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e-Waste Recycling Startups-VCs Confident, Yet Too Many Loopholes
Eureka Bharali
Monday, January 3, 2011
The green statement has been luring a lot of startup to grab a pie of the huge e-waste market. The computing devices, electronic garbage that piles up within every company, have always been a source of the quick cash, thanks to the scrap dealers, and currently, just five percent gets recycled in an organized way. In such a scenario, how would a company venturing into the realm bring in a better return on investment? Sachin Maheshwari, who has recently joined the boards of Zephyr Peacock as its Director quickly pinpoints, “The amount of recycled goods that comes out of a product covers all the recycling cost. Whether it’s metal or gold, the open market has a good price for it.” During his stints in Draper Fisher Jurvetson Maheshwari himself was a part of one of the recycling startups.

There are 58 million television units in India which is expected to reach 234 million by 2015. On the other side, there are 75 million computers in India since the life cycle of a PC has come down to 3-4 years from 7-8 years a few years back. Similarly, the Indian mobile handset market is set to zoom across the 100 million mark soon. E-waste management firms claim that now it is possible to recycle around 98 percent of a cellphone. If a general consensus on organized e-waste recycling is achieved then there is no looking back for any firm in this sector.

The biggest snag is the lack of awareness and the urge to socially come to a conclusion. “One is paid for giving out the garbage to an unorganized recycler. Even if being socially conscious about pollution is kept on the sidelines for a minute, there are also issues on security. For instance, recently, many of the U.S. companies’ crucial data were found openly distributed on an online site of Nigeria. This happens as there is no track of the products once it reaches the unorganized scrap dealers’ hands. Herein, the work of the organized recycling companies comes. We, for instance, use a specific technology to re-format the hard-disks to ensure no data can be retrieved from the product. Also the hazardous bi-products are disposed safely,” says Rohan Gupta, Co-founder of Attero Recycling. It serves more than 200 clients which include Wipro, HCL, Tata Tele Services, and Google among others. To some extent even electronic manufacturing firms have started taking a notice of the re-usability part. For instance, Nokia claims that 65-80 percent of the materials in their mobile phones can now be recycled and given a second life. Best practices can even recover 100 percent of the materials - partly as energy. The market is huge, yet till a complete agreement from every nook of the society comes it may not grow big.

A sneak view of the recent laws show that the government has introduced legal compliance whereby every company will have to give out the goods to the authorized recyclers. Yet till 2012, the law will not be implemented on a full force. As per Attero’s Founder, Nitin Gupta, the country may also be seen as a hub for e-waste management considering the fact that it takes $2 to recycle a single PC in India compared to $20 in U.S. But will it happen before 2012, chances seem to be meek.
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