E[co]work: Piloting safe, inclusive space for Delhi’s e-waste dismantlers

5 November 2020

E[co]work Association, Resource Futures and partners Sofies and Curry Stone Design Collaborative have won a share of the £9.3 million grant offered by Innovate UK through their ‘Global Challenge Research Fund’. This fund seeks to build market-creating innovations in lower income countries and emerging economies. The project will seek to adapt the concept of co-working spaces to suit the informal sector in Delhi, with the funding enabling the team to test the concept of designing a socially inclusive space for e-waste dismantlers in Delhi. The initiative aims to help these micro-entrepreneurs to develop their businesses in a safe and supported way.

‘We are very happy to announce our new partnership with Resource Futures and immensely thankful for the award received by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency. With their support we are one big step closer to the realization of E[co]work!’
Dea Wehrli, Co-Founder, E[co]work Association

India generates over 3 million tons of e-waste annually. More than 95% of this e-waste is processed by the informal sector, often in residential areas using unsound recycling practices that result in environmental pollution and health hazards, not only affecting the workers, but the whole neighbourhood and community in which they work. Over 12,000 people, predominantly from minority and migrant communities, are engaged in dismantling e-waste around Delhi alone. Restrictive rules, as well as costly and difficult authorization procedures force micro-entrepreneurs to stay within the informal sector and continue these unsound recycling practices. The sector has also been particularly hit by COVID-19. As dismantlers are located in dense urban areas, they have been under strict lockdown and have not received the same exceptions to remain active as some industrial zones have. Shifting their place of work to a registered business in an industrial zone has therefore become an important priority, and awareness on the necessity of hygiene and protection measures has similarly substantially increased.

“We are very excited to be working with our partners to tackle the challenges of safely reprocessing eWaste in India. The E[co]work concept has the potential to tackle the social exclusion issues commonly faced by informal recyclers and also drive eWaste recovery and reprocessing, a fundamental element for the transition to a circular economy.”
David Lerpiniere, Head of Global Resource and Waste Policy at Resource Futures

The planned E[co]work Space will bring the benefits of co-working spaces, including networking and the sharing of essential infrastructure, to a completely different market segment that is traditionally marginalized and often at the bottom of the social pyramid: electronic waste dismantlers in India. Using a participatory design process, E[co]work Association, Resource Futures and partners Sofies and Curry Stone Design Collaborative aim to create a socially inclusive co-working space that enables the transition of informal e-waste micro-entrepreneurs into the formal sector. By providing shared infrastructure, trainings and support, E[co]work will provide access to safe working conditions, improving income and social mobility. It will improve the livelihood and health of the micro-entrepreneurs and their communities, while also contributing to a reduction of environmental pollution and a more equitable circular economy.