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Banyan Nation is out to clean India and the world is taking note

Sohini Mitter
8th Jan 2018
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The startup cleans and recycles 1,200 tonnes of plastic annually and sends it back to the manufacturing sector for reuse. Now, it has been shortlisted for the Circular Economy Awards at the World Economic Forum.

Startup: Banyan Nation

Founders: Mani Vajipey, Raj Madangopal

Founded in: 2013

Based out of: Hyderabad

Services: Plastic recycling and waste management

Sector: Renewables & Environment

Funding raised: Seed - $800,000

The idea of Banyan Nation came about in 2013 when founder Mani Vajipey was pursuing a degree at Columbia Business School.

An engineer by training, he was acutely aware of India’s environmental crisis — much of which was triggered by huge volumes of non-recycled plastic. Mani also realised that except for water bottles, all other plastics were downcycled instead of being recycled.

He, of course, wanted to solve the problem, and under the mentorship of Ron Gonen (a pioneer in the waste management circuit in the US), he incubated Banyan Nation at Columbia.

Mani was later joined by Raj Madangopal, his batchmate from the University of Delaware. In the years that followed, Mani and Raj, along with a little assistance from key investors and advisors, turned Banyan Nation into a promising venture in India’s waste management space. And now, the Hyderabad-based startup is in the spotlight for being one of the finalists at the World Economic Forum’s Circular Economy Awards.

Raj Madangopal (L) and Mani Vajipey, founders of Banyan Nation

The ‘Circular Economy’ is where raw materials are recovered, recycled and re-utilised in the manufacturing process. As opposed to the traditional model of being abandoned after just one cycle, in the Circular Economy, maximum value is extracted out of these materials, thus saving billions of dollars in costs and significantly reducing ecological hazards.

Banyan Nation has been doing exactly that through a proprietary plastic cleaning technology it has developed in its 20,000-sq-ft facility in Hyderabad.

What Banyan Nation does

It helps clean and re-engineer 1,200 tonnes per annum (TPA) of plastic waste and render it as close to virgin plastic as possible, thus enabling reuse in the manufacturing process.

The thermal technology Banyan Nation has developed helps rid plastics off contaminants like metals, labels, auto paints, inks, dirt, oils, adhesives, etc. In India, most of the plastic recycling is done informally (and illegally), and the cleaning is so rudimentary that it reduces the material’s quality such that it cannot be reused. Hence, the demand for recycled plastic is very low in India, unlike in Western markets where leading corporations are openly using re-engineered plastic in packaging.

Banyan, though, has been successful in generating some demand for Better Plastic — a near-virgin grade recycled plastic it creates from post-consumer and post-industrial waste streams — in India.

Its biggest validation came from domestic car marker Tata Motors and French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, both of which use Better Plastic in auto components and product packaging respectively. Last year, Tata Motors used recycled plastic in its car bumpers, while L’Oreal brought out shampoo bottles made out of Banyan’s Better Plastic. Both have helped put the Hyderabad startup in the global sustainability map.

“Recycling activities in India are mostly driven by market forces that are informal, illegal and largely invisible. Banyan is innovating and integrating the informal sector and providing consistent quality recycling. By taking a complete value chain approach, we have developed innovative technologies that clean plastics to eliminate all potential contaminants,” Mani Vajipey, Co-founder and CEO, Banyan Nation tells YourStory.

“It is our mission to help brands sustainably ‘Make In India’ by replacing the use of virgin plastic with recycled plastic that is comparable in quality and performance. Within the next decade, almost all mainstream plastic products including food grade packaging will obtain recycled materials,” he says.

More than just plastic recycling

While plastic is its core focus, Banyan Nation has evolved into a holistic waste management platform driven by IoT. Interestingly, that is how it had started. It created a data-tracking platform where it could monitor waste-flows in Hyderabad. From rag picking to kabadi collection to delivery to aggregators, Banyan Nation’s IoT platform provides a “bird’s eye view” of waste streams in Hyderabad.

“The app we created maps over 1,500 stationery recyclers. Data shows the amount of waste coming out and the local efficiencies in collection and transportation of the waste. We have mapped the kabadiwalas and integrated the supply chain,” Founders Mani and Raj explain. This IoT-enabled technology model attracted the attention of the Telangana government which signed an MoU with Banyan Nation last year. Its dashboard would be extended to the local government for e-management of waste in the state.

This model can obviously be scaled across cities and states considering the amount of waste India generates every year.

“Governments spends hundreds of crores on waste management every year. But the entire data is offline,” Mani states. Hence, the demand for a tech-driven waste management platform would be high across the country. Banyan Nation is also keen to expand its plastic recycling operations. But “the facility will remain in Hyderabad though last mile collection will be pan-India,” says Mani.

Support from the ecosystem

Scaling up, of course, requires funds and resources as well as some sound advice from investors. Banyan Nation has been in able hands right from the outset. In its earlier stages, it had been mentored by global private equity giant KKR.

“They are developing something that can be hugely scaled up and something that the country needs desperately,” Sanjay Nayar, CEO of KKR, had said.

In 2016, Banyan received a seed investment of $800,000 from Jaideep Khanna who runs Artha Capital, a US-based emerging market fund. The investment, however, was made in his individual capacity.

“I invested in Banyan because I was very impressed with co-founders, Mani Vajipey and Raj Madangopal, their vision and commitment to efficiently recycle waste in India,” Khanna told YourStory on email.

“Effective waste management is a sizeable opportunity for companies like Banyan as they are leveraging technology at scale to obtain a closed-loop circular economy in the plastics space. I am certain Banyan will play a significant role in making India cleaner while providing a great return for its stakeholders,” he added.

In 2016, the government announced that over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste were generated in India every day, of which 6,000 tonnes remained uncollected and littered. Hence, Banyan Nation’s opportunity is massive!

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