Waste Ventures India: a Pioneer in Urban Solid Waste Management

"Informal waste pickers work extremely well. We will absorb a whopping 90 per cent of all the solid waste we make. Yet 10 per cent is where the problem arises. This is left behind because it is believed they have no interest at all. That 10 percent makes a huge difference when we think about it on a scale as large as a municipality or a city. Instead of seeing it as a burden, we need to see it as an opportunity. "Meet Roshan Miranda, the Waste Ventures India (WVI) co-founderand director. In a conversation with rePurpose Global co-founder Peter Wang Hjemdahl, Roshan talks about the trajectory of WVI, what they dream of and the impact they have made.

Since 2012 Waste Ventures India has been beginning their journey by collaborating with the governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It was by 2015 that they understood their operations ' scope and potential and agreed to collaborate with private sectors as opposed to the municipalities. We work on managing solid waste from all levels–it is created right from the point of view until it enters the landfills, with their goal being to remove all the waste from the landfills. Committed to engaging existing networks of waste pickers and scrap dealers (which form the backbone of the high waste recycling rates in the country) through innovative technology and ethical business practices, WVI is redefining long-standing preconceptions about waste to unlock its potential for environmental and social effect.

"Studying engineering at a college in the outskirts of Hyderabad, which had me traveling nearly 40 kms a day, the entire journey was filled with lots of trees, forests and tons of waste, small dumps and non-recycled plastics. Having seen them for four years everyday, something sparks inside of you to do something for the city in which you grew up. My earlier work experiences, including green technology with the Department of Sustainability at USC LA, working in the Bay area for climate change adaptation and renewable energy credit, helped me start WVI here. "Partnerships with relevant ERPs gave us the confidence that the waste pickers were well supported and proper health safety steps were taken. I have since partnered with bulk waste producers, with their most recent expansion into food waste management. We have meanwhile engaged the general public in the process and urged them to compost, segregate and recycle.

How do solid waste management build Green Footprints?

There was a shortage of settled, secure homes for migrant farmers in the rural parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, nearly a decade ago. The next generation of these families, forgoing schooling, entered the informal sector at the age of 15. Responsibility assumed with these children to take care of their younger siblings and provide without due respect and fair wages for their families. Living in a society that does not respect and acknowledge the dignity of labor, WVI is a leader in this field and works in collaboration with the informal sector, acknowledging first and foremost their contributions and significance in the management of solid waste.

WVI began its journey with businesses, gated communities and other organizations to handle solid waste by separating waste at source and gathering it for recycling, thus diverting it from landfills. Big businesses and corporations are starting to make their workspaces zero waste space, it is going a long way to keep waste at bay. Making the transition to a technology company of around 15,000 single workers–using plastics for sustainable alternatives, the need for comprehensive, intense segregation along with awareness campaigns has dawned on them. A common misconception is that going zero waste is time-and money-restraint, but it does in fact mean long-term cost savings.

Impact on grass–root levels:

If we're talking about unmanaged waste, it's hard not to notice in India at least, but how it's always a kind of packaging material for chips, wrappers and plastic covers. It is more difficult to find as loose a coke bottle or a shampoo bottle or any hard plastics as the former one. This is because these hard plastics hold more value in the supply chain and therefore no one chooses to collect these smaller wrappers and plastic covers, unless they are separately compensated for the very purpose.

The team behind WVI had their inhibitions about the sector before they entered into solid waste management, but they were able to realize how it takes a small group of dedicated people to attract interest within each family, community and organization. It's the ripple effect–one influential person has the power in their lives to affect another ten people. Roshan recalls an incident in which they had made the transition from plastic, disposable plates to conventional steel plates in a small religious ceremony in family for about 50-60. He also speaks of numerous customer experiences that use their composts have also inspired their group to start composting. In this phase, individual efforts are crucial, and can not be undermined.

"Thus, when individuals at their home level make deliberate efforts to reduce waste by segregating waste or making their own compost, they contribute proactively to managing solid waste rather than leaving it unsegregated that affects a waste picker elsewhere," says Roshan about the potential impact that the general public can have.

Deepa, who lives in a gated community which has up to 600-700 households, was another ray of hope. She took up the challenge of making her colony by working together as a group to minimize and handle solid wastes–education seminars, segregation and training of housekeeping staff. They were able to send out 300-400 kg of solid waste within a period of less than three months. Because of their dedication and ambition, what started out from one woman was able to attain these numbers.

They have had many impactful stories from the bottom of the value chain which keeps them close to their vision and purpose. They were approached for jobs by a group of 5-10 women who are informal waste pickers, who remained with them through their journey for years now. Sattamma is very proud of her work since she has been rewarded for her work with fair wages, life insurance and other benefits that have only been made possible by WVI. Another proud employee of WVI, Ramadevi, was instrumental in gathering up to 200-300 books from fiction, non-fiction, used books and competitive books, and created a small library for an orphan girls ' residential school near her location. It kept these books from reaching the landfills and channeling them into highly productive networks.

"We don't source our waste from aggregators, even if it is economically feasible. The more the hierarchies between us and the waste pickers, the less they get the benefits. We empower waste pickers by doing away with aggregators and ensuring fair work. Our model benefits the bottom of the pyramid.

Looking forward

By serving 25000+ households with the help of 1200 + waste pickers, WVI has now averted 4000+ tons of waste, 1100 + tons of CO2. They plan to expand their business in the coming years and enter wet waste, provide consultancy services for waste management, pre-consumer industrial waste and provide green endpoints. In aiming to collaborate with like-minded individuals and corporations, they are building a society of conscientious people who are mindful of the waste they create and thus have an impact on generating and taking necessary action to minimize their spill.

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