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Setting up an E-waste Recycling Plant in India

Is it economically feasible to set up an e-waste recycling facility in India? The answer is yes. In fact, we need lots of e-waste recycling plants in India compared to the existing few. The first few questions that come to mind before starting any business are- the investment, availability of raw material, cost of machinery, and cost of production, profitability and the marketing of the product etc... As for the availability of the raw material, according to the report of the survey released by Nasscom in 2015- India generates 2.7 million tons (2700000 lakh tons) of e-waste per year. United Nations declared in its report in 2014 that India is the fifth biggest producer of e-waste in the world. And we all know the fact that Indians are going to use more and more electronic devices in the coming years. And this will result in even higher e-waste generation in India. The cost of the production is not very high. Profitability is also very good. And you recover base metals such as iron, aluminum, copper, tin and lead, etc. from circuit boards and precious metals such as gold, silver and palladium etc.. The best part of it is that all the metals sell for cash. Now we will also talk about the cost of the plant.

If you set up a turnkey recycling plant made in Europe, it will cost you a lot.The profit margins of European and American companies are too high. But of course, their machines are very durable and efficient. Some people think that you can just put all the e-waste into a machine and get all the metals. Well, it doesn’t work that way. It is also important to go into details about e-waste before setting up a recycling plant. There are two most important things about setting up an e-waste facility in India. Number one-You need to hire a very experienced consultant to buy the machinery. Number two the consultant should have a practical knowledge of recovery of different metals from different e-waste materials. The lack of the experienced e-waste consultants in the country is the main reason why most e-waste plants fail in India. Getting a degree in environmental engineering or e-waste recycling is not sufficient if you don’t have practical knowledge of e-waste such as the correct knowledge of the base and precious metal content in each and every item so that you can work out the profitability of each type of material to recycle. And, that knowledge must be gained by carrying out tests on each and every component to check out the quantity of precious metals in them. The consultant should not only rely on the reports given on the internet or in some books. I can’t help laughing when I see the way people calculate the worth and precious metal contents of a mixed lot of circuit boards etc. on the net. You will come across many articles and websites mentioning that you get such and such quantity of gold, silver, etc. from one ton of mixed circuit boards. It is totally ridiculous. You see, a mixed lot of circuit boards might comprise many different items such as mobile mother boards, computer motherboards, low grade IC boards and rams etc. I have mentioned just a few. There are many more items in a mixed lot of circuit boards. Mobile motherboards and rams are very expensive compared to computer motherboards and normal IC boards. When you see a mixed lot of different types of circuit boards, how do you decide the quantity of each item separately by just looking at the lot? If we talk about mobile motherboards only, there are two types of mobile motherboards’ scrap. One is the scrap of the branded mobile motherboards, and the other type mobile motherboards scrap is the Chinese mobile boards scrap. Precious metal content yield from Chinese mobile motherboards is very low in comparison to that of branded mobiles such as Nokia, Samsung, Apple, LG and Sony Ericsson, etc. So, it's not practical to say that you get this much gold and this much silver, etc. per ton of mixed circuit boards until and unless you first separate all the items completely and then assess the worth of each item. The quantity of different e-waste materials may vary in different lots. So, a fixed assessment of metal yields per ton of circuit boards is not a wise thing to do. This kind of guidance and calculation on the internet portrays a lack of knowledge and experience of those who advise people to purchase mixed lots of circuit boards based on their assessment of the materials.

I was in Mumbai in 1982 and I started my research on the precious metal recovery from the electronic components. In those days, people wouldn’t just believe and laugh at you suspiciously if you told them you could recover gold from electronic components. That time there was not much help available about e-waste recycling. And there was hardly any e-waste consultant around. When it came to precious metals recovery through chemicals, even senior chemistry professors were not of much help to me. Because the ones I contacted for guidance did not believe that there were precious metals in electronic components and that they could be recovered. So, I had to work very hard to find out the correct metal contents in each and every component myself. And the books of metallurgy were very expensive in those days. Many metallurgy books cost me more than 15000/- rupees each (around USD215) at that time. I invested rupees seven lakhs into it during my research. I even ran into financial trouble and had to borrow money from many of my friends. It took me three years to complete my research. I would first collect some processable quantity of each component and then break all of them manually. And I would repeatedly test the same component for precious metal recovery. In those days we had components from Russia, America and Germany, etc. Though precious metals were quite cheap back then, yet the yield from the components made in above mentioned countries was different. Russia used the maximum amount of precious metals in its electronic components.

Some people might find this part of article boring or unnecessary, but this is to create awareness among young consultants and those who want to set up an e-waste recycling plant. My purpose of mentioning all this is that you become a better consultant only when you learn things practically instead of merely learning theories. I receive phone calls from people and they tell me that they have set up a recycling facility and they want to buy the computer motherboards.

I ask them, who advised you to recycle computer motherboards? And they tell me it is our consultant who has seriously advised us to recycle computer motherboards. And I immediately realize that this consultant is not at all aware of the electronic scrap scenario in India and that this company is going to have a bad time soon.
I have mentioned above that importing a turnkey recycling plant is very expensive. In my experience, it is always wise to import certain machines from abroad, and have some machines made in India. This way you can heavily cut down on the cost of the plant. Honestly speaking, if you want a good capacity, foreign e-waste recycling plant that can recover all the base and precious metals. It won’t cost you less than 40 crores (around USD 5714285 as of 29/03/2016). The cost of the land is not included in this. But if you follow our advice, you can set a very good e-waste facility in few crores only (cost of the land not included).

The government also provides help about it. Requiring e-waste Recycling License from the pollution control board is not difficult. In every state, there is a pollution control board office. You can go there and get all the information. The officers are very co-operative.

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