“Informal waste pickers are extremely good at their work. They are able to collect a whopping 90% of all solid wastes we generate. But where the problem arises is with 10%. This is left behind because they are assumed not to have any value. This 10% makes a massive difference when we are talking about it on a scale as large as a municipality or a town. Instead of seeing it as a burden, we need to see it as an opportunity.” Meet Roshan Miranda, the co-founder and Director of Waste Ventures India (WVI). In a conversation with Peter Wang Hjemdahl, co-founder of rePurpose Global, Roshan talks about their journey, what they envision and the impact they have created.
Waste Ventures India has been in inception since 2012 where they started their journey by partnering with Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments. It was by 2015 they realized the scope and potential of their operations and decided to partner with private sectors as opposed to the municipalities. They work on managing solid wastes from all levels – right from the point, it is generated till it reaches the landfills, except their objective being diverting all the wastes from the landfills. Committed to engaging existing networks of waste pickers and scrap dealers (who form the backbone of the country’s high waste recycling rates) through inclusive technology and ethical business practices, WVI is redefining long-standing preconceptions around waste to unlock its environmental and social impact potential.
“Studying engineering at a college in the outskirts of Hyderabad, which had me travel almost 40 kms everyday, the whole journey was dotted with lots of trees, forests along with tons of wastes, small dumps and non – recycled plastics. Having seen them everyday for four years, something clicks inside you to do something for the city you grew up in. My earlier work experiences which include green technology at USC LA with sustainability department, working in Bay area for climate change resilience and renewable energy credit helped me launch WVI here.”
Partnering with meaningful ERPs gave them the assurance that the waste pickers were provided well for and given due health safety measures. Since then, they have been working with bulk waste generators, their most recent expansion being into food waste management. Meanwhile in the journey, they have been engaging the general public and encouraging them to compost, segregate and recycle.
How is managing solid wastes creating green footprints?
In the rural parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, almost a decade ago, there was a lack of stabilized, safe homes for the migrant farmers. The next generation of these families entered the informal sector by the age of 15, forgoing education. Responsibility vested with these kids to take care of their younger siblings and provide for their families without due recognition and fair wages. Living in a society that does not recognise and acknowledge dignity of labour, Waste Ventures India is a pioneer in this sector and is working in partnership with the informal sector by foremost recognising their efforts and importance they hold in managing solid wastes.
Waste Ventures India started with corporates, gated communities and other institutions to embark on their journey in managing solid wastes by segregating wastes at source and collecting them to recycle, thus diverting them from landfills. Big corporations and businesses start making their workspaces zero waste space, it goes a long way in keeping wastes at bay. Making the transition for a technology giant with about 15000 employees who were using single – use plastics towards sustainable options, it dawned to them the need of extensive, intensive segregation coupled with awareness programs. A common misconception is that going zero waste is time and money restraining, but it actually translates to cost savings in the long run.
Impact at grass-roots levels
If we’re talking about wastes unmanaged, in India at least, it’s hard not to notice but how they are always a sort of packaging material for chips, the wrappers and plastic covers. It’s harder to find a coke bottle or a shampoo bottle or any hard plastics as loose as the former. This is because in the supply chain, these hard plastics hold more value and thus no one chooses to collect these smaller wrappers and plastic covers, unless they are compensated separately for the very purpose.
Before they ventured into solid waste management, the team behind Waste Ventures India had their inhibitions about the sector but they were quick to observe how it takes a small group of dedicated people within each family, community and organisation to spark the attention. It is the ripple effect – one influential person has the power to influence other ten people in their lives. Roshan recalls an incident where in a small religious ceremony in family for about 50-60, they had made the transition from plastic, disposable plates to the traditional steel plates. He also tells about various encounters of customers who are using their composts, and have encouraged their community to start composting as well. Individual efforts are vital in this process and cannot be undermined.
“So when individuals at their home levels are making conscious efforts to reduce waste by segregating wastes or making their own compost, they are proactively contributing to managing solid wastes as opposed to leaving them unsegregated which affects a waste picker somewhere,” says Roshan about the potential impact the common public can have.
Another ray of hope has been Deepa, who lives in a gated community that has upto 600-700 households. She took up the challenge in her colony to reduce and manage solid wastes by working together as a community – awareness workshops, segregation, and training of housekeeping staff. In a span of less than three months, they were able to send 300-400 kg of solid waste. What started from one woman, due to her determination and optimism, they were able to achieve such numbers.
From the bottom of the value chain, they have had many impactful stories that keeps them close to their vision and purpose. A group of 5-10 women who are informal waste pickers approached them for employment, who have stayed with them for years now through their journey. Sattamma, is very proud of the work she’s doing since she has been recognised for her work with fair wages, life insurance and other benefits that were only made possible because of WVI. Ramadevi, another proud employee of WVI, was instrumental in collecting upto 200-300 books from fiction, non – fiction, used books and competitive books and created a small library for a residential school for orphan girls near her locality. This has prevented those books from entering the landfills and channelising into much productive channels.
“We do not source our wastes from aggregators, even if they are economically feasible. The more the hierarchies between us and the waste pickers, the lesser are the benefits they receive. We empower the waste pickers by eliminating aggregators and ensuring fair labour. Our model benefits the bottom of the pyramid.”
At the present, Waste Ventures India has averted 4000+ tons of wastes,1100+ tons of CO2 by serving 25000+ households with the help of 1200+ waste pickers. In the upcoming years, they plan to expand their business and enter wet wastes, provide waste management consulting services, pre consumer industrial waste and provide green end points. By hoping to work with like – minded individuals and corporations, they are building a society of conscious citizens who are aware of the wastes they generate and impact they thus create and take necessary actions to mitigate their spills.
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