one that majorly harms the environment is the ineffective disposal of solar panels used in the generation of electricity once they have reached the end of their lifespan. Constant technological advancements have led people to upgrading the phones and computers they use at the drop of a hat. This already has led to a huge pile up of E-waste not just in India but all over the world. The ineffective disposal of solar panels only adds to this problem, thus harming the environment to a huge extent.

Legal Implications

WEEE Directive, 2012

Waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), refers to old cell phones, fridges, manufacturing materials, etc. It is one of the fastest growing waste streams in EU, expected to grow up to 12 million tonnes by 2020.[1]

This can cause a major environmental hazard that can severely affect the health of the people and the climate as well. In order to tackle this situation, the WEEE directive has been put in place in the European Union, in order to facilitate recycling of E-wastes, including solar panels that have reached the end of their lifespan.[2]

The first WEEE directive came into force in 2002 and made it easier to recycle E-waste. Later on, the directive was revised in 2012 in order to tackle the already increasing waste stream and came into force in 2014.[3]

E-Waste Management Rules, 2016

The Government of India enacted the E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 in order to tackle the same problem of increase in E-waste streams. The legislation lays down provisions for recycling of E-waste materials generated by producers, consumers, dismantlers and recyclers alike. The applicability of these rules is extended to components, consumables, spares and parts of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) in addition to the equipment as listed under Schedule I[4].

Schedule III of the Rules[5] lays down the targets of recycling such equipment by producers and authorisation given to producers to do so as well. The disposal of solar panels that have reached the end of their life are also covered under these rules.

The rules give guidelines to set up collection centres to collect E-waste for the purpose of recycling and also lays down guidelines to make the collection of E-waste easier. The rules were recently amended in 2018 in order to revise the targets for waste collection and recycling.[6]

Hazardous & Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016

These Rules were enacted to complement the E-Waste Management rules and deal with disposal of Hazardous waste generated as a result of manufacturing of electrical and electronic equipment and also their use by middlemen and consumers alike.[7]

The Relationship Between Sustainability And E-Waste Management

The world commission on Environment and Development, 1987 has defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development consists of three pillars, viz., economic development, social development and protection of the environment.[8]

As we can see, protection of the environment is essential for future generations to meet their own needs. Thus, it is only logical to deduce that something like disposal of solar panels, which if not done properly can greatly harm the environment, is a necessary aspect to consider for sustainability and sustainable development.

Many hazardous chemicals are used in the making of photovoltaic cells, which are the devices used to collect and store energy from solar radiation. Improper disposal of these would greatly harm the environment which would greatly contradict the very concept of sustainable development.[9]

E-waste management and Sustainable Development can be linked easily and this is possible through:

# Creating policies for recycling of waste and their effective disposal.
# Imposing penalties for the same, if rules are not followed.
# The study of E-waste management should be integrated with the Study of Sustainable Development, as both are so inextricably connected that achieving sustainable development without proper disposal of E-waste is almost impossible.

Literature Review
The researcher has gone through various research papers and articles which focus on the problem of poor management of E-waste in the country.

The most relevant ones have been stated below and the researcher has relied on facts and figures as stated in these papers and articles:
# Challenges in manufacturing and end-of-life recycling or disposal of solar PV panels[10]
This paper deals with the problems regarding disposal and recycling of Solar Photovoltaic Panels. It also deals with the sever adverse effects on the environment if not done properly. However, the paper does not deal with the legal aspect of the same, and hence, differs from this paper.

# Solar rooftop in India: Policies, challenges and outlook[11]
This paper deals specifically with the policies regarding solar rooftops in India, the policies that govern them and the challenges faced due to these policies. This paper however, does not make use of empirical data as part of its research and relies entirely on secondary data.

