Sanshodhan’s e-waste platform offers a guilt-free solution to get rid of old electronics sustainably
Dr Shalini Sharma, CEO of Sanshodhan E-waste Exchange,accepts the Swachh Bharat Grand Challenge Award 2018.
Remember that video cassette player you bought in the 1990s? Or that pager your office gave you to stay connected? More recently, the smart phone and e-reader that you junked a bit too soon because you found them inconvenient to use? Chances are, these devices still exist in an e-waste dump site, not far away from where they were disposed of, disintegrating, discharging hazardous fumes in the air and harmful chemicals in our soil and water. Such chemicals could cause enormous health risk to the people living in the vicinity and wreak havoc on the environment at large.
India generates more than two million tonnes of e-waste annually and imports undisclosed amounts from developed countries. The E-waste Management Rules, 2016 (amended March 2018), specify that manufacturers of electric and electronic equipment must facilitate their collection and return to authorised dismantlers or recyclers.
Today, as several states struggle to find a solution to this colossal e-waste problem, a group of young professionals from Hyderabad, the nation’s ‘Silicon Valley’, are showing the way with a simple and efficient Internet of Things (IoT)-based platform, called Sanshodhan E-waste Exchange, which works by creating a sustainable ecosystem around e-waste.
Data and monitoring
Aimed at supporting the government in developing robust data and monitoring mechanisms, this digital platform currently enables corporates (in several cities) and societies (across Hyderabad) to identify and directly transfer their e-waste to government-authorised, technically competent recyclers.
Dr Shalini Sharma, CEO, E-waste Exchange, says, “We want to help business and individual users adapt a sustainable model of e-waste disposal, which promotes a circular economy. We realised that often people don’t know how to dispose of their e-waste, and are also unaware of the toxic nature of discarded electronics.”
Explaining how e-waste is toxic, she says, “Our electronic and electrical devices contain components like mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium, lithium and others. If discarded improperly, they seep into the soil and water, and also release dangerous fumes. If handled without care, they can affect almost every organ in the human body.” By directing people to adopt the right disposal model, the startup aims to create awareness and change behavior across India. To date, around 15 companies in India use E-waste Exchange.
The E-waste Exchange operates on three models:
a) A citizens’ model, which offers a platform for individuals in Hyderabad to dispose their e-waste conveniently and sustainably from home, in a way that is not just transparent but also boosts the economy by supporting the legitimate recycling sector.
b) A bulk-consumer model, which supports industries like the IT and FMCG industries, and other large-scale electrical and electronics users, by enabling them to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to the nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
c) By developing a circular economy standard for e-waste and helping to transform the informal sector.
School students join an e-waste awarenss campaign.
In just a year’s time, Sanshodhan has managed to work in multiple cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and others. Smart Cities, like the fast-developing Amravati, are also looking to adopt the e-waste management platform today, says Shalini. The startup has built a network of 180-odd refurbishers, dismantlers, and recyclers to work with.
In Hyderabad, a resident of the Carlton Creek Housing Society, Hyderabad, which has started using the E-waste Exchange platform, says,
“This online facility for e-waste disposal has been very beneficial to us. It has been of great help to the residents of our society, who are extremely conscious about environmental protection and want to leave safe surroundings for future generations.”
The world produces 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year, of which only 20 percent is formally recycled. Considering the magnitude of the problem and the functionality of the solutions offered, E-waste Exchange has also received global and national accolades.
Launched in February 2018, the platform has already bagged several awards, including the Swachh Bharat Grand Challenge Award 2018 by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and more recently, recognition by the World Economic Forum as a ‘Highly Commended’ entrant in the People's Choice category of the Circulars 2019.
Women in the waste sector
Founded by economist Saraswati Devi, Sanshodhan is also among the few startups in India which apart from its female founder, has two more strong-willed women at the helm – Shalini, an environmental management and policy scholar, and V Shiwaani, a social development expert. They are joined by a third teammate, Sandeep Sharma, an engineer by profession.
Shalini talks about the startup’s inception: “It started about a year-and-a-half ago, when I was cleaning up my home and realised that I had too many obsolete electronics piled up. While I knew the extent of the environmental and health hazards posed by electronic waste, I couldn’t find an authorised scrap dealer to give them away to."
She adds, "I realised that every responsible Indian citizen probably faces this dilemma and decided to develop a model that could be used by the government, people, and scrap dealers alike, to build a network and move towards a greener, less toxic future.”
Today, as India looks towards a digitised future, this startup believes that a sustainable e-waste management model can and should be implemented by every state government. “The first step towards building a strong e-waste management programme will be to maintain precise and up-to-date data and improve monitoring. That is where we can help,” Shalini explains.
Sanshodhan E-waste Exchange is one of the 10 startups participating in TheCityFix Labs accelerator programme.
Nitya Kaushik (@itsnotnit) is part of the WRI India communications team.