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Tech Makeover for Scrapping

Shilpa Shanbagh, Data Quest, March 26, 2010

That happens when your electronic gadget grows old? You perhaps sell it to a nearby raddiwala for a few rupees. Then what? In all probability, this waste will go on to become a part of the ever-increasing mount that is getting accumulated all over the country.

According to a recent statement by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Mumbai tops the list of e-waste producing cities in the country followed closely by Delhi at the second position. The board also predicts the countrys annual e-waste production will touch the 8,00,000 tonnes mark by 2012. Affirming this, Jeevesh Kumar, executive director, Greenscape Eco Management says, “Due to the wide spectrum of constituents contained in e-waste, a broad range of equipment and technology is required for processing all of them. This requires a huge investment considering that most of the e-waste in India goes to the unauthorized scrap dealers, and the licensed players get only about 10% of the total e-waste.”

In this scenario, the effort of recyclers seems commendable as they are attempting what can be called an herculean task in India. They are trying to break into the huge informal e-waste recycling sector and establish a formal recycling ecosystem.

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Here we try and establish the nuances of the recycling business. And in a way, this is actually on popular demand, since we got a lot of reader mails asking us what is the scope and method of setting up an e-waste recycling plant in India.

Modeling it Up

Basically, the business model of most recyclers revolves around the basic setup where e-waste is collected and treated in a way that is safe for the workers as well as the environment.

The model of functioning followed by most recyclers is not the one wherein the valuable part is taken away while the remaining is thrown away. They have been trying to ensure that approximately 99.99% of the waste is recycled and used again. Describing their operational model of collecting e-waste, Kumar explains, “GEM works with mass producers of e-waste and uses comprehensive de-manufacturing and reverse logistical processes to process e-waste into its component fractions which can be further re-used by the manufacturers. GEM also serves companies which have custom bonded equipments awaiting disposal.”

In treating e-waste, the aspect of logistics also assumes great importance. “Yes, logistics and all India collection network is one of the most important success criteria for this chain,” opines Rahul Gupta, director, RT Outsourcing Services. Logistics plays a very important role in this industry. Collection from different sources all over the country is a major challenge.

The scrap dealer network, on the other hand, has a marked advantage in terms of collection and logistics due to the kabariwala chain who collect waste from doorsteps at very low costs. In the words of Kumar, a solution to this could be, “The formal recycling sector could benefit from this by working out a strategy where the informal sectors low cost collection mechanisms can be coupled with the best practices available with the formal recyclers.”

Fair Treatment

A few use the general software while others follow specific procedures. Describing the methodology followed at Greenscape, Kumar says, “GEM has a recycling facility in Alwar which is equipped to handle all kinds of e-waste. We follow a process driven methodology rather than an extreme technology driven operation. Upon dismantling and separation, GEM works with vendors who process the component fractions obtained from e-waste. For example, ferrous metals are forwarded to the government approved metal smelters and printed circuit boards (which contain hazardous substances) are processed at Umicore in Belgium. Umicore employs an extremely complex metallurgical process to dispose off printed circuit boards, while recovering precious metals contained in them.”

So Says CPCB…

  • Mumbai tops the list of e-waste producing cities in the country
  • Recyclers have been trying to ensure that approximately 99.99% of the hazardous waste in electronics is recycled and used again
  • According to a statement issued by the MoEF, there are 36,165 hazardous waste generating industries in the country
  • The RoI in the recyclers business varies considerably and ranges between 10% to 25% initially
  • However, analysts are unanimous on the opinion that recycling is a profitable business in the long run

Meanwhile, others like KG Nandini Enterprises started recycling activities in 2008 by installing their first e-waste recycling plant that made use of the European technology. The recycling plant that was procured from Switzerland is capable of processing 1 tonne of e-waste like computers, printed circuit boards, electrical cables, mobile phones, etc. Other new entrants like RT Outsourcing are also creating a pathway for themselves. Describing the method followed by them, Gupta explains, “We are creating a separate company with equity participation from a leading e-waste recycler of the world. Their patented technology would be used by RTO.”

The Scope

Many people feel that there is a lot of value in this field, but the entire perspective of e-waste handling is an expensive proposition and above all, those who enter this segment need to have a thorough knowledge of e-waste. Sound government support is also essential.

Apart from that, even if companies take the corporate social responsibility related to e-waste seriously then the picture will change totally. Talking about the scope of this field, Gupta says, “The potential is immense. However, it is a long term story with a huge focus on the collection of good quality and high volume of e-waste.”

Affirming his stand, Kumar adds, “The business is at a nascent stage and requires a lot of effort in terms of building awareness among the producers of e-waste. However, given the fact that India has a huge market for refurbished goods, there are good prospects for companies engaged in refurbishing of used electronics. At the same time, the amount of precious metals contained in e-waste makes it a profitable business.

Given the fact that there are different levels at which e-waste processors can operate, the RoI varies considerably and the range is between 10% to 25%.”

Government Regulations

Even the government is trying to do its best for this field. This field requires tight monitoring to ensure that nothing harmful is discharged into the water table or landfill. Recently, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a statement that the rules for e-waste would be announced by March 2010. The rules would contain provisions regarding the take-back policy being set by the IT industry and also highlight the collection centers being set up by them.

It also intends to ensure that steps are taken so that the informal sector is integrated into the formal stream of e-waste management. While Gupta says, “The e-waste policy (regulation) is likely to become effective in 2010. It would put the responsibility of disposing e-waste in an environment-friendly manner on producers and consumers. It would become mandatory to use an authorized recycler after the regulation is in force.”

Talking about the finer nuances that shall ensure the success of the policy, Kumar elaborates, “Currently, the e-waste policy is limited to the rules on storage, shipment and cross boundary movement of e-waste even from one state to another. However, the MoEFs proposed e-waste policy is a step in the right direction and would definitely be a big boost for the recyclers. The policy talks about making producers responsible for recycling the goods they produce as well as for clarity in terms of how companies dispose off their e-waste. This would certainly enhance the demand for safe recycling. It is extremely essential that the government backs up the policy through stringent enforcement.”

According to a statement issued by the MoEF, there are 36,165 hazardous waste generating industries in the country. Apart from that, approximately 6.2 mn tonnes of hazardous waste is generated by them every year, of which landfillable waste is 2.7 mn tonnes, incinerable 0.41 mn tonnes and recyclable hazardous waste is 3.08 mn tonnes. Considering this mounting pile of e-waste, the role of the recycler assumes even greater significance.

But cautioning those who intend to jump on to the bandwagon in a hurry, Gupta says, “The recyclers business is exciting but futuristic, and one where real returns should be expected only in the long run.”

E-waste recycling therefore is literally a business for those who are ready to enter in a long term relationship!

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