Management of electronic waste by bulk consumers: The case of India's IT service sector

  • Logakanthi Subramanian

Student thesis: Phd


The global ICT revolution is adding a new stream of waste, known as electronic waste or 'e-waste': electrical and electronic equipment that has ceased to be of value to its owners. The recyclability of e-waste together with the presence of pollutants poses a waste management challenge. Developed countries have systems in place to address this challenge, but developing countries have only recently recognised the need to develop appropriate systems for e-waste management.ICT consumers are key stakeholders in e-waste: it is they who decide whether and when an item is e-waste, and they form the link between producers and recyclers. Yet not much attention has been paid to their role. The limited research to date has focused on household consumers in developed countries, leaving a knowledge gap around bulk, organisational consumers in developing countries, despite their often being the largest single contributor to e-waste.Acknowledging the growing challenge of e-waste management in developing countries and lack of research on bulk consumer response to this challenge, the present research aimed to understand e-waste material flows, management strategies and determinants relating to bulk consumers of IT in India. It focused on bulk consumers in India's IT service sector because that sector depends on electronic equipment for its operation and has been recognised to generate nearly 30% of the total e-waste in the country. The data for this research was collected between 2010 and 2011, at a time when preparations were underway for implementation of separate e-waste regulations in the country. Therefore, the findings of the research here draw attention to the practice for e-waste management in India before implementation of the new regulations.In order to achieve the overall aims, a qualitative research approach based on multiple case studies was adopted. In all, 20 IT service organisations belonging to three different groups based on size namely, very large (VL), large (L) and small and medium (SM) were studied via multiple semi-structured interviews, direct observations and document analysis. Further source triangulation was achieved through interviews with representatives from other stakeholder groups: IT equipment producers, formal recyclers, regulators, industry association representatives, and representatives of various national and international organisations working on e-waste management.A complex chain of material flow was identified, involving a significant number of stakeholders. Two further models - of e-waste strategy and e-waste strategy determinants - were developed through literature review and pilot fieldwork, and then verified via the main fieldwork. Three distinct types of e-waste management strategy were observed among the stakeholders. While the VLIT organisations and IT producers exhibited a proactive approach to e-waste management, the LIT organisations and formal recyclers exhibited a reactive approach to its management. The SMIT organisations ignored the challenge of e-waste and were indifferent to the management of generated e-waste. Various external (regulation, clients, peer pressure, brand and corporate reputation) and internal (corporate culture and leadership, financial benefits and corporate social responsibility) factors were found to play a role in determining the different types of e-waste management practiced by the stakeholders. Except for direct financial benefits all the identified factors had a strong determining role in the proactive approach to e-waste management. The reactive approach was chiefly driven by regulation and financial benefits associated with e-waste management. The indifferent approach was driven only by the financial benefits associated with disposal of e-waste.A key determinant that was shaping the factors among the IT bulk consumers was institutional pressures mainly driven by the requirement of some clients for green practices; that requirement itself deriving from the nature
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarys Jones (Supervisor) & Richard Heeks (Supervisor)


  • IT service sector
  • institutional forces
  • formal recycling
  • India
  • E-waste
  • bulk consumers

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