Established with the intent of reducing electronic waste (e-waste), Sab ko Phone is the first registered company in Nepal to provide a platform for buying, refurbishing, testing, verifying, and selling upcycled mobile phones.
Says Uttam Kafle, who co-created Sab ko Phone along with his friend Shubhechha Tiwari, the main goal behind the establishment was to reduce e-waste by upcycling electronics. “Having previously worked in the development sector, I realized the effect of e-waste on the environment. But we wanted to do more than just acknowledge the problem, even if it was on a small scale,” he says. He believes a small initiative to support the environment today could tomorrow balloon into something much bigger as more and more people are encouraged to follow suit.
In 2019, about 54 million metric tons of e-waste were generated globally, with a nine percent yearly increase, according to UN’s Global E-Waste Monitor 2020. By 2030, the figure could go up to 74 million metric tons. Nepal’s own Department of Environment had estimated that the country had produced 18,000 tons of e-waste in 2017. Alongside biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, e-waste also has growing environmental consequences, and yet it is seldom talked about. This is where the company wants to make an impact.
Sab ko Phone works on extending the lives of old phones by finding new owners for them. It buys old and used phones, refurbishes them by repairing damaged parts or by recycling non-reusable parts from other old phones. It then verifies them to be usable, adds a warranty, and re-sells.
Technicians at Sab ko Phone have implemented a fit-to-function testing system where certain parameters determine a phone’s functionality. This system checks details like camera condition, wi-fi support, speakers, flashlight, batteries, Sim card support, etc. The test is repeated to ensure that the first assessment is accurate.
The most common damages Sab ko Phone works on are related to display, battery, camera, or, occasionally, the logic board. After repairs, the two-step verification test is again done before a phone is deemed fit for resale. When it comes to old phones that can’t be repaired, their spare or reusable parts are refined for another phone, and the remaining parts are sent to recycling companies.
Then, when a phone is refurbished and is being resold, a detailed description of the phone’s condition and its refurbished parts is prepared for the new buyer.
The idea is to find the most environmentally friendly way to produce zero e-waste by upcycling the electronics that have been temporarily damaged and can be repaired. Along with that, the goal is to support the local circular economy by outsourcing and selling products within the country.
In Kathmandu, solid waste is already becoming unmanageable. It is assumed that 10 years from now, electronic waste will be visible on the streets. “We knew we couldn’t start a company that managed all kinds of e-waste. We started upcycling phones as a start as it is the one electronic good that almost every Nepali household has,” Kafle says.
An average user tends to switch their phone every two and half years even though a quality phone easily lasts for five to seven years. With the constant launch of new updates on newer phones, there is always this tendency to get new ones and dispose of old ones. Nepal reportedly imported about 7.03 million phone sets in the fiscal 2020/21.
Today, Sab ko Phone provides a space for all kinds of customers who can either sell their old phones or buy one at an affordable price. Unlike second-hand phones, refurbished phones are verified to be as good as new.
“In the beginning, we struggled to spread the word that upcycled phones are good for everyone: the users, environment, and the society,” Kafle says. Convincing people they get quality products was tough. But 95 percent of Sab ko Phone customers have appreciated the quality and durability of the phones they got, Kafle adds, while also acknowledging the company’s environmental contribution. “I believe refurbished phones are the future of cell communication,” Kafle ends on an optimistic note.