SAAHAS ZERO WASTE: STRIVING FOR ZERO WASTE IN INDIA
India produces enormous amounts of solid waste every year of which approximately 10% is currently properly landfilled. Thousands of small scale and bigger industrial units in India simply dump their waste, often toxic and hazardous, in open spaces and nearby water sources. Changing consumption patterns, urbanization, economic growth and industrialization have resulted in an increase in the waste generation, causing serious and permanent damage to the environment.
In the last decade the Indian government has passed many laws and regulations that have put the focus on proper waste disposal. As a result the sector has opened up for private players to enter the market to provide waste management services including waste management audit and waste management consultancies for bulk waste generators like corporates, business parks and apartments. The informal sector has a key role in extracting value from waste as well, as wastes are potential resources.
In 2010, Wilma Rodrigues, a journalist who actively advocated the importance of sustainable and holistic waste management, founded an NGO called Saahas – Zero Waste Solutions, to support communities to introduce decentralized waste management and introduce progressive policies around waste management. After the government passed many policies in waste management between 2000 and 2010, Wilma decided to start the for-profit entity Saahas Waste Management in 2013.
Today, Saahas is one of the key players in the waste management sector in India. The company provides end-to-end waste management services, and handles waste sustainably and responsibly for corporates, apartment complexes, institutions, communities and other bulk generating organizations and institutions. Saahas focusses on Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad for the next five years, the cities collectively produce 16,000 tons of waste per day.
As the sector is relatively new for India marketing is the biggest challenge for any company in the space. The traditional thought process of the bulk waste generators is that they should get paid for the waste. Saahas is trying to change this attitude and making the waste generators to pay for disposing waste responsibly.
Wilma Rodrigues explains that at the very core of the waste issue is a diffused misconception about what the problem really is. “Take for example the Swachh Bharat campaign launched by our Prime Minister. Its message is to keep spaces clean rather than managing waste as a resource. We would like to shift the focus from the act of disposing to the process that waste follows afterwards.”
C4D Partners supports Saahas with the expansion of the hub model. A model where a hub is established, in a radius of 5 km, to serve waste generators who are unable to keep an onsite waste model. Through our investment the company is able to set up such hubs in three cities and grow the business further next year with additional capital, thereby increasing the company’s environmental and social-economic impact. Value can be extracted from waste through materials, energy or nutrients, and this can provide a livelihood for many people.
Since the sector has opened up the opportunities for private players, several good initiatives have been launched in India. In comparison to waste management companies that concentrate only on a specific part of the waste value chain, Saahas is working throughout the complete value chain and has complete control over the full waste management process. In the entire value chain, Saahas’ primary role is waste management services and other activities like recycling or processing (apart from compositing). The final disposal is handled by strategic partners or private/government players. This ensures that waste is indeed processed from A to Z in a responsible and effective manner. Saahas aims to achieve that 90% of the total waste is re-used, recycled or processed and only 10% ends up at the landfill.
Impact on society, environment and public health
The company is operating in highly unorganized waste sector where exploitation of people associated at the bottom is rampant and the waste is disposed irresponsibly. Saahas has been a pioneer in improving the sector for more than a decade through various initiatives. The company creates a positive impact on society by aiming for a healthy working environment for the people employed in the sector and creating 2,500 jobs in the next five years. The employees will receive social benefits as well.
Sahaas strives to create positive impact on the environment as it is working with the objective that less than 10% of the waste collected goes to the landfill. Currently the practice is that 10% of the waste is dumped in the landfills indiscriminately and that is hazardous to the environment. Apart from protecting the environment, Sahaas impacts public health as well. Properly engineered waste disposal preserves key resources such as ground water, surface water, soil fertility and air quality.