This Pune startup has developed a contactless litter picking machine to ensure the safety of sanitation workers

Founded by Abhishek Shelar in 2016, Spruce Up is attempting to secure the health, safety, and dignity of over four million waste pickers in India through the intervention of mechanisation and technology.

At the crack of dawn, 32-year-old Mahesh Bhubaneswar Chowdary rushes to pick out cans, cardboard, as well as other plastic waste items, amidst clouds of dust and mounds of garbage. He then cleans and segregates them for further processing or recycling. 

Mahesh — who belongs to the city of Gondia in Maharashtra and works as an operator was constantly exposed to putrid and hazardous wastes over the years due to the nature of his work. This, in turn, led to him putting up with skin infections, respiratory ailments, cuts, and needle wounds. 

A sanitation worker using the Jatayu machine to clean up garbage.

“I had to use my hand to pick out waste most of the time. And, the only other item that was at my disposal was a broom. Clearing all kinds of garbage like toxic metals, syringes, adhesives, and batteries manually was quite a big challenge until recently,” Mahesh tells SocialStory.

After taking into consideration the concerns of such sanitation workers and waste pickers, Spruce Up Industries, a Pune-based cleantech startup, developed a hassle-free litter picking machine called ‘Jatayu.’ 

“Once I got to use the Jatayu machine, things became very easy. Not only did I not have to physically collect the garbage, but I could also disinfect the collection points frequently. This entire process is making me feel far more protected, especially with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” he admits.  

The team of Spruce Up.

From left to right: Abhishek Shelar, Sumedh Bhoj and Bharadwaj Kodamasimham

Founded by Abhishek Shelar in 2016, the cleantech startup is attempting to protect the health, safety, and dignity of the 1.5 million to four million waste pickers in the country through the intervention of mechanisation and technology. 

“India is known to generate over 62 million tonnes of waste every year. And, since the trash is not segregated at source, the process of collection and disposal is an onerous task. I wanted to provide a probable solution and add value to this space. That was when I decided to kick off Spruce Up after returning from the US,” says Abhishek Shelar, Founder of Spruce Up Industries.  

The inception 

An IIT-Bombay alumnus, Abhishek decided to pursue a Masters in Education from Harvard University in Massachusetts in 2014. At the same time, the Indian government had started a nationwide campaign to eliminate open defecation and improve solid waste management, Swachh Bharat Mission. 

Deep down, Abhishek always thought he had an entrepreneurial bent of mind, and had desired to start a company of his own. Consequently, he got the opportunity when the Swachh Bharat Mission was running on full swing.

The Jatayu HD and Super machines mounted on vehicles.

“Several American and European countries apply a variety of tools and equipment to clear garbage – right from rotation brooms to road sweepers. However, there are hardly any machines that can perform these tasks in India. The idea behind laying the foundation of Spruce Up was to bring out mechanised ways to clean garbage to restore the dignity of the labourers involved and boost efficiency”, Abhishek explains. 

Along with the startup’s core team — Sumedh Bhoj and Bharadwaj Kodamasimham — Abhishek spoke to multiple manufacturers, conducted research and development, and invested time in feasibility studies. After 20 iterations based on the feedback received from customers, it arrived at a basic version of the machine named Jatayu HD.

The before and after representation of using the Jatayu machine.

Once the initial prototype was ready, Abhishek presented Jatayu HD — an easy-to-use contactless garbage collection device — at the Open Innovation Challenge. The contest was organised by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and Invest India, under the ‘Waste to Wealth’ mission, as part of the Swachh Bharat initiative. 

Among the first buyers of the Jatayu machines was the Delhi Municipal Corporation. In fact, the startup also received support from the PMO, as well as the Joint Secretary of Swachh Bharat Mission.

Jatayu being used to extract garbage from the streets.

Abhishek gathered money to start the operations of Spruce Up from his father, who generously contributed from his retirement fund. Additionally, he took a loan from the bank after mortgaging his house.  

“I had to take quite a few tough decisions at the beginning, especially when it came to pooling in funds. But, I believed in my idea, and was determined to add value in this space,” quips Abhishek. 

Enabling contactless garbage management

After the success of Jatayu HD, Spruce Up launched an amplified version of the machine called Jatayu Super. While both the machines serve the same purpose and function similarly, the HD version is compact and has a smaller capacity. 

Jatayu has been designed and developed in such a way that it ensures zero manual handling of garbage — right from the point where the waste is picked up until it’s transferred or dumped. 

The team of Spruce Up with the Joint Secretary of Swachh Bharat Mission, Praveen Prakash.

The machine, which can be mounted on a heavy vehicle like a truck or car, works like a vacuum cleaner, where the suction power lifts all kinds of garbage like coconuts, glass, bottles, leaves, medical waste, food waste, clothes, cans, shoes, and more. 

“Once all the trash is picked up, the diesel-powered machine transfers it to the collecting vehicle for further processing. Jatayu Super has a high suction power of 2,900 cubic feet per minute (CFM) and can lift half a ton of litter in just half an hour. The transfer rate is also tremendous and estimated to be 32.6 kg per minute,” Abhishek explains. 

Both the versions of Jatayu are simple to use and easy to maintain. The machine comes with an on and off button, and its cartridges can be cleaned automatically using a pulsing technology. 

A screenshot showing the health of the machine through the remote monitoring technology built by the startup.

“To provide increased efficiency, we have built an integrated telematics system in Jatayu Super, which enables people to track the location of the machine and monitor its health using either a phone or a desktop,” says Bharadwaj Kodamasimham, Head of Marketing, Spruce Up. 

This COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need to adhere to a slew of hygiene and safety practices. Keeping it in mind, Spruce Up has introduced a mechanism in its machines through which disinfectants can be sprayed before and after clearing the garbage.  

While the price of Jatayu HD is Rs 9,83,333, Jatayu Super costs Rs 31,91,813. Both of these are available on GeM, a government eMarketplace, and the prices are on an ex-works (Pune) basis and may also vary depending on customer location and other requirements. The products are developed indigenously using the startup’s proprietary design.

Spruce Up has partnered with many global Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to source different components for in-house assembling at its facility in Pune. 

Machines being assembled at Spruce Up's in-house facility in Pune.

“We have put efforts to make Jatayu as user-friendly as possible. Since the machine is meant mainly for unskilled waste pickers and sanitation workers, we generally conduct a training workshop to teach them the basic mechanics behind the machine and its usage,” says Bharadwaj.

So far, Spruce Up has sold over 90 machines to municipal corporations of various cities in India, including Vijayawada, Chhattisgarh, Nellore, Mumbai, Mysore, Chennai, Mumbai, Varanasi, Dehradun, and Delhi. 

Moving forward, the startup is planning to scale up by collaborating with more municipal corporations and directors of urban development. It is also planning to enter the private sector. 

“Handling garbage using hands endangers the safety of sanitation workers who work tirelessly under vulnerable conditions just to keep our surroundings tidy. A lot of them have lost their lives due to contracting ailments, including COVID-19, in the recent past. Through Jatayu, we want to prevent such unfortunate incidents, and restore the dignity of waste pickers,” says Abhishek. 
Edited by Suman Singh


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