Attero aims to extract elements from e-waste and set new standards for socially responsible e-waste recycling
By Srinath Srinivasan
Noida-based Attero Recycling has been tackling the problem of mounting electronic waste as consumers discard their electronic gadgets and electrical appliances once their lifespan is over. The startup extracts important elements and compounds from these discarded products that can be used in various industrial applications, using its proprietary technology while trying to minimise the negative impact on the health of the waste collectors in this largely unorganised sector.
“What we do is urban mining. We do not dig the earth to extract elements. We are the only company in the world today to get carbon credits per tonne of electronic waste recycled, from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” says Nitin Gupta, CEO & co-founder, Attero Recycling. What this means is that Attero’s recycling process consumes significantly less energy to extract a gram of gold, for instance, as compared to the energy consumed to extract the same amount of gold from a virgin mine. Gupta also says that the metals extracted are as pure as newly mined metals and the whole process is highly efficient leaving little to no waste in the supply chain.
Attero today boasts of being the only company in India to recycle lithium ion batteries to extract 99% cobalt and lithium carbonate of pharmaceutical grade and gives it back to the supply chain in addition to other metals and compounds, reducing the dependence on imports. The company has been granted 20 patents in the US and Europe on the lithium ion battery recycling technologies. “In addition to the important elements needed for lithium-ion batteries, India is a major importer of tin ingots. Just by recycling electronic waste, we will make India a net exporter of tin ingots this year,” says Gupta. The company feeds back the extracted metal into the supply chain as a vendor to manufacturers in various industries. “Currently we supply to Samsung, Tata Motors, Toyota, Vivo, Hitachi, Jio among many others, all the while collecting wastes from them,” says Gupta.
The collection of waste outside of industries has been a challenging yet socially impactful task. According to Gupta, the waste market is unorganised, consisting of daily wage workers with little to no digital literacy which makes it difficult to bring them into the ambit of tech. This necessitates field work to coordinate and collect e-waste instead of digitising the whole process.
“When we directly collect from the waste collectors, pan-India, we are able to give them better prices and also prevent them from employing crude methods to extract metals and chemicals. In some cases, the dangers of the crude processes they carry out have brought down their lifespan to 27 years among men while women and children are exploited in other cases,” says Gupta, talking about the problems suffered by workers in this unorganised sector.
The company has raised $30 million from venture funds and owns all of its recycling plants.