Akshat Ghiya, Co-founder & Director, Karma Recycling

India Infoline News Service | Mumbai |

“Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing kinds of waste streams in the world; India with its magnitude is obviously at the forefront of this rapid growth in e-waste…”

Akshat Ghiya, Co-founder & Director, Karma Recycling, Akshat founded Glazetech Industries, a manufacturer and supplier of innovative and "green" building materials and metal facade solutions in 2006 in Jaipur, Rajasthan (India). Under his leadership the company has grown from 20 to 75 employees currently has an annual turnover of $5 million. In 2008 Glazetech Industries received a nomination as one of Hottest Startups in India by the TATA Group. Akshat spent his childhood in Italy and did his initial years of schooling from Padua. Later he attended boarding school at Aiglon College, Switzerland. He has earned his BA, Economics and International Relations from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA) and is proficient in Hindi, English, Italian, French and Spanish.


Aamir Jariwala, Co-founder & Director, Karma Recycling, Aamir served as the Head of Corporate Strategy at SPML Infra Limited and led the legal and project finance functions for various city water distribution management,waste water management and solid waste management projects across India. Prior to joining SPML Infra, Aamir was an investment professional with New York-based private equity fund, Friend Skoler & Co., where he identified and executed various transactions including recapitalizations, management buyouts, industry consolidations, ownership transitions, and growth capital opportunities across a broad range of industries. Prior to Friend Skoler, Aamir was an investment banker in the Mergers and Acquisitions team of UBS Investment Bank and Mitsubishi UFJ Securities and was stationed in New York, London and Tokyo. Aamir earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Economics from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA) where he was a Ford Motor Company Dean Scholar. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Aamiris an alumnus of St. Mary's School (ICSE) and Jai Hind College in Mumbai and is proficient in English, Hindi and conversant in Spanish.


Karma Recycling, aims to conserve the planet’s resources by focusing its efforts on systematic electronics reuse and responsible recycling by making it as easy as possible for the common man to resell and/or recycle their used electronic devices scientifically. In addition to providing a household trade-in service, Karma, is a Government of India authorized electronic waste collector and segregator and advises corporates nationwide on the operational impacts of the recent electronic waste legislation passed recently by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Karma quantifies the impact of Government legislation on internal e-waste management guidelines and policy, and helps corporate streamline their pan-India generation of e-waste into an environmentally responsible and logistically efficient process. The company received seed funding and commenced operations in April 2013. Karma is currently accepting device trade-ins via its e-portal in 6 cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bangalore, and plans to add six more cities by the end of 2013. Over 300 devices have been traded in through the e-portal as on date...


For businesses, Karma runs a pan-India collection and transportation service and has signed up twenty key corporate accounts, including Heathkart, Safexpress, and Genus Power Infra, in four months of operation.


Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, AKSHAT GHIYA and Aamir Jariwala say, “Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing kinds of waste streams in the world; India with its magnitude is obviously at the forefront of this rapid growth in e-waste…”


What are the emerging trends in recycling? Anything on the health aspect due to lack of proper recycling?

As many of us know, electronic waste is one of the fastest growing kinds of waste streams in the world. India with its magnitude is obviously at the forefront of this rapid growth in e-waste which, if recycled in a non-scientific manner, can lead not only to a terrible waste of diminishing natural resources but also cause irreparable damage to the environment and to the health of the people working within this industry. On the other hand, if tackled safely and scientifically, this “trash” can be reused, recycled, and will greatly reduce our carbon footprint, our unsustainable dependence on virgin metals mining, and allow us to leave a healthier world for the generations to come.


In addition to the damage this e-waste stream causes to the environment, India also has the twin problem in which its domestic e-waste industry employs an informal sector (ragpickers – mostly living in slums and employing mostly children) that are unskilled, impoverished and, due to their un-scientific methods of recycling e-waste (burning waste over small fires, in open air, and with no shoes, gloves, or masks), unaware of the grave damage they are causing to their own health to earn their daily subsistence. This informal sector collects and "recycles" almost 95% of all India e-waste.


The need for formal, scientific recycling is obvious. Getting the country there is a challenge. Change will happen only through awareness, of which there is very little at this moment. A change is just starting to be seen amongst top tier companies in Tier 1 cities.


