Can recycling e-waste really be profitable? Twenty Tanta University students say yes, as they work to build an electronic waste recycling culture in Egypt with RecycloBekia.
The year-old startup, which was created through an Injaz Egypt sustainable business training program in 2011, provides businesses in Egypt a chance to recycle their discarded electrical or electronic devices or parts.
With seed capital of only $1,000, the young team grew quickly from their Tanta roots, to open a new office in Cairo and tap into the unexplored market for e-waste recycling. Their model involves multiple revenue streams, beginning with a focus on Egypt's corporations, some of whom are more than happy to become clients, says Mohamed Sehsah, Public Relations and Media Manager for RecycloBekia.
“Some corporates are seeking to be a sustainable company and want to grow their company image… they are seeking to get rid of their e-waste in a proper way,” he explains. By appropriately disposing of e-waste, corporate partners receive a “Green Partner” certificate by RecycloBekia and are featured on the website.
Recyclobekia either purchases the waste or collects it for free, depending on the partner arrangement. The e-waste that can be refurbished is sold to local Egyptian retailers who restore and sell the product to local customers, while the remaining waste is bundled and sold to a recycling plant abroad. “For our first shipment, we sold over 2.5 tons of e-waste to a recycling factory in China,” Sehsah reveals.
Currently, the company's only competition lies in the informal market. Garbage collectors in Egypt scavenge different types of waste from dumpsters and essentially perform “illegal recycling” by selling e-waste on the black market. Sehsah explains that should a collector find a motherboard in the trash for example, they sell it to someone who may melt it down and use the metals for other purposes. For Recyclobekia, this gathering of leftovers is hardly a threat.
Enabling a Recycling Culture
Since its initial success collecting e-waste from large companies, RecycloBekia is now turning its sights to the broader population, aiming to educate Egypt’s public. “If we can’t convince individuals to give away their e-waste, we must go talk to them," says Sehsah.
The Recyclobekia team is wisely beginning with fellow students, hosting recycling festivals and events on the campuses of Egypt’s universities to teach students and the surrounding community about the importance of recycling e-waste. The company even offers refurbished products as prizes for those who bring the most e-waste for collection.
They're also taking the process online to offer more rewards. On the company's upcoming site, users will be able to login, describe their used e-waste, and then either bring it to a recycling event or have Recyclobekia collect it. Once the e-waste is collected, RecycloBekia will then award the customer with points online that can be redeemed for for featured electronic products.
Growing a Green Business
Most of Recyclobekia's team members still have one year left in university, but it hasn't prevented them from building a powerful new brand, hiring full-time employees, and challenging any criticism of their age with tangible results.
When the team first approached potential corporate partners, some were encouraging and delighted to partner, but some walked away before giving them a chance "because they didn't think we were professional enough to work with them," says Sehsah.
Yet despite their young age, RecycloBekia’s team is working hard to generate awareness and a cultural shift in Egypt. Their mission may be ambitious, but they are generating steady progress, making the RecycloBekia certificate a mark of honor for the “recycling army” they seek to create.