Research Methodology
The researcher has chosen empirical form of research where primary data has been collected by the researcher herself, through surveys conducted. The research is a combination of qualitative as well as quantitative data. Focus has been placed on the citizens of India since the issue prevails throughout the country. The researcher seeks to understand the level of awareness among the people when it comes to legislations regarding disposal of e-waste and the outlook of people towards environment protection. Therefore, empirical form of research was chosen.

Data Description
The Primary Data has been collected by way of survey amongst various people. All participants are either citizens of India or residents of India and will be directly affected by the E-waste management policies of India. The Sample Size is 25.

The survey aims to gather people’s opinions of E-waste management policies in India and also aims to make people aware about the current situation of E-waste management and the legal provision in place to regulate the same.

Survey Questions
Data Analysis
The data collected through the survey carried out above deals with the awareness about the harmful effects of improper disposal of Solar Panels at the end of their life cycle and the rules and regulations enacted towards improving the conditions arising due to this problem.

Awareness about the working of solar panels

According to the data collected above, not many people are aware about how solar panels function and how they are supposed to be disposed at the end of their life cycle. According to the data collected, 48% of the people have no idea about this, and 44% are not sure. This leaves only 8% of the population who actually know the implications of solar energy.

The notion that solar energy is the cleanest form of energy generation that exists is not entirely true. Just because energy is generated through the infinite resource of sunlight, does not mean that it is the cleanest source of energy available. Manufacturing and disposing of solar panels have huge environmental implications that people fail to consider. Thus, this notion is based on mere assumptions and the number of people looking into the actual facts and implications of energy generation are very less.

Awareness about rules and guidelines enacted for management of E-waste

As stated above, people do not know the actual workings of a solar power plant, and the huge implications it may have on the environment in the long run. It would be wrong to expect them to know about the rules and regulations laid down by the Government to tackle the harmful effects of disposal of solar panels.

Many housing societies in the country have started using solar power for various purposes like water heating, emergency electricity and so on. They do so in the name of clean energy, but fail to understand that various rules and regulations need to be adhered to when the time comes to dispose off the solar panels. Only when the people are aware of such regulations, can they effectively use solar energy to their advantage without actually harming the environment.

Opinion on the viability of Solar Energy

The opinion of the participants as to the viability of solar energy projects in the country was also gathered. The participants were told about the extremely large stream of E-waste that was being generated in the country and how disposal of solar panels would just grossly add to the problem.

The participants still thought that generating electricity through solar radiation was a viable option. This can be attributed to the fact that the advantages of solar energy greatly outweigh the disadvantages of the same. The participants were also made aware of the various rules and regulations enacted by the Government in order to tackle the situation, which may have contributed to their opinion.

Recycling as a solution?
80% of the population feel that recycling of solar panels at the end of their lifespan is a good solution to the problem stated above. The population feels greatly about generation of power through solar radiation, because of the benefits to the environment. They feel that recycling will negate the problem of disposal of solar panels, which would make solar energy one of the best options for generating electricity.

Effect of this survey on participants
The survey was created to carry out a dual purpose. The first purpose was to gather the opinion of the participants about solar energy and its generation. The second was to provide the population with the minimum basic information about the implications of generating electricity and power through solar radiation.

48% of the participants agreed to thinking twice about the viability of solar power projects after taking this survey. This goes to show that a large chunk of the population does not have even the basic information about such solar power projects. When the participants were faced with reality, their opinions did not totally change, as they still supported solar energy projects, but they were definitely more aware about the consequences that may affects the environment.

E-Waste Management And Disposal of Solar Panels In India

Even though the Government has enacted various rules and regulations regarding proper disposal and recycling of E-waste, their implementation in various states does not present a particularly rosy picture. This was noted in the case of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy Vs Union of India and Others[12] before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

The case dealt with dumping of hazardous waste and E-waste into water bodies which had severe adverse implications on marine life, marine quality, water quality and the environment in general.

