Co-working spaces for inclusive e-waste management

Prohibitive rules, complex authorisation procedures and unsafe recycling practices are just some of the challenges faced by the informal e-waste dismantling sector in India. Nonetheless, they manage over 95 per cent of over three million tonnes of e-waste generated in India every year.

The E[co]work concept aims to address the economic and systemic disparities faced by the sector by adapting the concept of co-working in the design of a socially inclusive workspace for the e-waste dismantlers.

Resource Futures joined project partners E[co]work Association, Sofies and Curry Stone Design Collaborative to secure a share of the £9.3 million grant offered by Innovate UK through their ‘Global Challenge Research Fund’. This funding was available to projects in discovery phase, looking to carry out feasibility studies in order to transition into a later prototype phase.

Objectives

E-waste micro-businesses in Delhi have faced increasing enforcement curbs causing frequent disruptions to their operations. Operating out of residential areas has also been a severe disadvantage during the Covid-19 lockdowns, since business activity in areas outside designated industrial zones are restricted.

By adapting the co-working concept for e-waste dismantling, the E[co]work project hoped to enable the informal sector to overcome administrative, financial and societal hurdles in transitioning to a formal work arrangement.

E-waste dismantler in Delhi, India

The project proposed the setting up of an E[co]work facility in Delhi, with the aim of providing the dismantlers with an affordable and safe workspace that is licensed and equipped with appropriate tools, protective equipment, ventilation, lighting and machines. Other support services such as banking, healthcare, insurance and business administration will also be part of the service offering.

The objective of the project was to:

  • Validate the market need and demands for E[co]work;
  • Gain an in-depth understanding of the current status of e-waste dismantlers in Delhi;
  • Build trust in the community and generate user buy-in for pilot testing;
  • Identify potential business models, support services, legal and operational structures to create a financially sustainable E[co]work facility; and
  • Ascertain the commercial and technical feasibility of an E[co]work facility.

Resource Futures led the administration of the grant and supported the research on global best practice.

Approach

The project team employed a human-centred design approach to address the challenges currently faced by the informal dismantling community. Multiple rounds of on-the-ground and remote consultations were conducted with the informal e-waste microentrepreneurs in several neighbourhoods in Delhi.

Using a participatory approach, the dismantlers were consulted on key issues relating to the concept, including facility location and design, workspace design, services to be offered, and how they might adapt their existing business models to the E[co]work concept.

The project also looked at global best practice examples and guidelines relating to co-working and e-waste dismantling. This research will seek to ensure that the facility is fit for purpose and in line with global industry standards.

Outcomes

The project provided a detailed understanding of the e-waste dismantling networks and business models currently in place in the dismantling hubs in Delhi.

The dismantlers were informed about the services and potential benefits offered by the E[co]work concept and the participatory process enabled them to openly share their preferences and aspirations for the design of services and workspaces.

Restrictions and delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the pilot testing of the concept within the grant period. However, the project team was able to successfully grow the network of dismantlers engaged and thereby secure user buy-in for a potential pilot in the future.

The user-insights and comprehensive understanding of the status of the informal e-waste community developed during this project will enable its partners to make informed decisions while developing a financially sustainable and socially inclusive E[co]work facility.

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