Wipro goes green as India’s e-waste mounts

India’s Wipro Ltd. has introduced new PCs that are compliant with the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive.

The move by Wipro to offer RoHS compliant products follows a 2005 demonstration by activists of environmentalist organization Greenpeace International who dumped old PCs outside the Bangalore headquarters of Wipro, one of India’s largest computer manufacturers and IT service providers.

In September 2006, the company announced an e-waste disposal program for its customers.

Wipro is the first Indian computer maker to offer products that are RoHS compliant, said Ramapati Kumar, team leader for toxics at Greenpeace’s Bangalore office.

The RoHS directive, adopted in 2003 by the European Union, went into effect in July last year. This directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment.

How much impact the Wipro initiative will have on India’s e-waste problem remains to be seen — but it’s a start. The government estimates that around 146,000 tons of e-waste are produced annually in the country. But Greenpeace’s Kumar said the figure is actually twice as high because the government estimate covers only e-waste generated in big cities.

Moreover, about 150,000 tons of used PCs, printers and other IT devices enter India illegally each year, according to Kumar. Some of the equipment is intended as donations to local charities but is sold before reaching Indians too poor to afford a PC, he said. Indian government regulations on handling e-waste are notoriously lax and do not measure up to the RoHS directive, he added.

Wipro’s entire PC line will be RoHS compliant by the end of this year, said Ashutosh Vaidya, vice president of Wipro’s Personal Computing Division. The division, which targets primarily corporate customers, sold about 170,000 PCs last year, and expects sales of 250,000 units in the company’s fiscal year ending March next year, Vaidya said.

“It is a good start, but we still have a long way to go,” Kumar said. The Indian government is still framing rules for proper handling of e-waste.

Ahead of those rules, Wipro has promised by 2009 to phase out the use of some hazardous chemicals still used in its products, including a brominated flame retardant (BFR) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These chemicals are not covered under the RoHS directive.

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