Facility for both informal and formal dismantlers; offering a complete system including tools, equipment and training
A startup in the National Capital Region is attempting to formalise the management of electronic waste by launching a co-working space for dismantlers and recyclers. The Indo-Swiss company’s space for dismantling e-waste — claiming to be the first such globally — was launched on October 18, 2023.
The facility offers informal dismantlers and formal recyclers a complete system that includes e-waste transportation, measurement, secure storage, dismantling with personal protection equipment (PPE) and tools and disposal of hazardous waste in one place.
The informal sector in India handles the majority of e-waste, frequently in subpar conditions. While the sector provides livelihoods for many families, it also often negatively impacts the environment and workers’ health.
Down To Earth (DTE) visited the premises of Ecoworks in Ghaziabad’s Meerut Road industrial area, Uttar Pradesh, which promises better conditions for the sector.
The first sight to greet visitors at the facility is a heavy-duty weighing bridge, locally known as a dharm kanta. Another weighing apparatus — a scale — can be found at the entry of the two-floored workspace.
The weighing bridge and scale are a major requirement for dismantlers but are frequently unavailable at the entry points of unlicensed e-waste dismantling and collection centres, said Anurag Gupta, general manager for Ecowork, also stylised as E[co]work.
“Here, through the licenced co-work facility — an absolute innovation from Ecowork founders and academicians from India and Switzerland involved with the e-waste sector for over 50 years — envisioned every waste management processing step in one place,” he said.
There are eight dismantling units for rent by informal dismantlers in the 21,000-square-foot space in the building. The tables are equipped with tools, machines, and shelves for storage. Twelve other dismantling tables were kept in the open as were a few cupboards and storage bins for use in the collection centres.
Dismantling tables with equipment. Photo: Ecowork
In India, formal recyclers are often compelled to rent a 1,000-square-foot room in congested e-waste hubs that do not even have safe storage conditions for e-waste due to being unlicensed.
The co-work space also features six air-conditioned offices for formal recyclers to carry meetings with clients, ample ventilation and CCTV cameras for surveillance and safety.
The dingy rooms rented by informal e-waste workers — for example in e-waste hubs of Seelampur and Mustafabad — lack separate spaces for men and women to clean up and get rid of toxins, unlike at Ecowork.
Read more: Can India manage its toxic e-waste?
Many of those with Ecowork have worked in different countries around aspects of e-waste over a long period of time, Deepali Sinha Khetriwal, co-founder of Ecowork, told DTE. So, the startup is sure it is a first in the world.
“Large informal sectors operate in an unorganised manner, while formal facilities are very commercial. This may be the reason an interface between the formal and informal sectors in e-waste might not have been thought of,” said Khetriwal.
Most of the hazards in e-waste management come during processing — microentrepreneurs use fire, acid, etc to recover certain materials from gadgets and computers, she said. Much of the work is done manually in India and for safe processing, workers need to dismantle using the right PPEs in workrooms with the right ventilation.
Gupta has also worked as a third-generation dismantler in West Bengal for over a decade and said manual dismantling of e-waste is popular as it is more efficient. However, the process comes with many dangers. “Materials like lead, mercury and dust get on the workers’ hands. Common malpractices are also followed due to a lack of awareness, like burning dismantled wires and washing gold-plated pins dismantled from computer motherboards,” he said.
Ecowork is also offering training for informal workers on best practices. “We warn them not to dismantle or sell gold chips because the acid in which they are floated can harm the environment and them. Unlike the dismantling of copper and aluminium parts, the dismantling of gold chips should always involve a licensed recycler. Capacitors in computers also must only be handled by approach treatment, storage, and disposal facilities,” said Gupta.
The startup also receives funds for conducting awareness programmes from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said Gupta.
The facility is also pocket-friendly, said Rashid Mansuri, a dismantler from Mustafabad who works with WiFi routers. Mansuri visited the facility during the trial run process before its official launch.
“For a dingy room with no facilities in Mustafabad, I have to pay a rent of Rs 15,000 per month for work with two staffers. In contrast, I will have to pay only Rs 5,000 per week for the dismantling unit at the Ecowork facility, which can be rented as per use, providing me flexibility. I can also clean up myself and not carry home any toxins that can endanger my family,” he said.
Even the tools provided, like a special screwdriver for dismantling, make his work easier, Mansuri added.
According to the United Nations, eight kg of e-waste per person will be produced worldwide in 2023.
“Only 17.4 per cent of this waste, containing harmful substances and precious materials, will be recorded as properly collected, treated, and recycled globally,” stated a recent study from Brussels-based organisation Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment.
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