Sniffing business opportunity in discarded electrical, electronic equipment; helping consumers responsibly dispose of old gadgets
YOU suddenly realise your ‘latest’ smartphone has lost its ‘tech quotient’ or you figure out that your laptop has become too old to use and is hardly worth anything at resale. So what do you do? You trash them. But unlike your day-to-day garbage, these electronic and electrical equipment are made up of a large number of chemicals that make disposing of them a bigger challenge. Then what?
Enter ‘re-commerce’ or reverse commerce, that is, the sale of second-hand goods. Several start-ups are experimenting with this new business model that offers consumers an online platform to sell their old or used gadgets like laptops, mobile phones and tablets.
Of course, there are classified sites like Quikr and OLX, where one can re-sell their stuff. But unlike these sites, there is always a price for the products in the re-commerce model and a sure sale if the prices are agreeable to the seller. These 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 specific requirements.
In essence, what is posing as a global menace is turning out to be a lucrative business opportunity for some entrepreneurial youngsters like Mandeep Manocha and Nakul Kumar of ReGlobe, a re-commerce marketplace. Although ReGlobe was started in 2009 to provide innovative solutions for end-of-life product disposal, the start-up forayed into online re-commerce only in 2013, buying old gadgets online and refurbishing them to serve someone else’s needs for low cost. “We offer an online platform to sell old or used electronic gadgets,” says ReGlobe co-founder Kumar. The company serves over 5,500 pincode locations across India.
Similarly, brothers Nitin Gupta and Rohan Gupta’s Atterobay, an online take-back system, makes it easier for consumers to get value for their old gadgets.
“Our business model is based on ethical e-waste management, and promoting eco-friendly reuse and recycling of end-of-life electronics,” says Nitin Gupta, CEO of Attero Recycling, the parent company of Atterobay.
E-waste is a growing menace globally. Its magnitude can be summed up from a recent report, ‘Global E-Waste Monitor 2014’, compiled by the UN thinktank, United Nations University (UNU). The study put India at the fifth position — only behind the US, China, Japan and Germany — having discarded 1.7 million tonnes of electronic and electrical equipment in 2014. UNU further warns that the volume of global e-waste is likely to rise sharply by 21% in the next three years.
“The amount of e-waste is growing exponentially in the country and there is no proper mechanism in place to handle its proper disposal. No organisation in the country has undertaken complete e-waste inventorisation. Whatever is available in public domain is that of a few items, which includes TVs, laptops, washing machines, etc,” says Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme manager, industry and environment — training unit of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based public interest research and advocacy organisation.
As per the Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturers’ Association (CEAMA), an apex industry chamber for the consumer electronics and home appliances industry in India, only about 1.5% of the e-waste in the country is recycled by formal recyclers, while a 9.5% is done by informal agencies. About 8% of the e-waste that has been generated is diverted to landfills. “These informal agencies at work have their own recycling units. But lack of proper training, use of child labour and redundant equipment and processes are, in themselves, a huge threat to the people and the environment,” explains Radhika Kalia, chairperson of the e-waste committee of CEAMA and head of corporate affairs and CSR at Panasonic India.
Going forward, Yadav of CSE feels the magnitude of the problem is way too big and a handful of formal sector players will not be able to solve the problem. “The government needs to think differently. Formalisation of the informal sector is a step which the government should take immediately. The reach of the informal sector is huge and they can do collection and some sot of dismantling exercise. Recovery aspects should also be handled by formal players,” he adds.