Two environmentalists on a mission to change how Indians recycle eWaste: Karma Recycling
Akshat Ghiya and Aamir Jariwala were out in the slums of rural India, a couple of years ago, when they were researching on electronic waste. And the sights they witnessed were horrifying. “We saw multiple instances where garbage collectors brought the electronic waste near the railway tracks in the suburbs and burnt it all. A thick, yellow, foul-smelling cloud of smoke rose up, and moved towards the slums,” Akshat told me during a phone conversation. This is a widespread practice across India; and, apart from being harmful to the environment, it is also detrimental to the health of humans, animals and plants.
Awareness about eWaste in India is close to nil, in spite of having more than 850 million active devices being used. Even Akshat and Aamir were oblivious to the perils of eWaste till a point when Aamir came across the problem because the private equity firm where he worked was looking to invest in clean technology. Aamir bounced of the idea with Akshat and they got thinking.
Akshat had spent a good amount of his time in Italy and was not keen on joining the family business; he came to India to found Glazetech Industries - a manufacturer and supplier of innovative and "green" building materials and metal facade solutions in 2006 in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The company has grown from 20 to 75 employees; currently, it has an annual turnover of $5 million. Akshat had met Aamir during their stint in Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA) where they became very good friends. Aamir went on to become an investment banker and then an investment professional with New York-based private equity fund, Friend Skoler & Co. This is where he discovered the problem and thus moved to India where he worked for a short time as the Head of Corporate Strategy at SPML Infra Limited.The two of them were talking on a weekly basis initially and then it got daily until a point when they realized that they had to startup. And this is how Karma Recycling was born in the middle of 2012. The intention was to spread awareness about eWaste and recycle as much as possible. They started out by talking with corporates and started collecting eWaste. Karma Recycling doesn’t recycle the waste on its own but gets it done from existing facilities. “Logistics isn’t an issue with us. We have a deal with Safe Express which gives us scale to collect the eWaste and getting it recycled,” says Akshat. One of the founding members at Safe Express is also an investor in Karma Recycling. Karma has been funded by the founders and a couple of other friends.
In just about a year of its operations, Delhi based Karma has managed to get a bunch of corporate clients including HealthKart and Genus Power Infra. “We don’t charge for consultation but we charge for charting out detailed environmental policies for corporates. We’re more in the business of spreading awareness,” says Akshat. Apart from the B2B channel, Karma launched an e-portal on which they’re betting big. “Households are the biggest producers of eWaste and no one has touched that aspect in India,” says Akshat.
This e-portal offers 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. With a pricing algorithm devised for the complex “Re-Commerce” market in India, Karma delivers instant quotes for devices, provides free shipping, and promises good customer service. 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.
There are very few startups (Attero being a notable one) in the space in India and Karma holds promise to bring about a change for the better. “We also want to make devices available to people who don’t have the financial power to buy the devices of their choice. Karma in a way empowers them,” says Akshat. The B2B wing will continue but the focus of the company is inclining towards the e-portal which has huge potential. Over 300 devices have been traded in through the e-portal in the last month and the ten member Karma team will be focusing more on marketing.
Website: Karma Recycling