Trash evangelists

By: | Published: August 30, 2015 12:03 AM

With the generation of 1.7 million tonnes of e-waste in 2014—and without any robust mechanism to scientifically recycle or dispose of the discarded electronic and electrical equipment—India is literally sitting on a toxic ‘time-bomb’. But help is at hand. Apart from government initiatives, there are several companies that have made e-garbage disposal their business. Kunal Doley profiles a few such start-ups

With the generation of 1.7 million tonnes of e-waste in 2014—and without any robust mechanism to scientifically recycle or dispose of the discarded electronic and electrical equipment—India is literally sitting on a toxic ‘time-bomb’. But help is at hand. Apart from government initiatives, there are several companies that have made e-garbage disposal their business. Kunal Doley profiles a few such start-ups

Attero recycling
Rohan Gupta & Nitin Gupta

The idea first struck Rohan Gupta in 2006, when he was having trouble disposing of his laptop in an environment-friendly way. “That’s when I realised the gravity of the issue and understood that backed by a clean technology, this could make for a viable business opportunity while saving the environment from the pollution that e-waste has the potential to create,” says Gupta, who roped in his US-based brother Nitin Gupta, and together they launched Attero in 2008, an integrated end-to-end e-waste recycling facility with the ability to extract pure metals out of electronic waste.

Attero was one of the first e-waste recyclers to be registered with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Union ministry of environment and forests. “The collected e-waste is processed at our state-of-the-art plant to ensure environmentally-responsible disposal and extraction of valuable raw materials like precious metals and rare earth elements. Our disruptive technology for processing e-waste allows us to recover these valuable materials with high efficiency in an eco-friendly manner and at low costs. These raw materials are then sold in the market for reuse,” says Gupta, COO of the company.

The electronic items that haven’t reached their end-of-life phase yet are moved forward for refurbishment at Attero’s refurbishing facility, where they are reworked on and restored to ‘as-good-as-new’ condition. These goods are then sold to consumers at heavy discounts with assured warranty, which helps promote their reuse. “The company has witnessed more than 100% year-on-year growth. Our user base profile and target audience primarily include original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), bulk consumers like corporate organisations, financial institutions and IT companies; and individual consumers,” adds Gupta.

Attero has a re-commerce model—a combination of the services which it provides under two sites, Atterobay.com and Gobol.in. While Atterobay.com is an online take-back system, which allows consumers to get value for their old gadgets, at Gobol.in, before a product reaches the sales catalogue, it goes through intense inspection and reworking at its refurbishing facility to ensure that the gadgets are good to use and will give customers an assured warranty. “The best part about Gobol.in is that the products are priced competitively, allowing consumers to make huge savings as well as giving us an edge over others,” adds Gupta.

karma recycling
Aamir Jariwala & Akshat Ghiya

When Aamir Jariwala, co-founder of Delhi-based Karma Recycling, was working with a US-based private equity firm, he discovered the world of e-waste while considering an investment into one of America’s largest independent e-waste recyclers. “The education, science, organisation and scale of e-waste in the US made me wonder about the situation in India, and what was happening to the mountains of IT equipment back home,” he explains. Jariwala made a call to Akshat Ghiya, a college friend from Northwestern University in Illinois, US, who had recently set up a recyclable metal facades factory in India. “I spoke with him about the potential and opportunity in India,” he adds.

A few months later, Jariwala took some time off and came to India to see Ghiya in India. “By then, we knew that 95% of India’s e-waste was being handled by ragpickers and was being processed in the slums. We travelled from Seelampur and Muzaffarnagar in Delhi to Dharavi in Mumbai to see the waste and understand the situation first hand. What we saw was disturbing to us at multiple levels,” says Jariwala. From the slums, the pair visited global conferences on electronics recycling to get a global perspective on the issue. “There was clearly a lot of reuse and resource value in e-waste. This differentiated e-waste from other waste streams such as municipal solid waste, biomedical waste, etc. The problems were a lack of awareness of the subject and channels for the Indian customer to responsibly dispose of their junk,” offers Jariwala. Solving this problem and harnessing the value of scrap electronics became the driving force behind Karma Recycling.

Karma Recycling’s business model addresses both corporate and household waste. “We help corporates understand India’s new e-waste management and handling rules, study their organisation’s e-waste management requirements, draft internal e-waste policy, hold workshops and training camps for their employees, among others,” says Jariwala. For households, it has an expansive e-portal offering a simple online electronics trade-in service. The service allows customers to trade in over 700 models of working and non-working smartphones, tablets or laptops manufactured by technology giants such as Samsung, Apple, HTC, Nokia, and Blackberry. “With a unique pricing algorithm devised for the complex ‘re-commerce’ market in India, the portal delivers instant quotes for devices, provides free shipping, quality customer care and quick payment processing,” he adds.

