Resurrecting The Recycle Economy

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This article Resurrecting the Recycle Economy by Anuradha Goyal, author, and founder of IndiTales.com was first published by the New Indian Express newspaper on July 13, 2021.

A regular change of battery and some routine servicing is what my very ordinary laptop required. I reached out to the manufacturer but received only promises of the best service. After weeks of follow-up when I did receive a quotation for the potential parts that may need replacement, it was no brainer that the company is interested in selling new products than servicing old ones. Their army of call center, social media, and service center employees subtly nudge you in that direction.

Some time back, the power supply unit of our high-end television from a respected Japanese manufacturer went kaput. The small part was quoted at fifteen percent of the cost of the TV, to be paid in advance to the dealer, with 3-4 weeks procurement time, that he failed to procure eventually. Yes, that is how timelines work in small-town India. Reply from company’s customer support head said – We are unable to source the part, please buy a new unit. We offer you a generous 25% discount on a new one if you exchange the old one. When questioned about their legal obligation to supply the part, the same response was repeated. No inclination to repair, please buy a new one.

Time for Resurrecting the Recycle Economy

Then, all my screens are flooded with ‘Go Green’ initiatives of these very companies. Meticulously including the words – Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle, duly amplified by the glamourous influencers. In moments of frustration, I wonder if gadgets are indeed designed to go bad once the warranty period is over. Why just big corporates, even the neighborhood cobbler throws away my fancy shoes and says – ‘Madam, why do you bother to repair, get a new one’. I wonder why is he killing his own business, only to notice the jazzy shoe showroom behind him.

Havoc by e-waste

Waste in general and e-waste, in particular, are creating havoc for the environment. Which, in turn, creates havoc for our health and happiness. However, most corporates driven by the sole purpose of increasing sales and revenue can hardly see this. Their profit margins are higher on sales and repairs are a necessary evil that demands keeping an inventory of old parts and trained manpower to service them across the geography. A sales cycle is more or less one way and closes with receipt of money. Repairs on the other go back and forth with no guarantee of revenue or return on investments in the repair ecosystem.

Legal System

Our legal system gives a long rope to the organizations. Taking them to court is constitutionally and theoretically an option. But fails terribly on practical grounds. Most big organizations have a legal department with well-paid lawyers to defend them, greatly shifting the balance in their favor. What do they have at stake – a unit of their product to be given for free at most? An average consumer on the other hand is completely on his own. He or she will have to spend time and resources chasing the organization and courts. The cost of the product does not justify the effort and agony involved.

Add to it the fact that the technical know-how is completely in the hands of the company. Jargon can be used to mislead. We do not see many cases where organizations not meeting their legal obligations had to pay. Overall, manufacturers can afford to take liberties while the average consumer suffers.

Address customer complaints and grievances

At a time when the government is asking direct sales companies and social media platforms to put in place mechanisms to address customer complaints and grievances, we also need to assess the effectiveness of these customer services. Especially, when they are managed by outsourced agencies, automated voice response mechanisms, and bots. Customers in most cases have no control over opening and closing a service ticket. The only measure of effectiveness in handling complaints. The anonymity of the person handling your complaint, inability to raise the complaint to the next authority leaves nothing in the hands of customers.

The cost of replacement parts has to be regulated. Organizations cannot randomly price the parts of old products to discourage repairs. If the manufacturing of the parts of old models is discontinued, technology for the same should be put in the public domain. So that anyone can manufacture them and repair old products. Very important for the Recycle Economy to sustain and flourish.

Recycle & Upcycle business

Time is ripe for Recycle & Upcycle centers as business ventures. With a bit of skill-based training, youth can be trained to repair what can be repaired, upcycle what can be, and re-use the components smartly and creatively. I know there are small pockets of innovation here and there. But what we need is a nationwide or maybe worldwide movement. India always had a strong re-cycle culture. Be it the regular raddiwala who took our waste to recycle or a plethora of small repair shops run by skilled professionals. Use and throw culture that has slowly crept in the last couple of decades, with too much choice and disposable income, needs to be reversed at the earliest.

What gives me a little hope in Recycle Economy is the success of peer-to-peer recycle portals and Apps that allow us to recycle and increase the lifespan of products we use. Plus some of the Zero-waste lifestyle groups online.

Resurrecting the Recycle Economy new indian express
Original op-ed article published in New Indian Express on 13 July 2021

Edited for this online publication.

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