Converting Waste to Wealth, Part 2: Waste Management — At an inflection point

By Venkatraghavan TT and Raghav Rungta, Associates at Asha Impact

This is part two of a three part series that will cover the challenges, drivers and future of waste management in India

A material recovery facility in Russia, Indian companies are borrowing technology, but designing such facilities specifically for the Indian context
“This decade in India has witnessed a paradigm shift in policy, perspectives and the manner in which we manage our waste. Instead of looking to dispose of it at the first instant, we are now looking for ways to ensure maximum recovery and minimum disposal. Organisations — from the private sector as well as government entities — are now viewing waste as a resource and looking for technology to get the best value out of it” — Sandeep Jajodia, President ASSOCHAM

In the earlier part of this series, we glossed over the main challenges that have plagued the waste management sector. In this section, we would like to shed light on the drivers that are enabling business to build commercially viable operations tailored towards the Indian waste management value-chain.

A combination of drivers — shifts in consumer behaviour, supportive policy environment, and technological innovation, to name a few, have created an enabling atmosphere for the sector. We will cover these drivers and a few innovative business models below.

Key drivers for the sector

  • Increased citizen awareness: Increasing awareness around waste management in India is improving civic consciousness amongst citizens and also promoting waste segregation at source. While this shift in behaviour is hard to prove empirically, and evidence of this shift is limited to a few cities (Indore & Bangalore are key examples), it is an important step to gather momentum for the sector as a whole. Segregation at source helps in preserving the quality of valuable recyclable and reusable material that can be monetised. It further enables private companies to focus on aggregation and processing, thereby increasing the commercial viability of operating in this sector.
  • Regulatory Drivers: With GOI initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission and the enforcement of new solid waste management rules in India, many states have started to implement waste management legislations. The solid waste management regulation of 2016, has encouraged decentralised waste processing in Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) while integrating informal waste pickers into the system. Further, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) rules have pushed corporates and manufacturers to take responsibility for the waste they generate, increasing the demand for auditable recycling in the space.
  • Technology Enhancements: Secondary segregation (eg: filtering dry waste into different subcomponents of specific materials) and processing of waste has historically been carried out with a manual directive, which significantly limits the scale of models in the sector. Now players are leveraging new technologies to mechanise their facilities and automate large parts of the segregation and processing of waste. By reducing manual intervention, waste management companies are able to optimise the capacity and quality of their MRF’s.

While there is a big regulatory push around waste management with initiatives such as Swachh Bharat and Extended Producer Responsibility, there is a dying need for organised waste management enterprises to source, process and provide reliable and quality end-to-end waste management services at scale, while efficiently integrating waste pickers in the formal economy. Our investments in two companies Saahas Zero Waste and Let’s Recycle- Nepra are fine examples of emerging business models in the sector:

Wilma Rodrigues, founder of Saahas Zero Waste

Saahas Zero Waste:

Founded by Wilma Rodrigues, Saahas Zero Waste, a waste management company based out Bangalore, employs an innovative zero waste methodology, where they collect waste from bulk generators segregate at scale and then processes it for downstream sale to recyclers and manufacturers. The zero waste methodology involves collecting all sources of waste, wet & dry, and providing commercially viable processing for each. The Saahas program has impacted over 1,25,000 lives thus far. If you work out of a corporate IT park in Bangalore, chances are that your waste is being processed by Saahas.

Sandeep Patel, co-founder of Let’s Recycle — Nepra

Let’s Recycle — Nepra:

Our latest investment, Let’s Recycle — Nepra, is an Ahmedabad based waste management company focused on building an organised value-chain for dry waste in India. The company has built a supply chain that connects dry waste generators and collectors to recyclers, integrating over 1800 waste pickers into the formal economy, with three state of the art fully mechanised facilities.

As we look on to the next decade, India needs to adopt a conscious strategy to revolutionise its waste management sector.

Waste management is no longer an issue that can be discussed, analysed and opined on panels and articles. We have reached the stage where we need to act, if we want to create a sustainable living environment for ourselves and future generations. Given the scale of the problem and opportunity at hand, it’s only a matter of time before we identify our next unicorn — only this time from the waste management sector.

Keep watching this space! The next part of this series will cover our thoughts on the future of waste in India. If you have any thoughts on the sector, or are an entrepreneur championing waste management in India, feel free to reach out to us at info@ashaimpact.com