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Techtonic – Innovations in Waste Management: An enabling ecosystem stack for developing innovation tech-based waste management solutions.

Techtonic – Innovations in Waste Management: An enabling ecosystem stack for developing innovation tech-based waste management solutions.

Friday January 29, 2021 , 7 min Read

India generates the highest amount of waste in the world in terms of size. According to a 2016 estimate, the country produced 277 million tonnes of municipal solid waste, which accounted for 13 percent of the global waste generated. And this number is projected to double in the next decade.

The urgent need to address challenges in waste management

Of the 80 percent of the collected waste, only 22 to 28 percent is processed and treated.The rest ends up in landfills. This is leading to a constant increase in the size of landfills in India. Further, there is very little reliable and updated data on the total waste generated, processed or its composition. The waste management sector primarily relies on offline transactions to manage waste, with no system to connect bulk producers to the recycled rates of their products.

The increased focus on recycling and proper waste management by municipal corporations hasn’t translated into impact on ground. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has further impacted India’s fragile waste management system. The demand for disposable personal protective equipment and single-use plastic borne out of the concerns around safety has created a demand and rush for single-use plastic products to such an extent that it has reversed the anti-plastic trends.

All of this has put further stress on the environment along with the people in the informal sector who are closely involved in driving waste management. Consequently, there is an urgent need to bring in technological innovations into the waste management spectrum. Innovative technological solutions creating an efficient supply chain and maximising the value of different waste streams can exponentially reduce the burden on the landfills while also positively impacting climate change mitigation, economic growth and livelihood enhancement.

Techtonic – Innovations in Waste Management Challenge

To address these challenges, Sweden-based H&M Foundation, a non-profit global foundation, and Social Alpha, a non-profit startup incubator focused on the development sector, have joined hands to launch ‘Techtonic – Innovations in Waste Management’, a nationwide grand challenge that aims to identify and curate locally designed, disruptive innovations addressing problems in waste management and improving the livelihoods of waste pickers. With Techtonic, H&M Foundation and Social Alpha are working towards creating an enabling ecosystem stack for innovators and entrepreneurs developing innovative tech-based waste management solutions.

The challenge has three key focus areas:

  1. Network optimisation: Solutions that build supply chain efficiency of waste generated
  2. Data for waste management: Solutions for end-to-end waste traceability, transparency and visibility of the waste supply chain
  3. Waste to value: Innovations for recycling and resource recovery from waste streams with a focus on low-value waste streams

Explaining how the three problem statements are interconnected towards the larger goal in the waste management sector to reduce the burden on the landfills, Madhushree Narayan, Programme Director - Waste Management, Social Alpha, shares, “Despite continued focus through government programmes, segregation continues to be a pain point in the sector.” She explains, “Without proper segregation, recycling and recovery at scale is impossible. Ensuring end-to-end waste traceability allows city planners to develop effective waste management plans to promote recycling and recovery. And, waste to value ensures that all the material which can be recovered through some value based applications is brought back to the supply stream, reducing the waste moving towards the landfills.” Madhushree affirms that to build sustainable business models, all these solutions need to be built at scale, thereby making this sector profitable and suited for entrepreneurs to focus upon.

It is to address these larger goals - accelerating waste management and processing and building income stability of the informal sector in India, the programme is seeking solutions through innovation and entrepreneurship. Techtonic – Innovations in Waste Management Challenge is inviting applications from innovators, entrepreneurs and organisations working on technology-based solutions that have the potential to create impact in the three key focus areas, scale across geographies and demonstrate business model sustainability in waste management.

Designed to support and scale innovations

Five winners of the grand challenge will be selected for the Social Alpha Waste Innovations Accelerator and receive support in their lab-to-market journey. While the programme is cohort-driven, the duration for each of the winners will differ based on the needs of each startup and the implementation partner they would be working with.

Depending on the need assessment, the winners will receive access to assistance in design, product development, digital support tools and marketing; technical advisory and mentorship support for R&D and hands-on operational support, business mentorship and go-to-market strategic advisory. However,Madhushree Narayan points out that market validation and the marketing and digital support are the two key programme highlights. In fact, the market validation supports the winners in replicating their innovations in a new geography. “Scaling to different geographies has been an impediment for startups in the waste management sector as the modalities of waste management and processing are not standardised across geographies. And, that’s why we believe supporting startups expand their footprint will not only enable the startups to expand their geographic footprint but also enable scale.”

In order to provide digital and marketing support, the accelerator will first understand the winner’s requirement and then co-create a plan for them. “Many enterprises continue to rely on crude data collection methods. Support on digital tools enables startups to streamline their activities and also unlock opportunities for the informal economy,” She says.

A key area for any startup is the access to funding support. To address this challenge, the accelerator will facilitate access to a large investor and donor network and also a potential opportunity to access Social Alpha’s seed support to pitch for seed capital investment up to Rs 1 crore.

The accelerator programme has been designed to leverage the collective knowledge and strength of multiple stakeholders across Central, State and Local Government bodies, private sector and civil society to drive the uptake of high-impact and scalable technology innovations.

With an initial outlay of Rs 15 crore committed by H&M Foundation and Social Alpha, the programme will continue to seek more partners as it progresses in its journey. It has also forged partnerships with Startup India, Invest India, AGNii, Government of Karnataka, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Saamuhika Shakti with the objective to scale the initiative across the country.

The collective impact project Saamuhika Shakti is the programme partner for problem curation, market access and validations. Initiated by H&M Foundation, Saamuhika Shakti brings together multiple organisations – including BBC Media Action, CARE, LabourNet, Hasiru Dala, Save the Children, WaterAid and The/Nudge Foundation, to work towards a common agenda of enabling waste pickers to have greater agency to lead secure and dignified lives. This will ensure that the solutions are centered around creating sustainable, better livelihoods and enhanced income opportunities for waste-pickers.

Maria Bystedt, Strategy Lead at H&M Foundation explains the thinking behind the initiative; “Waste management and material recycling are essential components of a circular economy, and we see an urgent need to support innovations in order to speed up the process of creating value out of waste, but it needs to be part of a wider systems re-design to create real social impact. We are looking for innovations that can contribute to that systems change and ultimately benefit the lives of informal waste pickers in India.”

Apply for Techtonic – Innovations in Waste Management and accelerate your lab-to-market journey for waste-management solutions. Applications close on January 31, 2021.

Apply at