We need a behavioural change, towards waste management: Wilma Rodrigues, Saahas Zero Waste

Although waste management is becoming a growing problem in Indian cities, it also presents a business opportunity for entrepreneurs who are dedicated towards conservation, says Wilma Rodrigues, the founder and CEO of Saahas Zero Waste

With the help of over 200 employees, Saahas Zero Waste (SZW), a for-profit social enterprise, manages over 25 tons of waste per day across Bengaluru and Chennai, through recycling and composting.

“Waste is one of the fastest-growing problems of the country. India generates over two lakh tons of municipal solid waste per day. We also generate electronic waste, construction and demolition waste, hazardous waste, textile waste, etc. Besides the shortage of landfills to dump the waste, resources that could be recovered if waste is managed well, are being lost,” explains Wilma Rodrigues, the founder and CEO of SZW and a former journalist.

Rodrigues initially worked with GIZ (Gesellschaft für International Zusammenarbeit) and TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) on climate change issues. When moving from Mumbai to Bengaluru, the launch of the first Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules in 2000, prompted Rodrigues to start Saahas NGO in 2001, to work towards on-ground implementation of the policy, as she felt that there were big gaps in the system.

“After over a decade of running the NGO, I realised that the scale of the problem was too huge, to be solved through charity alone. There was a potential business opportunity, while also solving a social and environmental problem,” she elaborates.

Saahas Zero Waste, which was registered as a for-profit social enterprise in 2013, believes in a circular economy, where all waste is converted into resources. The aim is to help the clients towards achieving zero waste, with segregation at source. “Responsible, holistic and decentralised waste management, can protect the earth and its resources. Waste-to-energy technology is gaining popularity in India, while European countries that have used this technology for decades, are moving away from it. India needs to understand that waste-to-energy technology is not a magical solution to our waste problem,” says Rodrigues.

See also: Waste management should begin at home


Waste management solutions offered by Saahas Zero Waste

SZW’s Zero Waste Programme operates on-site solutions for bulk waste generators, such as tech parks and residential complexes. For smaller waste generators it has Kasa Rasa, a holistic waste management plan that involves collecting and processing waste at their units. “In the Extended Producer Responsibility program, we team with packaging companies and e-waste producers, to develop and implement a reverse logistics mechanism, wherein, a post-consumer waste is brought back into the recycling chain. The collected and sorted material is compacted in a material recovery facility and sent to recyclers. SZW offer products made from waste, such as compost, stationery items, roofing sheets and chipboards,” Rodrigues elaborates.

“For most clients, we have an on-site waste management unit, for handling the wet/compostable waste. The unit operated by SZW is set up by the client, with our recommendations,” she explains. SZW has over 200 field staff, comprising mostly of economically backward women. The management team of 25 members are young professionals, passionate about solving the waste problem, says Rodrigues. The organisation’s major source of revenue, is through service fees. The service fee is based on the type and quantity of waste generated. Revenue is also generated through the sale of recyclable scrap materials and recycled products.

“The biggest challenge is that local contractors, who are not authorised to collect waste from bulk waste generators, are currently violating legislations. The other challenge is the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome, which we are trying to change to a ‘yes in my backyard’ culture. It takes time, effort and citizen involvement, to see any visible change. Now from awareness, we have to move to behavioural change,” she maintains.


Future plans

Although her co-founder left within three months of starting the organisation and Rodrigues had a special child who was just two years old, she continued with her efforts to raise awareness about waste management. Rodrigues, whose daughter Naina is now 19, credits her committed team and good support from her family, for being able to pursue her passion. “SZW, registered as a start-up in 2013, grew by over 95 per cent in FY 2015-16 and around 40 per cent in FY16-17. We have raised investment from Indian Angel Network in 2015,” says Rodrigues. SZW now intends to include services for other waste, like construction and demolition waste, food processing waste, e-waste, multi-layered packaging waste, etc. The company is also planning to expand to other cities like Gurugram, Surat, Mumbai and Goa, through their own presence, as well as a franchise model. “People are not willing to pay the required amount, for responsible waste management. However, this is slowly changing and in the future there are prospects for decentralised waste management,” concludes Rodrigues.


Waste management tips from Wilma Rodrigues

  • Reduce consumption of disposable and non-recyclable items.
  • While disposing of waste, segregate wet waste, dry waste and domestic hazardous waste.
  • Compost wet waste on-site, using simple technologies.
  • You can also partner with authorised vendors for waste management, to ensure compliance vis-à-vis the destination of the waste and processing technology.
  • Ensure that the workers who work with waste are being paid minimum wages and there is no child labour involved or open dumping or burning of waste.


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