Private Sector Solutions To India’s Prevailing E-Waste Management Challenges
A recent article in The Hindu Business Line pointed to “endemic policy problems” as the cause of the country’s ongoing struggles in the management of electronic waste. In 2011 the government passed the E-waste Management and Handling Act, putting responsibility for management of e-waste on the producers, rather than the end-users, of the original product. But despite the effort to streamline the recycling and proper handling of e-waste, the act has done little to curb the mishandling of dangerous waste that leads to the contamination of groundwater and harmful health effects for the handlers.
In cases like e-waste management where public policy proves incapable of addressing an issue adequately, we are likely to find a number of private players capitalizing on the government’s shortcoming. These gaps are often filled by social enterprises looking to use market strategies to create impact in an area of need. In 2010 we featured ReGlobe, founded by Nakul Kumar and Mandeep Manocha, which purchases old computers directly from users, refurbishes them, and then re-sells them at affordable costs. Given the prevailing challenges faced in the management of dangerous e-waste in India, we decided to reconnect with ReGlobe to explore how market based approaches can make a difference on such issues.
“We reduce the burden on environment for raw materials needed for manufacturing new devices by effectively putting to use what still has life in it or could be made usable by our expert refurbishing team,” explains Nakul Kumar. “This way we help prevent e-waste generation. We are changing the ways of consumption, inculcating the philosophy of ‘one man’s waste could be other man’s resource.’”
Nakul recently spoke with us to update us on his venture, the market for refurbished computers and his plans for the future of ReGlobe. Edited excerpts:
SocialStory: Tell us about your journey to start ReGlobe, and how the company has grown since its inception in 2009.
Nakul Kumar: Waste management in India has long been a linear system of collection and disposal, creating health and environmental hazards. Today urban India is facing a massive waste disposal problem which is only going to grow in the years to come. When we started in 2009, the problem of waste was still seen as one of cleaning and disposing rubbish and the market was opening up to the idea of organized waste management and resource recovery. Many private players had started taking waste seriously and started building independent verticals for waste management. That is when we too decided, after a lot of deliberation on various business ideas, to foray into this field and build a world class organization built on technology, people and values.
We started with an aim to provide innovative solutions for end-of-life product disposal (products past their expiry date or products past their useful life) and maximum value recovery using environmentally safe processes and technology. Average lifetime of products range from a few weeks to few years. For example, packaged foods (weeks or a few months), tyres (2-3 year), cars (7-8 years), mobile phones (2-3 years), laptops (2-3 years) etc. At the end of this period, these articles have to be treated in a way that the environmental and health hazards are minimized. Our company focused on designing/formulating the best disposal techniques for maximum value recovery and then executing the project in the most cost effective process.
Since 2009, we have worked on many projects including designing reverse logistics systems for mobile phone recycling, safe handling of CFLs, waste management and disposal on Indian trains, Scrap Tyre Recycling etc.
Our last project which we successfully exited by selling the business was Scrap Tyre recycling producing Fuel Oil and Carbon Black. End of life tyres present formidable disposal problems. Tyres are well known to be virtually immune to biological degradation. Thus tyres take up large amounts of valuable landfill space and also present fire and health hazards. We adopted catalytic pyrolytic reforming approach to convert waste tyres into sellable products hence eliminating tyre as an environment nuisance.
Our latest venture is a re-commerce website (www.reglobe.in) dealing in purchase and sale of old laptops. We buy used, obsolete or otherwise undesirable laptops from consumers directly and sell those laptops by refurbishing them to a new consumer segment. To briefly describe: we offer a guaranteed price to the owner of the laptop; organizing Free pick-up and Instant Cash; we refurbish the laptops in our specialized workshop; and we then sell those brand new old laptops ( refurbished) for re –use.
SS: Do you plan on expanding into other electronics or staying with second hand computers? How many computers have you refurbished?
NK: Our current priority is to expand in geography i.e. cover more cities. Currently we are doing Delhi & NCR and just started the service in Mumbai this week. Next expansion plan is to add more categories. Next in line are smart phones and tablets (like iPad, Galaxy Tab etc) which we hope to add at the end of April.
In the first month of our operation, mid Feb to mid March, we sold 120 refurbished Laptops.
SS: Are you only online or do you have an offline office location?
NK: For Buy-Back of Old Laptops, we two options…online platform where we provide online product evaluation using a simple calculator, give a fair guaranteed price and pick-up the laptop from customer’s home or office at a convenient time and offer instant cash. We also do Buy-back camps at corporate office, RWAs and Schools.
For selling Re-furbished Laptops, we have an online portal and if someone wants to see the laptop before buying, we give him or her the option of coming to our office in Gurgaon and check it physically before buying.
SS: What is the market for refurbished computers, and what is the general mindset in regards to buying second hand computers?
NK: There is no official figure on the market size of refurbished computers as it is a highly unorganized and fragmented industry and most of the transactions take place in a clandestine manner without a bill to avoid taxation. Every day hundreds of refurbished computers are traded in markets like Nehru Place and local computer repair shops in small towns and there is a huge market in various student consumer segments.
Generally, the perception so far in people’s mind regarding second hand computers is that of lack of trust and fear regarding the long term performance and break-down possibility of the machine. The major problem is that you would not get an after sales support from any of the current un-organized vendors and as soon as you leave the market, there is no guarantee on the product. Moreover, there are chances that you may end up buying a stolen laptop and may get in trouble. This is where we realized there is a gap and started ReGlobe to provide quality refurbished products and give on-site after-sales support and technical backing for one full year.
We are ourselves using refurbished laptops (our whole team) for 4 months now and we feel no difference in performance and have not faced any other issue. If the product comes to you after our rigorous testing standards and expert refurbishment, it is as good as new.
SS: What is the future growth plan for ReGlobe?
NK: Our immediate goal is expand into all major cities in India and build a Pan India network to Buy and Sell second hand products. Next we would add categories like smart phones and tablets. Our long term aim is to become a one stop shop for selling and buying second hand stuff and get instant cash.