Keys, old mobile phones, CDs, remote controls -almost every house has them hidden away in a cupboard. And that’s the forgotten gold that hundreds of startups tackling waste management are eyeing.
Estimates put the waste generated per day in India at 0.15 million tonnes. Market research company NOVONOUS pegs the waste management market in India at $13.6 billion by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 7.17%. Although sustainable waste management is yet to become an organised industry here, entrepreneurs are making moolah from waste.
For Achitra Borgohain, it was the struggle to get rid of e-waste while shifting homes that sparked the idea. He joined NSRCEL, the incubator in IIM-Bengaluru, with a vague idea that transformed into Binbag. For 18 months, he went door-todoor picking up e-waste in his car. “The logistics and economics of serving individual houses doesn’t work out. We received enquiries from apartment complexes concerned about responsible waste disposal,” he said. Focussing on bulk generators, Binbag offers a marketplace to bridge the gap between waste generators and processors. With over 80 e-waste recyclers and processors listed, Borgohain and his co-founder K C Bhushan have collected 60 tonnes of e-waste in the last 30 months. They run a dry waste collection centre for the Bengaluru corporation and collect four to five tonnes every day.
Many other entrepreneurs have hit upon the idea after seeing the importance given to waste management abroad. “In the UK, waste is considered a resource and the work is referred to as material management. In India, we are still fighting stigma,” said Gaurav Joshi, who runs ExtraCarbon with Anant Avinash.
While doing his initial research, he discovered that recyclers were importing waste to run their plants. “I wondered why they had to bring waste from outside when we have so much. So we decided to be an Uber of sorts for e-waste,” said Joshi. ExtraCarbon has over 300 kabadiwallas (scrap dealers) registered on the platform in six cities. One can place on a request on their app, website, through social media or give them a call and a kabadiwalla or Green Superhero’ will be sent to collect waste.Those contributing waste can take cash or collect credits that can be used to shop online or deposited in a Paytm wallet. Joshi’s work doesn’t end there. The waste is collected from the kabadiwalla, transported to the warehouse, weighed and segregated before being handed over to recyclers. “On average, we collect 40kg per home per pickup,” said Joshi.
Collection is just one part of the problem. Akshay Jain and his Namo e-waste have gone a step further and set up a plant with an installed capacity of over 35,000 metric tonnes. “We deal with any kind of e-waste and quote rates based on the condition of the material. Refurbished things are sold through online channels and distribution networks. The products have a standard warranty of 90 days,” said Jain.
He takes care of the end-to-life process, or extracting metal content and selling it as a commodity and removing the hazardous content before sending it to a foundry. “Old CRT monitors have hazardous glass and sulphur content. We extract these, store them as per safe disposal norms and transport them to dumping sites approved by the government,” he said.
With an investment of $2 million, Jain’s startup processes 10 tonnes of waste every day. In 2016, 30% of the material collected was refurnished, most of them laptops, servers, desktops and mobile phones. “We are looking to get into precious metal recovery as well but that needs superior equipment,” he said.
While techies are out to solve supply chain and processing issues around waste, artists and designers offer `crafty’ solutions. In the last few years, the trend of ‘upcycling’ has picked up. Sisters Madhvi K Pittie and Radhika K Mittal set up Workshop Q in 2010 in Jaipur. Both come with a finance and design background and studied upcycling and waste management as part of their courses abroad. “We were arty since childhood. We would pick up random things, work with it and sometimes end up with cool things,” said Pittie.
Seven years into business, the sisters are still clear that they will handle the procurement themselves. “We need to see what we can use. We take rusted nuts, old CDs, aluminium sheets and panels, veneer, waste cloth. There is no set list. If we believe we can breathe life into these `waste’ items, we take them,” she said. They collaborate with students in design colleges to create products, while partnering with large companies to procure waste. They started selling these products to consumers through online and offline channels, but are now adopting a more streamlined approach, taking only bulk orders.
While the opportunity in waste management has been established, its inherent challenges keep entrepreneurs away. The lack of proven models and success stories has kept waste management from becoming a large sector. There is the social stigma as well. When Joshi decided to set up ExtraCarbon, no one wanted to work with him. Today, he has folks from across sectors partnering in his mission.
“No one would consider waste management an option till they are pushed into it. Only when you smell your trash does it hit you,” said Borgohain of Binbag.
Read More: The Economic Times