How Debartha, Ritwik and Jayant Are Revolutionizing Waste Collection Systems in India
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
“Being good means nothing unless you are willing to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done,” said an angry Abraham Setrakian in the US vampire apocalypse show ‘The Strain.’ And while our planet may not be under threat from vampires, the danger to its environment from the waste-dumping activities of human beings is not just real, it is critical.
When Debartha Banerjee, Jayanth Nataraju and Ritvik Rao set out to change the way waste is handled in India, they had to battle not just ignorance but also apathy. Armed with degrees in engineering and masters in social entrepreneurship, they founded Sampurn (e)arth- a Mumbai based startup focused on urban waste management. Vijaya Shrinivasan, a client, shares that the residents of her neighbourhood were initially very reluctant. They didn’t want to go through the whole process of having 2 separate bags and segregating food at the source. Six months of tireless campaigning later, the efforts of the team are staring to make a difference.
Though there is a long, long way to go in changing people’s attitudes about how they deal with their waste, these grass root changes seem seismic and signal for a better time to come. “Targeting ‘Out of sight out of Mind’ and ‘Not in My backyard’ approach is one of our key strategies. That is the reason all our solutions are decentralizes and waste-generator has to take extra responsibility of waste-segregation to keep their waste management system active. Monetarily incentivising people by creating value from waste is also what helps us penetrate,” shares co-founder and director Debartha Banerjee.
India generates more than 1, 00,000 metric tonnes of waste daily. 90 % of this sector is disorganized. Consequently the decomposition of biodegradable waste generates huge amounts of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. But scary statistics aside, there is another ugly side to the waste management system in India- the waste pickers. Though their work is essential, actually crucial, to a well-functioning society, the humiliation and degradation they have to face on a daily basis is inhuman.
Sampurn(e)arth works to provide them with dignity. Earlier they would be scavenging inside dumps. Now the waste pickers employed by Sampurn (e)arth work under proper conditions. They earn more money, thanks to their recycling efforts. Above all, instead of being just ‘waste pickers’, they proudly wear on their sleeve the new title of ‘waste managers.’
Like all great and meaningful initiatives, Sampurn (e)arth was born out of a feeling of discontent and disenchantment. Debartha was working as a software professional in Pune. In his free time, he started volunteering extensively in NGO’s. Though this gave him great exposure about social causes and an appetite for helping people, he could not shake off the feeling that he needed to create a greater impact and part time volunteering just wasn’t going to cut it. He signed up for a masters in social entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences and it is here that the idea of Sampurn(e)arth was born. Ritwik, Jayant and Debartha met at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, where they were batch-mates pursuing Masters in Social Entrepreneurship in 2010. With engineering backgrounds and an entrepreneurial heart, they held the belief that technology can solve big problems. Their love for environment and keen interest in sustainable development made them ponder over waste-management.