The Supreme Court looked into the various guidelines enacted by State Governments and also looked at the status of their implementation. The Supreme Court referred to a CAG report which stated that over 75% of the state bodies were not implementing these laws. This only goes on to show that E-waste management has been totally neglected by the State Governments, and does not fit well with the ideals of sustainable development.

Legal Awareness With Respect To E-Waste Management

As seen from the above survey, it is clear that the population was not exactly aware of the legal provisions in place in order to regulate the management of E-waste streams in the country. This does not present a good picture about E-waste management in the country.

This would lead to the fact that it is not entirely the fault of the State Governments that the legal provisions for effective disposal and recycling of hazardous waste and E-waste are not implemented. When the people themselves do no have much idea about these provisions, no one will be there to keep a check on various Government bodies. No one has the requisite information to challenge the Government bodies when it comes to E-waste management.

India has one of the strongest judicial systems in the world, that too with a lot of power. The fact that the provisions enacted for preservation and betterment of the environment are not followed can easily be challenged in the courts of law. But, people are just not aware enough to do so.

Recommendations And Conclusion
Following are some recommendations based on both, the survey and other secondary data, that would greatly improve this situation and may even lead to a big change in E-waste management:

The people residing in the country need to be educated about the various provisions in place for the management of E-waste. This would lead to an increase in awareness which may lead to proper implementation of the policies laid down for the same.

Special Authorities may be set up in order to keep a check on other State Bodies, as to whether the policies laid down by the Government are being followed or not. This authority may even be set up under the National Green Tribunal itself.

Proper E-waste collection centres should be set up, in a manner that they are easily accessible by everyone. This would result in more people recycling E-waste, thus greatly reducing the burden on the Government.
It must be ensured that the solar power projects being brought into action do not use materials harmful to the environment for manufacturing photovoltaic cells. This would serve a great purpose when the time comes to dispose the solar panels used in these projects.

A budget can be allocated to ensure proper E-waste management throughout the country.

Lastly, the people must be motivated to use the 3 Rs, i.e., Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

These are only a few recommendations made by the researcher, in order to improve the current ailing situation of poor E-waste management in India. There may be several other ways to combat this problem.
The Government of India must act on this situation with immediate effect, as this greatly hampers the sustainable development of the nation, thus greatly affecting the future generations. It must be made sure that the generation of electricity through solar radiation must remain as clean and green as people think and want it to be.

Concluding the statements and assertions made above, it may be said that the problem of poor management of E-waste needs to be effectively addressed by the nation and its states. India must begin at the local level, which include implementation of existing policies regarding E-waste management policies and also setting up authorities to keep a certain check on the State bodies. On a national level, the Government must take initiatives to educate the people about E-waste management and its implications, in order to increase general awareness about the same. These are the only ways in which such a devastating problem can be tackled.

End-Notes
[1] Waste electronic equipment - Environment - European Commission, Ec.europa.eu, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/index_en.htm (last visited Aug 18, 2018).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Schedule I, E- Waste Management Rules, 2016
[5] Schedule III, E-Waste Management Rules, 2016
[6] Press Information Bureau, Salient Features of the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016 and its likely implication (2018).
[7] e-waste Management | Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, Meity.gov.in, http://meity.gov.in/esdm/e-waste (last visited Aug 18, 2018).
[8] Sustainable Development - President of the 65th Session - General Assembly of the United Nations, Un.org, http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/65/issues/sustdev.shtml (last visited Aug 18, 2018).
[9] Anupama Prakash et al., Challenges in manufacturing and end-of-life recycling or disposal of solar PV panels Iosrjournals.org (2015), http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jeee/Papers/Vol10-issue4/Version-3/M010438187.pdf (last visited Aug 18, 2018).
[10] Ibid.
[11] Malti Goel, Solar rooftop in India: Policies, challenges and outlook (2016), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gee.2016.08.003, (Last Visited Aug 18, 2018)
[12] Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy Vs Union of India and Others, (2005) 13 SCC 186      

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