They Disrupted Waste Management in Mumbai With Waste Collectors in Mind

India
By:: 
Puja Chandra

Mumbai's 22 million people produce 10,000 tonnes of waste each day. But one social enterprise  (SE) has an eco-friendly waste management solution and is giving dignity to waste collectors. Meet Sampun(e)arth.

 

“There is no such thing as 'away'. When we throw something away, it must go somewhere”- Annie Leonard

 

Sampurn(e)arth is changing the way waste is managed in India. The Mumbai-based social enterprise was founded by three engineers-turned-entrepreneurs - Debartha Banerjee, Jayanth Nataraju and Ritvik Rao. The trio hope to change the waste collection in India, starting with Mumbai - which is called the country's "waste capital".

The company mantra is admirable. Their website says: "Sampurn(e)arth Environment Solutions envisions a world where waste is transformed into utilizable resources without exploitation of people or the planet." Existing waste management systems in India involves dumping and landfilling, which releases green house gas emissions and results in polluted ground water. But Sampun(e)arth's approach cuts down transport costs and eliminates carbon emissions. Their clients include everything from corporations to college campuses and even integrated townships.

 

 

The SE's unique name is a bilingual mashup. 'Sampurn' is Sanskrit for whole and 'arth' translates into both wealth and purpose, or goal.  The added ‘E’ transforms arth into Earth - their ultimate client and greater purpose. We spoke to Founder-Director, Debartha Banerjee to find out more about their vision and journey. 

 

Thanks for speaking to Asia For Good, Debartha! Tell us about the work you do in Mumbai and how Sampun(e)arth makes a difference.

Mumbai is home to 22 million people who produce 10000 tonnes of waste every day. The city spends USD500 million on waste management annually, mostly on picking up un-segregated waste from overflowing garbage bins and transporting them to dangerously high mountains of garbage in dumps. Untreated waste in landfills release toxins in the air and water, which make their way into the food chain and pose a major health hazard.

Sampun(e)arth offer a decentralised form of waste management by engaging citizens and collaborating with NGOs. For our 100 clients in Mumbai we are offering a customised end-to-end solution which aims for zero-waste.

Citizens are educated through awareness campaigns and made responsible for segregation of waste at its source. We set up bio-gas plants and compost pits for treatment of wet waste. We collect, segregate and recycle dry waste. The management of waste at the source substantially reduces the quantum of waste that needs to be transported to dumping grounds saving tax-payers' money.

By treating waste at source, we are also able to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Our efforts last year reduced emissions by a whopping 600 metric tonnes (MT) and we intend to scale it up to 30,000MT next year.

Clients are able to see the financial viability of our solution because they can use and sell "waste" manure produced in compost pits and gas produced in bio-gas plants. They can also sell or recycle dry waste. At present we are managing about 300 MT of waste a month. Our target is to handle 22,000MT annually.

You say that the work Sampun(e)arth does gives dignity to the "invisible" people who collect garbage. How do you do that?

We employ and train 1000 waste collectors and scrap dealers. These workers are the invisible environmentalists, they are considered human scavengers and are shunned by society. But now they can continue to be a part of the permanent solution to waste management.

By giving them formal employment, better working conditions, minimum wages and insurance, we have restored their dignity. Their aspiration levels are higher today and they have a heightened sense of social security.  We are thus working towards a socially inclusive society.

At present, 100 workers are directly employed by us. Our target is to create 300 more jobs in the waste management sector next year.

That sounds amazing. What are some of the challenges you've faced and the solutions you ultimately came up with?

The biggest challenge towards waste management is the ‘out of sight, out of mind’  mindset and NIMBY - not in my backyard.

To solve social problems, it is important to highlight the problem and to present a solution that is visible, economically viable and sustainable. Our attempt is to make waste management solutions such as composting and bio gas plants mainstream, viable and sustainable for long-term.

Debartha, Sampurn(e)arth recently won the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Grant - how will you use that?

Along with equity funding, the DBS Foundation grant forms a very important component of our fund-raising plan for the next two years - one which allows us to retain our social impact and control over the company. The grant is timely as we can now build a stronger team with dedicated professionals who can carry forward our vision. It will also give us working capital that can be used to strengthen our business model, scale up and build necessary infrastructure. The grant will help shift us into the next orbit of growth.

Inspired by their story? Watch this video on Sampurn(e)arth or visit their website on www.sampurnearth.com/

 

 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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