Every year, Bangladesh produces around five lakh metric tonnes of e-waste. This type of waste, derived from electronic devices like mobile phones, computers, laptops, etc. may presumably rise to 45 lakh metric tonnes in the next five years.
As electronic devices carry harmful chemicals like berilium, plastic PVC, lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, etc - they impact the soil and environment badly.
So, what if, instead of disposing of e-waste in nature we could reintroduce them to the market? That way, people with less buying power could have technology at a cheaper rate while the environment could get the chance to breathe a little longer.
Based on this pattern of circular economy, the recommerce sector has been introduced in various parts of the world for some years. And since the 2020 pandemic year, Bangladesh has also gained its own recommerce startup called SWAP.
TBS sat down with SWAP's founder and CEO, Parvez Hossain, to learn more about the new recommerce company.
"In e-commerce, a product is sold to customers through digital commerce. But in recommerce, customers are the sellers (C2B). We buy older products from them, give the products a new life and return it into the economy," Parvez said.
He said that his company was the first of its kind in Bangladesh even though there are many such billion-dollar platforms in countries like India, China, Europe, Mexico, etc.
We asked the founder about what the company exactly does.
"SWAP provides exchange offers for various products including mobile phones and automobiles," he explained. "Suppose you want to sell your mobile phone and buy a new one. We will provide you with both services."
How does it work?
While selling a used mobile phone, the customers will register to the website and answer certain questions like how long they have been using the phone, what is the condition of the battery, etc.
Based on the answers, SWAP offers them a certain price. Later a team visits the customers' house in-person and checks the product first hand, and finalises the deal.
"Now if you want to buy a new phone, you will need to pay the remaining amount after what you paid for already by selling your older phone. If your older product is sold for Tk 5000 and the new product you want to buy costs Tk 8000, you will need to just pay us Tk 3000 in cash," Parvez said.
Moreover, Parvez also added that their car swap mechanism enables customers to take out loans on the rest of the payable amount (after swapping the older car). The car exchange offers are not readily available, but will be introduced very shortly
Alongside recommerce, SWAP also operates a regular e-commerce business on its platform.
How is business?
When SWAP began business, it was probably the best year for e-commerce businesses in Bangladesh. The recommerce platform, however, had a mixed experience in the first year.
"At the beginning of the lockdown, most e-commerce businesses also struggled as people were buying only what was extremely necessary. So our businesses were closed in the first month. Immediately after beginning operations, we faced the question of survival," Parvez recalled.
"So we came up with the idea of selling the essentials at that time. We began selling medical equipment and groceries through the e-commerce part of our business model," he continued.
Simultaneously, SWAP realised that people needed cash during a time of crisis. People wanted to sell older items for money.
And Boom! Parvez said that the people's responses were overwhelming. "Within a few months, our business turned around," he explained.
Since then, they have been collaborating with people from various platforms to expand their businesses including various outlets in Dhaka and surrounding districts.
Notably, their recent agreement with iFarmer helps them provide funds to the farmers.
"Sometimes people do not want to sell their used products, letting them rot instead. We offer people the chance to help some needy farmers with loans in exchange for their used products. In the year-end, we will give them 16% to 18% return on their funds, and as a bonus, they can help the farmers survive."
Parvez said they will launch the project after Eid. iFarmer will select the farmers and provide them help based on individual necessities, from cows, insecticides to seeds.
Over 1 crore smartphones are sold in Bangladesh every year. The number is increasing at 5% to 6% every year. These products will eventually cease to function and produce a massive amount of e-waste.
From an internal survey, SWAP found that the market size of used products is over Tk20 thousand crore.
"If we can reuse them, and relaunch them in the market, the market is huge and the possibilities are limitless," said the SWAP founder.
"According to 2017 data, the used mobile phone market worldwide was $17 billion which is increasing every year with 13.6% CAGR. Last year, it increased to $42 billion and is expected to become a $52 billion market by 2022."
"On the other hand, the used automobile industry globally is $1400 billion with 5.5% CAGR. Currently, we deal with thousands of used products, in the future when we deal with lakhs of them, it will be a boon both for the economy and the environment," he added.
SWAP is currently registered as Livewire BD limited although the CEO said they will be changing the registration to SWAP BD limited soon. With future funds coming from Singapore, they have already formed SWAP PTE LTD in Singapore.
On choosing 'SWAP' as the company name, Parvez said he explained that the name had resonance. "A word that would immediately resonate with the idea of product exchange – easy to pronounce and remember," he said.