Fund announced to support informal e-waste dismantling in India

E[co]work Association, Resource Futures and partners Sofies and Curry Stone Design Collaborative have been awarded a share of the £9.3 million grant provided by Innovate UK through its 'Global Challenge Research Fund' to support the informal e-waste sector. 

The fund aims to boost the markets and emerging economies in the Global South through innovative projects.

Dismantling e-waste in DelhiThis investment will target the reform of the co-working space model to enable the transition of informal e-waste micro-entrepreneurs to the formal sector. The project’s team will be experimenting with creating a socially inclusive space so e-waste dismantlers in Delhi can network and share workspaces.

India is currently generating over three million tonnes of e-waste annually, with more than 95 per cent of it processed by the informal sector.

The workplaces where e-waste is processed are usually in residential areas and use inconsistent practices that often cause both environmental pollution and health hazards. This puts both the individual worker and the entire neighbourhood and surrounding communities at risk.

Over 12,000 citizens, mainly from minority and migrant backgrounds, are employed in dismantling e-waste in the surrounding areas of Delhi.

Restrictive rules, combined with expensive and challenging authorisation procedures, lead micro-entrepreneurs to remain in the informal sector and maintain poor recycling practices.

Delhi’s e-waste industry has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with workers based in these densely populated areas. A strict lockdown has been enforced but the e-waste sector has not been given the same permission to continue as other sectors have.

This has emphasised the importance of registering businesses officially and implementing stricter hygiene and protective measures.

David Lerpiniere, Head of Global Resource and Waste Policy at Resource Futures said: "We are very excited to be working with our partners to tackle the challenges of safely reprocessing e-waste in India.

“The E[co]work concept has the potential to tackle the social exclusion issues commonly faced by informal recyclers and also drive e-waste recovery and reprocessing, a fundamental element for the transition to a circular economy."

The E[co]work Space plans to bring the benefits of co-working spaces, such as the ability to network and share equipment, to ‘a completely different market segment that is traditionally marginalized and often at the bottom of the social pyramid’.

Other projects selected for the funding include an affordable housing enterprise in Indonesia run by Percheron (UK) Ltd, a mosquito trap business in Pakistan run by Razbio Ltd and a water sterilisation device in Ghana run by Clear Water Designs.

Innovate UK’s research fund aims to change the way investors and businesses look at the Global South and prove that it is possible to embark on scalable and impactful projects in these countries in a low-risk way.

Outside of India, e-waste is an ongoing problem across the world. In July, the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) revealed that global e-waste had increased by 21 per cent in five years.

GESP reported that in 2019 alone a record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was generated. This is related to an increasing consumer drive for electronic products that have short life-cycles and are difficult to repair.

The UK’s waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) sector has faced challenging consequences from Covid-19, with national lockdown bringing the closure of most Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) which led to collections falling by 80 per cent.

This resulted in a rescue fund being issued through the WEEE Support Grants and Loans Package to ensure that British recyclers will stay afloat during the crisis.