Since its inception in re-commerce, Karma Recycling has collected over 1,00,000 mobile devices through its trade-in programmes, and redistributed them around the country. On the corporate side, it collects IT waste from across the country and trades it forward to recycling plants with which the company has long-term agreements in Delhi and its surrounding areas.

E-Incarnation recycling
Gaurav Mardia

Gaurav Mardia’s E-Incarnation was born out of a passion for environment protection. “E-waste is the fastest growing toxic waste stream in the world. Toxins like lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury are polluting our environment and ecosystems. Landfilling and dumping of these items as well as the unregulated and unscientific processes used in the informal recycling sector are escalating the already mammoth problem of e-waste pollution,” says Mardia.

E-incarnation provides its clients with free pick-up services across India. The company not only works with corporates, but also with NGOs, schools, colleges and residential societies, among others. “Transported material reaches E-Incarnation’s facility in Mumbai, where we use only the best available environmentally sound technologies to mitigate the harmful effects of improper disposal of e-waste and protect and preserve the environment,” says Mardia. The spectrum of E-Incarnation’s clients varies from top financial institutions, multinationals, NGOs and IT companies to call centres, telecom companies, and so on. Its top clients include IndusInd Bank, General Mills, Reliance Industries, Toyo Engineering, Binani Industries, Tata Group and Mumbai Mobile Creches, among others.

“The first and foremost step in recycling is refurbishing. Once the material reaches our facility, our team of skilled engineers checks their working condition. The devices, which can be repaired and reused, are resold in the market; also the working components from the devices are reused. This not only generates revenue for the company but also saves the resources required for processing them,” explains Mardia.

E-incarnation has also been active in educating society about the hazards of e-waste through its awareness and collection drives, seminars and presentations, among others. “We have associated with several schools, colleges and residential societies across the city to generate awareness. We also have tie-ups with NGOs for varied projects,” says Mardia.

In the past, E-Incarnation, in association with the Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (MITTRA)—a non-profit development organisation promoted by Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF)— executed a project through which it donated refurbished computer systems to two government schools in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. “We took the responsibility of complete execution of the project from collection of raw materials, repair, upgrade and transportation to the school, besides installation,” says Mardia.

Reglobe
Mandeep Manocha & Nakul Kumar

With newer technologies have come newer appetites among users to possess the ‘latest’ electronic model in the market. What happens as a result is a pile-up of gadgets at homes which, at most, find their way into classified sites like Quikr and OLX for online re-selling. Sniffing a big opportunity here, some companies like ReGlobe are experimenting with a new business model—re-commerce—that is, sale of second-hand goods. These are reverse marketplaces or reverse commerce (re-commerce) companies that are offering an online platform to sell your old or used gadgets like laptops, mobile phones and tablets. But unlike the other sites, there is always a price for the products here and a sure sale if the prices are agreeable to the seller.
Unlike Quikr and OLX, re-commerce firms have designed software that helps determine product prices on the basis of set metrics such as age, wear and tear, and market demand. Some re-commerce sites even guarantee products that meet some requirements.
“With localised professional buyers on our panel, we make sure that the old device is sold quickly with minimal effort thereby giving the customers maximum value and cash in hand. The professional buyers, who work with ReGlobe, in turn, refurbish these devices and then sell in the second-hand market. The whole transaction is closely monitored to give the best-user experience,” says Nakul Kumar, co-founder and COO of ReGlobe, which was conceptualised in 2009 as a unique entrepreneurial firm aiming to provide innovative solutions for end-of-life product disposal (products past their expiry date or products past their useful life). ReGlobe forayed into online re-commerce in 2013.
Currently, ReGlobe has direct presence in over 30 cities in India, including Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida, Ghaziabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Baroda, Chennai, Secunderabad and Hyderabad. It plans to expand to 50 cities in the near future. In these cities, ReGlobe picks up the gadget from home/office and pays cash at the time of pick-up. ReGlobe guarantees the sale within 48 hours of the request. “In other cities, ReGlobe sends a FedEx return courier. On receiving the used gadget from the user and upon its evaluation, the user receives the money by bank transfer or cheque within seven days,” adds Kumar.
ReGlobe works with professional buyers of second-hand devices across the country who pay
ReGlobe a commission for every transaction that happens through the platform.

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