IIT-M initiative and residents’ group combine to create data on e-waste

At the ongoing recyclable waste collection drive by Residents of Kasturbanagar Association, E-Source gets donors to declare their e-waste

Updated - February 12, 2022 10:29 am IST

Published - February 12, 2022 06:29 am IST

Representational picture. E-waste collected by rag pickers at a scrap shop in Seelampur, in Delhi. Photo: R V Moorthy

Representational picture. E-waste collected by rag pickers at a scrap shop in Seelampur, in Delhi. Photo: R V Moorthy

E-waste tends to hurtle towards the recycling market, unnamed and undocumented and its condition undiagnosed. At the ongoing recyclable waste collection drive (February 11-13) by Residents of Kasturbanagar Association (ROKA), every piece of e-waste has to stand up and be counted. E-Source, a platform designed to track the flow of e-waste from collection to recycling, enhances the component that arrives mid-stream in this flow — namely, sorting. What the platform essentially does is:name the e-waste, diagnose its condition, and prescribe one of two remedies for it, that is, either repairing or recycling.So essentially, by creating data about the e-waste in the market, it seeks to prevent their hazardous handling, as also premature recycling.

Born out of sustainability dialogues at the Indo German Center for Sustainability at IIT-Madras, E-Source still largely remains an undefined entity. Jagan Srivatsan, one of the three co-founders of E-Source — along with Rishika Reddy and Tarun Philip — notes, “We have not absolutely defined the format of how it should exist. There is potential to have it as a startup. Or, we have the larger peri-urban initiative (periurban.iitm.ac.in) at IGCS, and this can be a part of it.” Access to the E-source platform is possible through the Peri Urban site.

E-Source is engaging with the ROKA e-waste and clothes collection drive as a pilot project, as the quantity and variety of e-waste flowing in would help it flex its fledgling muscles.

“Through this collective drive, we will be documenting the waste and maintaining an ongoing registry. This way we will be able to map the flow of e-waste and not get lost in the waste ecosystem. So, we are encouraging all the e-waste donors to take an extra effort in declaring the type of e-waste they are discarding. We will then parse the data to understand the type of e-waste coming in and be able to generate insights on choice of repair versus recycling. We have partnered with a few stakeholders to conduct this exercise. In a circular economy, repair and reuse is important before recycling. Not every waste that reaches its end of life is to be immediately recycled. Often, the rush step taken towards most e-waste is to dump it on the fly. For instance, the mobile phone market — over 90 percent of the components can be recovered and reused. During covid times, a large secondary market has evolved broadening the market for affordable second-hand devices. What is waste for us, becomes a new product for someone else,” notes Jagan, a circular economy consultant.

Jagan underlines the lack of public data on collected e-waste, and how the data that is avaialble is usually of a generic nature. The challenge in having any data at all on the e-waste circulating aroundthe market is in intelf one of Brobdingnagian proportions, because of e-waste’s inseparable link to the informal recycling sector.

“At this point, we are able to collect a significant amount of e-waste just from residential communities, but this is not enough. Chennai being an IT hub, there is a wider market to tap in to where waste is not being accounted for. One of the biggest challenges would be to work with informal recyclers and collectors — such as kabbadiwallas and the others. More than 80 percent of the waste is handled by the informal market, this is traded across multi levels by the scrap dealers and waste collectors, and lands up in Moradabad and Seelampur for dismantling and selling operations. Breaking down the waste here is done manually posing a huge health and environmental risk as well,,” says Jagannath. “Our goal is to eventually connect repairers, informal aggregators and recyclers — for instance, in Richie Street, there is a huge network of repairers. We want to onboard such networks to bring traceability and formalise the informal markets, without coing into conflict with their players..”

E-Source sees itself as a facilitator.By placing data about the e-waste in the market in the public domain, it wants to enables both buyer and seller make informed and environment-friendly choices.

“We are basically facilitating the e-waste flow — how to handle the waste, and not holding on to the e-waste to do anything at all. Sometimes, access to e-waste is difficult. E-Source will definitely connect the different buyers and sellers of e-waste, It would ensure enough volumes are generated for repair, reuse, and recycling for larger players — for example, authorised recyclers — to operate along with helping stand-alone repairers to acquire electronic components (EC’s) independent of the centralised grey markets. We will help facilitate the scattered broken down supply-chain process and the through the data we gather, give us a lot of insights as well.”

Ease of sortability

Jagan remarks that the door is wide open for technology to seize the e-waste sorting process, making it faster and more accurate.

“We are simultaneously working to bridge this gap by developing some intelligence around modeling this product detection through a combination of image detection and machine learning techniques. It can’t all be manually sorted always; there should be technology-based sorting that will improve the lives of recyclers which does not exist at the moment.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.