Start-ups and Waste Economy In India

Posted by Global technology interface on November 10, 2021


High demographic growth, runaway urbanisation and sustained economic and industrial growth are just some of the many changes India is currently undergoing that have resulted in a sharp rise in the demand for water and the production of waste. 

India’s waste management crisis is looming over the country. While there has been a lot of focus on waste segregation and cleanliness, the core problems of India’s waste management continue to remain side-lined. Urban local bodies across the country dispose huge amounts of unprocessed waste in landfills. On ground studies have shown that on an average, about 15-20 acres of land is dedicated as waste disposal sites by 7,000+ urban local bodies in India. But, landfills are an unsustainable form of waste management, and can never be the solution to the increasing needs of waste disposal. Similarly, India produces 27,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily, out of which only 9% is recycled while the rest is either landfilled or burned. In addition to this, 350 million tonnes of surplus biomass waste is burned across the nation every year. Moreover, India produces over 900 million tonnes of food waste per annum. It is mostly managed through landfilling or composting. Landfilling is a highly polluting, hazardous, and space-intensive process. Moreover, 25% of all recyclables get contaminated due to food waste. 

Alarmed by the growing environmental degradation and the attendant health problems, a small yet dedicated number of tech start-ups are emerging as solution providers to India’s waste crisis.

  • Startup ZeroPlast Labs, is working towards creating a waste-free planet. The startup is committed to solving two global environmental challenges: the burning of biomass waste and the growing burden of plastic waste. To achieve the two goals, ZeroPlast upcycles biomass waste into bioplastics and bio-composites, which can be used as a sustainable alternative to oil-based plastics.
  • Bluecat Paper, founded by Kavya Madappa, produces paper using
    secondary agro and industrial waste such as cotton rags, flax, lemongrass, mulberry, rice stubble, coffee husk, banana stumps, coconut
    husk and elephant faeces. To make tree-free paper, the company
    collects ~20 tonnes of secondary wastes from ~100 farmers and five factories every month and produces savings of 30 tonnes of wood per month. In comparison with the traditional approach, this innovative method of manufacturing paper saves upwards of 55,000 litres of water a day. 
  • Created in 2016 in Bangalore, the third largest city in India, the startup Rimagined provides an e-commerce platform and store to sell “upcycled” objects made from material offcuts, packaging, used tyres, broken glass and plastic. Rimagined transforms this waste into more than 300 items including decorative objects, accessories, stationery and furniture which are then sold via their platform. The startup says it has upcycled 30 tonnes of waste since it was founded! As well as the environmental benefits, the company has a social impact because it employs women from rural communities, enabling them to gain expertise and earn a living. 
  • Through an innovation created by the startup Graviky Labs, air pollution can now be converted into ink. The startup’s founders, former MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) students, designed the KAALINK™ technology that is used to capture up to 95% of pollution particulate from car exhaust pipes. The particulate matter is then treated to produce a purified carbon pigment that is converted into ink. The product obtained through this process, called AIR-INK™, is 100% carbon neutral ink sold as markers, silk-screen ink and printing ink.

Innovations by Indian start-ups are a testament of technological progress and positive impact rendered from having an environmentally conscious approach to business. Global climate, government support and private investments have created a healthy ecosystem for start-ups to experiment and develop solutions suited for India. Simultaneously, rapid development across India in the past few decades, especially in mobility, infrastructure and urbanisation has changed the balance of the environment unfavourably. The country needs to take leaps and bounds towards being more environment friendly. Being environment friendly is about taking the necessary steps and making conscious efforts to change lifestyles and conserve resources. The effort to go green has been felt by many industries, as companies are beginning to realise how their operations impact the environment. From using recycled or renewable resources to reducing energy consumption and waste, there seems to be a universal effort by companies and start-ups in India to protect our planet and prevent climate change. 

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