A startup e-waste recycling business in Victoria has won council backing to innovate Australia’s recycling landscape – using new technology to stop our growing mountains of old electronics being dumped in hazardous landfill or overseas.
Founded last year by Lokesh and Shobana Baskaran, Quantum Recycling Solutions uses the latest equipment to separate electronic waste into raw materials, like plastic and copper, so it can be reused.
With Australians among the highest users of new technology in the world, councils across the country are struggling to keep up with the piles of old televisions and computers heaved onto nature strips daily. The number of TVs being tossed spiralled after the analogue broadcast signal was switched off, with 137,756 tonnes of TVs and computers biting the dust in 2012-13.
It’s estimated that only four percent of Australia’s hazardous waste, which includes e-waste, is recycled. Most waste companies ship it overseas, with Africa and Asia becoming hotspots for old electronics from the West. Experts have found the trade is fuelling child labour, with locals picking over piles to salvage material and exposing themselves to toxic chemicals inside, like lead and mercury.
Quantum Recycling is one of the few companies to buck the trend and not dump Aussie e-waste overseas. “We use different technology,” to our competitors, Lokesh told Indian Executive. “They export their products overseas, we don’t, we try to dispose it in Australia.”
The idea for the business was born through the marriage of Lokesh and Shobana’s skills and backgrounds. Born and raised in Chennai, Lokesh studied electronics at Vishwavir Technology University in Bangalore before completing a Masters in microelectronics at Swinburne University in Melbourne in 2009. While Shobana’s father has a waste management company in India. Lokesh credited his family for supporting him in taking the risk to start a new business, after working six years for Kennards Hire, saying: “The key was them backing me up.”
Having obtained a permit to recycle and starting operations in March, Quantum is currently focused on recycling televisions; using massive shredding machines to break down the plastic panels and electronic boards (PCBs) inside for tertiary recyclers in Australia to purchase.
“Once we shred it, it’s going to be in smaller pieces and it’s going to be easier for them to separate different types of plastics,” Lokesh explained. “Our competitors lack the machines what we have.”
Quantum is also working on developing a product using glass from old TV monitors. “Glass contains lead, it can’t be turned into any household product,” Lokesh said. “We can’t crush the glass into finer particles, the lead will leach into the ground, so we are trying to find out a way to conceal the lead into a different particle, maybe you know like a concrete block, or concrete pavers.”
Lokesh’s biggest challenge is reducing the cost of his recycling services. Councils and companies that churn out e-waste pay fees to dispose of it. And currently, “it’s much more cheaper to dispose your e-waste to landfill, that’s what most of the companies are doing at the moment, all the big e-waste companies and even the council,” Lokesh said.
“We’re using our technology to try and reduce [our prices] or be as competitive as the landfill charges are, so the waste management companies can at least have a chance of getting the stuff to us.”
Meanwhile, he’s working to raise the company’s profile, build sourcing and output market networks, and increase capital by securing more grants to expand the business. The $10,000 Business Grant from Greater Dandenong City Council will go towards setting up the recycling plant. The council provides grants of up to $8000, plus a marketing and mentoring package worth $2000, for innovative startups, to help established business expand, or set up operations in the area.
Lokesh said building strong public profile for Quantum through marketing and media campaigns was crucial to develop client and customer bases. “People can read what our company’s doing,” he explained. And in future if they get my call, “they know they can speak to me and respond in a good manner.”
Looking ahead, the plan is to stay on top of consumer electronics trends and prepare for the next wave in recycling. Lokesh predicts that in the next 4 to 5 years, most of the old analogue TVs will have either, “ended up in the landfill, or someone would have disposed of it in a safer way.
“We’ll be doing research on the next technology, because the electronics technology is not going to stop, it’s just going to be growing and moving into the next thing.”