When an entrepreneur and a district collector joined hands to make a city ‘plastic free’
The Kannur (Kerala) based programme, Collectors @ School, has found noble means to achieve nobler ends. They work in the space of waste management concentrating waste segregation and recycling, that involves school children in these activities thus inculcating in them a love for and a sense of accountability towards nature. And they make a profit to boot.
Here is the formula on which this programme works. Education institutions first enroll with Collectors @ School by agreeing to certain terms and conditions regarding the process of waste management.
They are then teamed up with an external waste disposal agency with whom the school agrees on the quantity and frequency of waste disposal.
The students of these schools are then encouraged to bring recyclable plastic waste on a regular basis. A teacher or student representative makes an entry against each student in an online platform called Waste Management Information System (W-MIS) and each student is assigned reward points as per the waste secured by her. These points can then be converted to purchase valuable goods like skill development tools, computer and technology applications, project kits, sports kits or can also be used for entrepreneurial initiatives to be undertaken in the school.
The waste disposal agency collects waste from the school as agreed upon and the amount secured in return for the waste flows back into the system and is in turn utilised to reward the students. The waste is then recycled. The institutions which secure highest reward points are provided due recognition.
The journey so far
Gopakumar, a postgraduate from Bangalore University, first came up with this idea. He is the founder of Doer’s Club, an education startup. Fresh out of college, he worked briefly for an edtech startup.
“The startup environment taught me the essential elements of building a company, making strategies, effective execution, and dealing with financial models. I constantly engaged with students as part of my job and saw a huge gap between education and employability. Our classroom learning should inculcate skills for the future. This is the idea around which the Doers' Club was started in June 2016, with the aim of teaching life skills and aiming for all round development.”
During one of his visits home, the callous waste management practices followed in homes and cities affected him. On one hand, there was a severe lack of education and willingness to segregate waste at source. On the other hand, there was a lack of a sustainable waste collection and recycling system for plastic waste (62 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated in Indian cities, only 11.9 million tons of which is recycled and the rest is either litter or finds its way to landfills. Ideally, 98 percent of this solid waste is recyclable). Backed by his entrepreneurial instincts, he built a model for a ‘Recycle Bank for Plastics’, which involved working with schoolchildren to help plastic waste find its way to recycling.
At the same time District Collector, Mir Mohammed Ali IAS (Kannur), was running an initiative called Collectors @ School, which worked with schools and the city municipality to collect plastic waste. Mir has been credited with the project ‘Plastic free Kannur’, through which he launched a focused campaign to phase out plastic carry-bags and disposables and ordered stern action against establishments using plastic carry bags, disposable plates and cups. The two put their heads together and on November 1, 2017, Collectors @ School Phase 2 was born with eight schools and two waste recycling plants.
Current operations and future plans
The project was kick-started with minimum investment and broke even in the very first month of operation. It is now in the early stages of earning a profit. Within the first four months Collectors @ School Phase 2 has achieved impressive milestones. It has onboarded 150 schools and works directly with more than 38,000 school students. They have collected and recycled 3.15 tonnes of plastic waste.
Gopakumar discusses their profit- making revenue models with gusto and confidence. They have two main streams of revenue. The first is the margin on the sale of recyclable plastic.
“Every category of plastics we collect has a retail and a wholesale price. We collect plastic at a retail price and sell at the wholesale price to recycling companies. This is a huge margin.”
The second is the margin on products, that is offered to schools and students in return for their waste collection and segregation efforts.
“Since we are giving value based points to each school, it can convert these points by purchasing goods from the online cart inbuilt with our online application, W-MIS. We keep a margin on the products on the cart.”
As the initiative is driven and powered by a technological platform, the founders believe that their project is built to scale effortlessly.
“We are currently working on the online application to make it more robust and to be able to handle more students and schools. We also plan to diversify the online cart. We are also working to make operations automated so that this model can be implemented in any state across India.”