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Siddharth Hande is used to cleaning up other people’s messes, quite literally. In fact, he’s making a business out of it. His Chennai-based start-up, Kabadiwalla Connect (KWC), leverages information technology to make sure that recyclable waste does not end up at landfills and is, indeed, recycled or upcycled.
The start-up, which launched earlier last year, uses a mobile-based app to essentially connect kabadiwallas to citizens who need to dispose of scrap. That way, non-biodegradable materials like glass, metal, plastic and e-waste do not choke the city’s landfills and pollute the planet.
“Scrap dealers handle 33 per cent of India’s recyclable waste. The scrap is sold to middlemen before it reaches large facilities to be reprocessed. Around 15 to 20 per cent waste can be recycled directly,” reveals Hande, who is still in his 20s.
Where it all began
Hande’s preoccupation with waste management goes back to when he was a student in Loyola College, Chennai, when he and a friend launched beach cleaning drives. “I lived near the beach and was upset at how filthy it was. So, garbage and its disposal became a subject of interest and research for me, and that led me to start Kabadiwalla Connect,” says Hande, who has a degree from Monash University, Melbourne, in Environment and Sustainability, and has worked with the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability.
Hande, who is also a former spatial data analyst, says he launched his start-up after he received a grant from the World Economic Forum in 2014. It enabled him to research waste management and assemble a core team for his company. Next, he and his team extensively mapped kabadiwalla networks in Chennai, studied their trade and how they operate.
KWC works on a map-based interface, which pins the location of kabadiwallas to the map and also records the contact details and photos of kabadiwallas and the material each one collects. Citizens can thus, use the app to locate a scrap dealer near their homes, and choose one who deals in the specific type of material they want to dispose of.
To encourage kabadiwallas to use their app, KWC is training them in the technology while offering incentives such as mobile top-ups.
The start-up also has its own waste management facility in Chennai, where scrap is collected, segregated, sorted and shredded. It is then sold for recycling. KWC works as a buying hub that offers kabadiwallas a decent price for their waste. It has also designed a second app that scrap dealers can use to report that they have waste to sell or even request a pick-up from KWC.
“The company sorts and resells the materials in high volumes directly to processors at a profit. Currently, we sell 10 tons of PET a month. This is one of the most common plastics used and is the material the ubiquitous plastic bottle is made of. The processors then shred the material which is then sold to the textile industry for making yarn,” says Hande.
How Kabadiwalla Connect works
- The map-based, mobile app connects scrap collectors to citizens.
- The start-up also purchases scrap from kabadiwallas at competitive prices.
- It is currently processing 10 tons of PET plastic.
KWC is gaining momentum among its target users and has around (200) Chennai residents and 15 kabadiwallas registered on its app. Not surprisingly, the company is making waves in the right circles and won the Judge’s Choice and Popular Choice (At Large) awards in 2016’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology Climate CoLab. “Kabadiwalla Connect is in an exciting phase and we are seeing steady growth. We are now a team of 15 and plan to be present in other metros in India,” says Hande.