Explain to us the business model of Karma Recycling? What is your e-commerce and logistic platform all about? Tell us about your Geographical presence

Karma draws its inspiration from the roots of Indian mythology where it embodies the constant cycle of cause and effect. Today electronics companies design new and improved gadgets every day, marketing them worldwide and flooding the markets with them month after month, year after year. Millions of gadgets make their way into the hands of new consumers every day, designed to last little more than a couple of years - if that. What happens with these devices when we're done with them? Few of us pause to ponder the consequences of our impulsive technology buying decisions.


Our business model addresses both corporate and household waste. We help corporates understand India's new E-Waste Management and Handling Rules, study their organizations e-waste management requirements, draft internal e-waste policy, hold workshops and training camps for their employees, lay out country-wide logistics/collection plans for them, collect their waste, help them fulfill govt requirements, and provide them with certificates of responsible recycling. In addition, for electronics companies under the Extended Producers Responsibility, we can design countrywide take-back programs. Due to our close association with Safexpress, we have access to 580 warehouses and over 3500 containerized trucks. We can provide our services to companies (and their offices/factories) across India. We have signed MoUs with 23 corporates from across India in the last six months of operation.


For households we have launched an expansive e-portal offering a simple online electronics trade-in service. The service allows customers to trade-in over 700 models of working and non-working smartphones, tablets or laptops manufactured by technology giants such as Samsung, Apple, HTC, Nokia, and Blackberry. With a unique pricing algorithm devised for the complex “Re-Commerce” market in India, the portal delivers instant quotes for devices, provides free shipping, quality customer care, and quick payment processing. We are currently offering pickup from Delhi - NCR, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad.


We do the basic segregation of corporate waste in house, and sell this segregated waste to authorized recyclers whom we audit (quarterly) and get proof of destruction from. Household smartphones, tablets, and laptops go through an inspection, repair and refurbishment process in-house - conducted by ex-Apple, Nokia, Samsung, and Blackberry engineers. The "refreshed" devices are then resold in the seconds market as certified pre-owned electronics.  What cannot be repaired is recycled by our recycling partners.


The household e-commerce portal comprises of a unique algorithm that generates an instant quote for over 700 models of smartphones, tablets and laptops. The algorithm and pricing is based on in-depth research which includes brand, vintage, features (such as display size, battery life, operating systems), the number of that model sold in the past years, MRPs (where applicable), and the cost and availability of spares.


What are the major challenges being faced in e-waste recycling?

Is there enough awareness seen in India?

The biggest challenge in e-waste recycling in India is awareness. People simply do not know about the impact/effect of unscientific recycling and the new laws governing them, and therefore are not taking steps to prevent it from happening. As people are made aware of the hazards of irresponsible and unscientific recycling and of the penalties of non-compliance of the e-waste laws, and are offered services which help them dispose of the waste easily and lawfully, the e-waste burden will diminish.


What needs to be done by the law-enforcing agencies?

Law enforcing agencies need to create an environment that cultivates the growth of e-waste management services. This can be done through education, incentivization and taxation. Educating Indians about the ill effects of improper recycling and spreading the word about companies like Karma Recycling will help. Penalizing businesses who are still not following the E-Waste Management and Handling Rules will help incentivize them to use authorised recyclers. Enforcing the new EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) Law willincentivize manufacturers to support trade-in and recycling services. Taxes at the point of sale of the electronic can be levied to pay for recycling the same electronic at the end of its life.


You conduct Awareness & Collection drive. How has the response been? Which are the major companies that you have partnered for the same?

Households:

We have run several collection drives in neighborhoods around Delhi. The waste collected is usually not much in quantity or value, but it gives us the opportunity to make direct contact with households. It’s a start and allows us the possibility to create awareness for larger future collection drives.


Corporate:

The response of corporate drives has been positive. We recently ran an awareness and collection drive with CII where a total of 17 companies contributed.


Share with us some insights on e-waste recycling. What are some of the right ways to dispose e-waste.

Corporates should Keep a designated area for the storage of e-waste at your office/factory. Do not give this waste to unauthorized dealers/recyclers. Look for a list of authorized collectors, dismantlers and recyclers in the country (can be found in the websites of respective state pollution control boards), and make sure to give your waste only to one of them. Ask for certification and proof of destruction from the authorized collector, dismantler, or recycler.


Households should avoid giving their waste to kabadis. Use services like Karma’s online portal to dispose of your old devices, and/or wait for authorized collectors to organize drives in your areas of residence. If you have and are committed to recycling responsibly, drop your waste at one of the government authorized collectors, dismantlers, or recyclers.


In India, there is a tendency to avail of a discount on your old goods or pass it on to someone else who may be under-privileged. How does recycling appeal?

