'We want to extract gold from e-waste'

V Ranganathan

E-waste is growing by leaps and bounds in India with the advent of electronic gadgets, mobile phones and increased consumption of white goods. At the same time, the recyling of this waste is becoming a big challenge. Bengaluru-based Cerebra Integrated Technologies has taken a giant step in recycling e-waste in a scientific manner. In an interaction with Mahesh Kulkarni of DH, V Ranganathan, Managing Director, Cerebra, explains how the company aims to address this mammoth problem. Excerpts:

How big is the menace of e-waste in India?

We are witnessing about 2.5 million tonnes of electronic waste annually in India only from the organised sector. Including the unorganised sector, there is about 5-6 million tonnes generated in the country. The informal sector collects it from households and salvage whatever is possible for them, largely unscientifically. They discard the remaining items either in landfills or in drainage system in the cities, which is a big environment hazard. As the e-waste contain several harmful chemicals and substances, it has become a humongous problem for the city administrations all over the country to dispose it off properly. Globally, an estimated 800 laptops are discarded as waste every second.

Which are the cities contributing to this menace largely?

Many cities are adding e-waste. Mumbai is the largest contributor of e-waste, followed by Delhi and Bengaluru. It is estimated that about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste is generated in Bengaluru annually. Currently, in India, we are losing around Rs 18,677 crore worth of valuable items such as gold, silver, palladium, platinum, and copper among others every year due to unscientific method of treating e-waste. Loss of gold alone is worth Rs 6,400 crore annually.

What is the rate of growth it is witnessing annually?

There is no systematic study conducted in the country to assess the extent of growth of e-waste. Since 2011, the developed countries like the US have started dumping their e-waste in our country. Next year, we will see an addition of 100 crore mobiles to the existing stock of e-waste. As the mobile penetration is growing at a phenomenal pace, a sizeable portion is getting added to the e-waste every year. Going by the current trends, the sector is growing at an estimated 25% annually. E-waste business is a high growth area as the amount of e-waste generated is only increasing year after year.

How many companies are engaged in the disposal of e-waste?

There are a handful of companies in Delhi, Sriperumbudur near Chennai and Bengaluru including Cerebra in the organised sector that are engaged in disposal of e-waste. About 95% of the industry is in the hands of unorganised players, which operate without any licence and use unscientific methods to treat the waste. They are extracting useful components and dump the remaining stuff unscientifically in drainage and in the earth. Last year, about 200 companies were served notice by the pollution control board for improper handling of e-waste.

Could you explain how Cerebra entered this business?

Cerebra is a IT hardware company started with the manufacturing of IT products like surveillance camera, computers, laptops, system integration for large corporates and government organisation since 1984. We were the first to manufacture a laptop in India. We have been in the IT business for about 30 years now. Recently, we entered into e-waste recycling business. Last year, we established India’s largest E-Waste Recycling facility with a capacity of 96,000 metric tonnes per annum at Narasapur in Kolar district at an investment of $10 million.

How do you collect and recycle e-waste?

Today, every household has some quantity of e-waste. With the mobile industry witnessing new technology products every six months, people are changing handsets very fast, which is only adding to the e-waste.

‘We have appointed over 100 collection agents, channel partners across select cities to collect waste material. We also buy from Kabadis who operate in every city. They don’t know how to recycle the material, they just want money. We buy from them. We have set up a factory at Narasapur near Kolar to recycle e-waste. We remove useful parts from the electronic equipment and powder the remaining waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). We recover many useful items such as Gold, Silver, Platinum, Palladium, Iron, Steel, Copper and Aluminum from it. This is called Urban Mining.

What about the legislation governing this sector?

E-waste has become one of the biggest problems in urban India today as the country is moving towards adoption of large-scale gadgets and electronic goods.

While the unorganised players are treating it unscientifically causing greater danger to the environment, the government of India has come out with many laws to govern it. Some of the gases like Freon Gas is dangerous to the atmosphere.

The Government of India has come out with stringent laws to stop this menace by formulating the E-Waste Handling Rules 2016 and more recently amending it in March 2018. With this rule coming into force, we expect the entire e-waste recycling industry transforming into an organised business and weed out unscrupulous players. The state governments have been conducting raids frequently at several places in Delhi, Moradabad to control the unlicensed operators.

What are your future programmes in e-waste recycling?

We have acquired 12 acres of land at Narasapura near Kolar, where we have set up a recycling plant, which started operations earlier this year. We are now planning to start recycling of automobile components, batteries including nickel cadmium and Lithium-Ion for electric vehicles, platinum and palladium from silencers used in vehicles and white goods.

We want to extract gold from e-waste, for which we will be setting up the second plant at an estimated investment of $10 million. One tonne of mobile phones yields an average 70 grams of gold. We will be extracting gold with a purity of 99.99%. We are also looking at setting up e-waste recycling plants in other cities like Delhi and Mumbai with a capacity of 96,000 tonnes. 

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