At a time when concerns around environmental issues and waste management are increasing, many waste management startups are doing their bit for the environment. These enterprises are also managing to maintain their bottom line, and their success is, in turn, attracting more players to the segment. Indian cities produce an astounding 6 crore tonnes of garbage every year, of which only 15 percent is not recyclable. The rest can be put to better use instead of choking our streets, rivers, and lakes. Another 18.5 lakh tonnes of hazardous e-waste ends up in landfills. This e-waste is as harmful to the environment in the long run as it is for the health of urban Indians with the sheer volume of carcinogens it releases into the air we breathe.
The waste management sector is positioned to be worth US$ 13.62 billion by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 7.17 percent. Add to that favourable government regulation and the industry itself being in its nascent phase, and there is a huge market opportunity for startups that can provide intelligent, integrated, and sustainable waste management and recycling technologies. Several Indian startups are also partnering with the government and its agencies in making smart waste management the new normal, going where few large corporates have.
Here are some entrepreneurs who have capitalized on the opportunity, literally living the adage of rags to riches:
Based on the deceptively simple premise of turning waste and trash to fashion, Pure Waste Textiles turns the leftover fabric to new, usable clothing. The company is located in Tamil Nadu, the centre of India’s textile industry. The income and job generation of the industry has posed a bigger threat to the state’s villages and towns. Chemical dyes and water-intensive crops have been releasing harmful toxins into the River Noyyal. This is where Pure Waste Textiles comes in.
Jukka and Anders first started working together in 2006 by recycling scrap fabrics into hats. Over the years, their combined experience and interest in sustainable fashion led to the creation of Pure Waste Textiles in 2013. Instead of growing new cotton, which has been harming the environment and water resources, the company simply recycles them. This also leaves land free to grow food instead of cash crops. But unlike most recycling endeavours, Pure Waste Textiles does as much for the environment as it does for the fashion industry, with their stylish and well-cut t-shirts, sweaters, and pants.
IIT graduate Pooja Rai founded Anthill Creations with the aim of upcycling used tyres to build playgrounds. What started as a pilot in IIT Kharagpur just two years ago has gone on to build almost 1,000 playgrounds and has touched the lives of over 10,000 children in remote, inaccessible corners of the country. Headquartered in Bengaluru, Anthill Creations uses cost-effective practices other than recycled tyres – from exploring industrial waste to localized sourcing techniques – to build these DIY playgrounds in less than five days.
Texool is responsible for scaling up textile upcycling, an erstwhile cottage industry, into industrial proportions. It collects discarded textiles, from households and imports, and turns them into designer shopping bags, wine bags, bottle bags, handbags, and school bags. Currently, the Mumbai-based company has 60 employees to produce some 15 lakh bags a year. Founder Jaideep Sajdeh hopes to take his venture global not only for more sales but also to make more people aware of the volume of waste they generate.
Naman Gupta and Vishal Kanet’s Code Enterprises has a unique proposition – managing and recycling cigarette waste. In less than two years, the company has already expanded to 20 states in India. It is estimated that approximately 0.85 billion kilos of toxic cigarette waste each year comes with heavy environmental and health costs. Naman and Vishal saw this on a much smaller scale at a friend’s place one evening and were shocked at the volume of trash generated. Realising that this was a huge problem at the global scale, they got together to set up Code Enterprises.
Noida-based Code Enterprises has developed a chemical process to clean and recycle cellulose acetate, the polymer used in cigarette butts, which they have converted into a product called the VBin. Today, the company works with 60 associates across 20 states. These associates manage and supply cigarette waste within their regions, raking in up to 300-400 kgs. of waste per month. Since its inception, the company has already recycled up to four tonnes of cigarette waste.
Founded in 2013, Banyan Nation cleans and recycles 1,200 tonnes of plastic annually. But its work doesn’t stop there – it also sends the recycled plastic back into the manufacturing sector for reuse. Recently, it was shortlisted for the Circular Economy Awards at the World Economic Forum.
Mani Vajipey incubated Banyan Nation at his alma mater the University of Columbia before setting up full operations in 2013 with the help of Raj Madangopal, his batchmate from the University of Delaware. In just four years since inception, the company has raised $800,000 in seed funding and has developed a proprietary plastic cleaning technology in its 20,000-sq-ft central facility in Hyderabad. Banyan Nation’s clientele includes names like TATA Motors, that used the company’s proprietary ‘Better Plastic’ in its car bumpers, and L’Oreal, which used it for shampoo bottles.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Given the nascent stage of the industry and significantly low penetration, the opportunity is huge for innovative techniques, technologies, and creativity to shine through. With the right amount of involvement from communities and support from the government, these and other startups could very well be the answer to India’s huge e-waste and waste management challenge.