As a recycling company we promote reuse over recycling. An electronic device should only be recycled only when it cannot be re-used again. Our e-portal (www.karmarecycling.in/eportal) offers value for both working and non-working electronic devices. Once collected we refresh and re-sell what we can, whether its fully working devices or their working spares, and recycle only that which cannot be re-used again. Karma helps people sell off their old phones for re-use as well as for recycling.


You give instant quotes for used mobile devices. How has the response been?

The response and feedback has been overwhelming. We have traded in over 1000 devices in the last 45 days – 85% smartphones, 8% tablets, and 7% laptops. We’re collecting from twelve cities and will be adding three more next week.


How do you manage the logistics?

When an order is created our customer service team calls the customer and schedules a pickup date and time within the next three days. Our in-house logistics partner, Safexpress, collects the devices from the customer on the scheduled date and time and brings back the devices to our centralized engineering facility in Delhi within a maximum of three days from anywhere in India. The reverse logistics aspects of device identification and remote condition assessment by the logistics team is a core intellectual property developed by Karma after extensive customer interaction and guarantees a seamless customer experience for any user of Karma’s e-portal.


You attracted some VC funding a couple of years ago. Tell us more.

Yes. We raised a seed round in March 2013. Since raising seed capital, we have set up a 10,000 sqft facility in the city of Delhi as the national headquarters of Karma Recycling.


What kind of investments do you need to make on a regular basis.

To procure e-waste from large corporates, we have been working with several large business based organizations (EO, CII, FICCI) to build a strong corporate customer base. We intend to spend money on building a stronger business development team to further the activities connecting us to the corporates of India.


For household waste we have developed a proprietary algorithm for the pricing of old portable devices (smartphones, tablets, and laptops) that are beginning to make their way from Indian households to urban landfills. After months of planning and preparation, we launched our e-portal successfully in the month of August. Based on the overwhelming response that the e-portal has received the company plans to utilize its resources to tackle household waste by providing Indian households an easy to use service which incentivizes them to dispose of their e-waste responsibly.


Karma will be scaling operations and services throughout India using future rounds of institutional investments.


You have an R&D division. Any game changer initiative?

R&D at Karma focuses on the addition of new categories, brands and models of electronic devices to the products we accept from households through the portal. A deep dive into data analysis, trends, and statistics is required to add any new kind of device to the portal with its own unique algorithm. New and more efficient repair and refurbish processes which add additional years to an electronic before it reaches its end of life.


What kind of technical collaboration do you have? Comment on your plant. What is so unique about it?

We have an in-house engineering department consisting of a team with over twelve years of combined experience of smartphone, tablet, and laptop repair and refurbishment. Each device goes through a 60-step process of inspection and evaluation, before a strategy for its re-use, retrieval of spares, or recycling is decided upon.


Abroad there are instances where consumers pay a small recycling fees. You think it is likely to be adopted in India too?

We don’t envision Indian consumers paying a recycling fee off of their own accord. Government legislation incorporating the recycling fee as a tax at the point of sale is on the cards but will take awhile to implement


Often one hears that most of the electronic goods are not really designed to be recycled. Is there a change in thinking at the manufacturers end too to make products more recyclable?

Currently we don’t see much effort from the manufacturers to make their products more durable or recyclable. As the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) based legislation is pushed forward and the onus of implementing the recycling standards falls on the manufacturers, we expect manufacturers to put more thought into the recyclability of devices. Also, as a formalized re-commerce/re-use market starts emerging, consumers will be incentivized to buy phones that last longer (and implicitly have better resale prices), in turn incentivizing manufacturers to make devices which are longer lasting (from both hardware and software standpoint) with better re-sale value.


What is the mix between household recycling and corporate?

Right now, in quantum, corporate waste accounts for 70% of waste collected. In India, due to a lack of household e-waste disposal/re-sale services, most waste from households goes directly to kabadis. We have built a service which finally allows for a household to recycle their waste responsibly and, as more types of electronics are added to the list of devices collected.


What is your message to people regarding recycling?

It is time for us as a society to realize that what has gone around (and has been used), must come around (and be reused). Our digital future filled with electronics must be made sustainable through the reuse, repair, refurbishment, and recycling, of these electronics and the materials therein. Else, we will soon live in a world that has exhausted its natural resources and lived beyond its means. For the first time in the history of the earth as we know it, humans have changed the way the world works. Now they have to change the way they think about it, too. Because, what goes around, comes around.


 

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