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E-waste Recycling – 6 Steps Explained

Some numbers for you:

  • 1,014,961 tonnes of e-waste was generated in India during FY 2019-2020.
  • Only a fraction (3-10%) of this is collected by the organised sector.
  • Toxins in e-waste have the potential to cause cancer and other serious ailments. This occurs through contaminated resources. 

At this point, it’s pretty evident that e-waste recycling is an urgent necessity. The following table lists some electronic devices that you can recycle. 

Hard Drives


Cables & Batteries


USB Storage Devices Monitor Lamps & Light Bulbs Video Camera
     Dryer Mobile phone Cathode Ray Tube Printer
   Microwave Tablet Stereo Player Fax Machine
TV Laptop Refrigerator  Washing Machine

In this guide, we discuss e-waste. We’ll explain:

  • What is e-waste?
  • Some laws governing e-waste recycling.
  • Steps in the e-waste processing cycle.

What is e-waste?

Any discarded electronic appliances are considered e-waste or electronic waste. 

If e-waste is new to you, then you’re probably wondering why there are laws and organisations for this. Well, there are two reasons

  1. E-waste contains precious metals and useful products. In 2019, $57 billion worth of e-waste products were discarded. But only 17% or $10 billion worth of products was recycled. 
  2. E-waste contains toxic substances like Mercury, chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons. When it’s in the stable form in the electronic device, it’s not harmful. But when it starts breaking down, these toxic chemicals can cause diseases. It can contaminate soil and water resources, making the land unfit for living on.

That is why e-waste recycling is so crucial. 

Some Indian Laws Regarding E-Waste 

The first semblance of law regarding e-waste management in India was introduced in 1986. This was called the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), 1986

Today, the E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 govern the management of e-waste. It was revised in 2018. Under these guidelines, the manufacturers of e-waste are held responsible for its safe disposal.

The lifecycle of electronics is long. And it passes hands between many people. So who does the onus of management fall on? The responsibility should start from you, the consumer of the device.

The process starts when you decide to hand over your electronic device to an e-waste processing centre instead of to a landfill. If you’ve ever done the former, here’s the process your electronic device goes through.

6 Steps of the E-Waste Processing Chain

  1. Sanitising the Storage Device

No one wants their sensitive data to end up in the hands of strangers. That’s why sanitising the storage device is the first step of e-waste recycling.

Depending on the type of device in question, there are several methods you can use for data sanitisation.

Many believe that physical destruction is the best way to sanitise a storage media. But physically destroying a device may make recyclable material retrieval difficult.

That’s why sanitising your device with data erasure software is the safest. But this can’t be any data erasure software. You need a data erasure software that support all major data sanitisation standards like NIST 800-88. BitRaser complies with NIST 800-88, and all other standards. 

You’ll need a data erasure report, not only for your own satisfaction but also for compliance. BitRaser generates a comprehensive and tamper-proof data erasure report.

Check a sample data erasure report here. 

Know more about BitRaser.

  1. Collecting and transport

In India, 95% of e-waste is processed by the informal sector, aka kabadiwalas. Because of this, it is difficult to have a systematic collection process. The remaining 5% is what ends up in legal e-waste recycling facilities.

Ideally, you’re contributing to the 5% that gets recycled. 

You can find e-waste collection centres in all major Indian cities. Once the recyclers collect the waste, it gets transported to a recycling facility. 

  1. Shredding and Sorting

We know that e-waste has multiple useful materials that can be harvested from it. That’s why the third e-waste recycling step is to shred the waste. 

Shredding breaks down the device into its separate components. Different materials require different processes to retrieve and recycle. So then, the components are sorted based on the core material. 

  1. Extraction and Separation

After this beings the process where the core materials are separated from the larger components. Widely, there are three processes the components go through. 

  • Dust Extraction 

Dust is separated from the component by a shaking process. This process also breaks down the component further. So the next step becomes easier. 

  • Magnetic Separation

A strong magnet separates iron from the component. These metals are then taken to a different place to recycle.

After magnetic separation, materials like plastic, aluminium, and copper are left behind. These materials are what move on to the next step. 

  • Water Separation

This E-waste recycling step helps separate glass from plastic. The glass is then transported to smelting units where it’s used to produce other goods.

Any remaining fragments are handpicked.

  1. Material Recovery

The separated fragments are sorted according to the material type. The core material then goes on to be treated and recovered from the fragment.

  • The components that can be recovered

E-waste contains many precious metals and other elements that can be recycled. Here’s a list of the materials that can be recovered from e-waste. 

  • Glass - from Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT). CRTs are present in computer monitors and TVs. 
  • Mercury - this element is present in flat-screen monitors, fluorescent tubes, and tilt switches.
  • Precious metals - Metals like gold, copper, tin, and silver are found in circuit boards. Only accredited processing centres are allowed to recover these metals. 
  • Aluminium - Hard disks contain aluminium ingots. These can be used in automobile manufacturing. 
  • Metals - A host of metals can be recovered from e-waste. Cadmium, nickel, and cobalt are present in batteries. They can be reused to make batteries. Other metals like steel and iron are also recovered from e-waste. 
  • Plastic - Toners, ink cartridges and many other e-waste contain plastic in them. The recovered plastic can be used to make trays, fence posts, and insulators amongst many other things. 
  1. Preparing recycled material for sale

The raw materials recovered at stage 5 of the recycling process get prepared for sale. It usually goes out at raw materials. And specific plants treat them the way they need.

Most of the raw materials get converted back into electronics. But materials like plastic or mercury often get used in other items as well. 

Your Next Step

A company that deals with many electronic devices, like you, has a responsibility to the environment. As of 2022, India had 472 registered dismantlers/recyclers. Take the time to find recyclers in your city and start doing your part for the world.

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