Eco Recycling Ltd

Calling all recyclers

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Courtesy of Courtesy of Eco Recycling Ltd

B K Soni is mildly amused at being termed a social entrepreneur. He is happier calling himself a kabadiwalla. His e-waste recycling company, Eco Recycling orEcoreco, collects 100 tonnes of discarded computers and peripherals from firms every month and disposes of them safely. “Our business does have a beneficial impact on the environment, but indirectly,” says Soni, who set up Ecoreco in 2007. The company is among just six registered e-waste recyclers in the country.

The 1,200 tonnes of e-waste that Ecoreco recycles each year is a tiny fraction of about 400,000 tonnes of such waste that India generated in 2008 alone, according to a MAIT-GTZ study. The volumes grow an estimated 35% year-on-year, says Soni. In 2007, only 19,000 tonnes were processed using environmentally safe recyclers such as the Mumbai-based Ecoreco. Unorganised recyclers took care of the rest. The biggest impediment to getting more volumes into the organised sector is the social mindset.

The corporate sector, which generates 60% of India’s e-waste, is more aware of the imperative to recycle than individual households. Yet the 400-odd companies that Ecoreco and others service across the country recycle less than 5% of their e-waste through registered recyclers. The reason why the unorganised sector still dominates is that there are too few registered recyclers.

Not surprisingly, Soni yearns for more competition. “Fifty recyclers is the minimum required to handle the current volumes. And, we need to add ten new ones every year,” he says. He has been talking to environment-focused non-government organisations and others to lobby for tougher legislation on e-waste recycling. The proposed legislation, dubbed Electronic Waste (Handling and Management) Rules 2008, seeks to make the disposal of e-waste via environment-friendly means legally binding.

For players like Ecoreco, this legislation could be crucial for the business. Since its inception in September 2007, Soni has invested Rs 12 crore in the business, mostly from his own resources. Funding has been tough to come by.

In a few months Soni expects to mobilise Rs 6 crore in bank loans on the back of his newly set up, 25,000 square foot facility in Vasai, Mumbai. Operations are being moved here from the Andheri East facility. The giant shredder in the facility will be able to handle 4,000 tonnes of e-waste per year. Shredding makes up 55% of the volumes of the company. The rest is recycled via refurbishment, which is handled by a team of computer engineers here. Refurbished products find their way back to retailers or are leased out to students at nominal rates. With the increase in volumes at the new facility, the company hopes to break even in a year and a half.

But Soni has plans beyond just recycling e-waste. He plans to set up factories for entrepreneurs on a turnkey basis. “A friend introduced me to e-waste recycling in 2004 and I sensed a big business opportunity. In the bargain if it benefits society, well and good,” he says.

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