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Aiming to end the plastic bottle menace, RVM Recycle encourages people to recycle via freebies

Libza Mannan
24th May 2018
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This Delhi-based startup is on a mission to create more awareness about sustainability and recycling through its reverse vending machine (RVM), Zeleno.

 At a glance

Startup: RVM Recycle

Founders: Rishabh Agarwal, Prateek Mittal and Nimish Gupta

Year it was founded: 2016

Where it is based: Delhi

The problem it solves: Engages people in sustainability and recycling programmes through rewards

Sector: Recycling

Funding raised: Bootstrapped

According to Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Landfills: A Case of NCT of Delhi, India report, Delhi generates 8360 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day, which is projected to rise up to 18,000 tons per day by 2021. The report further cites that the drastic increase would place immense pressure on the existing infrastructure and soon become a challenge for the local and municipal bodies responsible for waste management.

Alarmed by Delhi’s ever-increasing plastic waste, an ISB Hyderabad alumnus decided to address the issue, which needs plenty of behavioural change, by showing people the benefits of recycling PET bottles and aluminium cans to the environment for cashbacks and discounts.

Prateek Mittal, Co-founder of RVM Recycle, says, “We took the incentivising route as we strongly felt that unless people are incentivised, it’s difficult to bring a change, and this is a common human tendency. We wanted to create a product wherein a user can be made to feel special for extending his helping hand to the society, in this case by merely recycling a PET bottle.”

RVM smart bin installed in Delhi's Connaught Place

Launched in 2016, RVM (standing for reverse vending machine) Recycle aims to make the recycling supply chain efficient by incentivising public with the support of government agencies.

Since Zeleno smart bins were inaugurated by the then Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu in 2016, the company reportedly caught the government's attention and, from then on, Prateek says it has not been a difficult ride. The company’s first project was in NDMC area where nine smart bins were installed (in CP, Khan Market and Sarojini Nagar). So far, the team has installed 30 machines across Delhi-NCR, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand. Prateek highlights the company is in the process of installing 20 more machines.

The 30 smart bins installed across different locations, reportedly collects over 4,500 bottles every day and, so far, the firm has successfully recycled nearly 32,000 kg of waste.

“It’s easy, simple and interactive. I never thought that I could be rewarded for properly disposing of the trash and that recycling could be so much fun. Just three steps and in 20 seconds I can earn a discount at my favourite restaurant,” Rachit Mittal, an entrepreneur and Zeleno user, says.

How do Zeleno smart bins work?

RVM Recycle’s Zeleno involves collection of empty plastic PET bottles and aluminium cans using the smart bins and rewarding the user for the same in terms of cash back or discount vouchers, which can be subsequently redeemed at the specific outlet. Each Zeleno or RVM has a digital screen. Users open the door of the smart bin and drop in the bottle by following the basic commands on touchscreen. Sensors detect the aluminium and scan the bottles. The details of the PET and aluminium bottles are then tallied with the database and then it is passed through the conveyor belt.

L-R: Nimish Gupta, Prateek Mittal, and Rishabh Aggarwal

Nimish Gupta, Co-founder of RVM Recycle, strongly believes that the initiative will not only help in cleaning our cities but will also brings about behavioural change.

By recycling with Zeleno Machines the consumers of PET bottles and even the ragpickers take home a token for putting the bottles into the smart bin. To break down the process, ragpickers collect bottles thrown carelessly on footpaths and street corners, and put it into the bins. In order to strengthen the supply chain and simplify processes, the firm is also working on mobile wallets. The smartphone app is another aspect that the company is focusing on, and this will be tied up with mobile wallets, Paytm and Aadhaar wallets. The innovative startup is also looking to soon add e-wallet money and free Wi-Fi access on the machines.

Around 2,000 bottles and aluminium cans can be recycled in one smart bin, and the company has tied up with several recyclers, including VLS Ecotech. Plastic bottles are recycled to make yarn, which can be used as a fabric to make various things.

The smart bin also doubles up as a platform for advertisers to showcase their campaign and position themselves as part of the green brigade. The LCD display panels of the RVM provide advertising space in the form of either rotating or static or video slots. This drastically reduces the carbon footprint of more traditional advertising while remaining cost-effective and highly visible.

The inspiration behind starting up

 The PET journey goes back to days when Rishabh Agarwal, Prateek and Nimish were studying management at ISB in Hyderabad. The three founders come from business families and another common link amid the trio was the desire to do something on their own.

On their visit to Kellogg School of Management, Chicago, as a part of the management programme curriculum, the smart disposable machines installed at petrol pumps caught the trio’s attention.

RVM Recycle has installed 9 smart bins in the NDMC area

Though at that time, the founders didn’t have much clarity on starting out, they were convinced that trash could be put to some good use by leveraging technology. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, in-depth market research and several meetings with thought leaders, industry experts and technology giants, the trio came up with Zeleno.

All the three founders are engineers and management graduates from ISB Hyderabad, who have worked in companies for a while and were later involved in their family businesses before starting the company. Besides the trio, the core team comprises Utsav Sahni (Head, Marketing & CSR), Anil Dhyani (Technology Expert), Siddharth Shekher Singh (Advisor), Chudgar (Advisor), Amrit Singh (Branding), Vikash Kumar (Digital Marketing) and Kartik Agarwal (Marketing).

Plans for future

Prateek highlights that Delhi alone can accommodate over 500 bins in metro stations and malls. This year, the startup is looking to install around 100 smart machines in Delhi.

Going ahead, the agenda extends to the airports. Given the fact that the Delhi airport ranks among India’s busiest, the Zeleno team has Delhi International Airport (P) Limited (DIAL) on its radar. Other than that, they also want to explore tourist spots like Rajasthan, Agra, Varanasi and Lucknow. Besides airports, the company wants to monetise via railway and bus stations, apart from metro stations. The company reportedly is also in talks with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

Backed by a team of over 12 members, the firm is generating revenue mainly through the PET bottles, advertisement on the RVMs, and subscription charged from vendors for offering discount vouchers, among others.

Currently, RVM Recycle is self-funded and does not intend to raise funding in future.

“As a long-term measure, we would like to create scalable replicable smart machines that can find users anywhere in the world. That’s because we have got queries from overseas. Parts of the US, Mexico, Singapore, Dubai and Africa have shown interest in our venture,” adds Rishabh.

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