Recycle used to be a fancy word in 28-year-old Mathew Jose's dictionary; just like any other kid who did not bother about trash or how it was being discarded until a series of events that made him think about what he was doing to Mother Earth.
The director and founder of Paperman, a business that concentrates on eliminating Chennai's trash by methods, including recycling, reusing and building an eco-friendly environment around. Jose talks to Onmanorama about the birth of Paperman in a candid conversation.
Wanting to do something unconventional, Jose, a Kochiite, chose to work in an NGO after finishing his B.com from Madras Christian College. Little did he know about an NGO or the kind of work they do. "I just wanted to do something offbeat," says the social entrepreneur.
How the idea was conceived
"At the age of 21, I joined an NGO named ExNoRa International that concentrated on waste management. It was during this time that he was exposed to the whole issue of waste management. Until then, trash was not even a small part of my thought," he says.
Coming from a business family, Jose realised that a lot of work was getting done in the NGO space, but the problem of waste management did not have a solution. Now this, to Jose, was unacceptable, he wanted the newspapers to stop talking about this issue.
"Going green has become more intellectual than doing it,” he says. According to him, just a few conscious people come forward to do something about it.
The trigger for Paperman
And yes, just like every innovative endeavor, Paperman too has a story behind it. One day, Jose, along with some of his friends, had planned to go for a movie but to their dismay, none of them had any money with them. That’s when one of his friends suggested that they sell all the newspapers lying around. So they sold the papers, old bottles and lots of other things to a man for Rs 400.
Amused at his business model, Jose befriended the scrap dealer and learned about waste recycling. “Until then recycling was just a cool word in my dictionary. This guy was quietly going from house to house and at the same time was making a measurable impact by eliminating the trash. So I thought, okay let me also be like him,” he says.
Alas, Paperman was born :’)
"I decided to become an akkrikachodakaran (malayalam word for scrap dealer) or a waste entrepreneur," he jokes.
As he was interested to work with children, by the age of 22, he began his little venture by going to schools and collecting waste from schools. He used to conduct school recycling programmes where he got 100 schools to encourage children to give him their old things, which they considered as trash.
Slowly, children started calling him Paperman, making him wonder why not put the same name for his business.
So how does Paperman help the environment
By 2011, he started Paperman in which he had schools giving him old papers and materials for the workshops that he conducted in schools to educate children to save the environment and for this, he would get the trash instead of money and he then would in turn sell it for cash.
But he says he was not satisfied with this alone. He started thinking of ways to scale this business so that he could make a difference.
"There are 1.5 million scavengers across the country. What if I can make them think more like an entrepreneur than a scrap dealer," he asked himself.
That's how Jose took his next big step – meeting the scrap dealers of Chennai. Although the dealers were skeptical in the beginning, Jose convinced them. Ultimately, he had around 270 waste entrepreneurs, as he likes to call them, to manage Chennai's waste.
How does this work?
Explaining the process of trash management, Jose says that one man's trash is another man's raw material. If we buy scrap for Rs 200 from people, we will make sure that we sell it for Rs 250. There are so many trash buyers in the country.
Why would the scrap dealer oblige to Jose' proposal?
"We only helped them to connect with better buyers, we basically revolved the business around our shop. We made sure that they are making profit out of the business and made them aware that they are making profit out of the deals. We created more technology into his workspace and equipped them with the necessary soft skills," he says.
Donate to NGO
They have also added a provision where people can donate money to the 35 NGOs that are registered with Paperman.
Explaining this point, Jose says. “People get money when they sell their unwanted stuff so instead of taking the money from the scrap dealer, they can tell them to donate the amount to any of the NGO involved with Paperman.
This provision has made them raise Rs 35 Lakhs up till now.
The ultimate aim of Paperman
The man with the cause says that the ultimate purpose of Paperman is to make landfills in India redundant by 2030. "We want to make places like Kodungaiyur and Perungudi in Chennai, Vilappilsala in Kerala not to exist any more and that is the idea behind Paperman," Jose says.
Plans to scale in Kerala?
"For sure, once we've made a big mark in Chennai, we will definitely move to Kerala,” he says. According to him, the next choice of state will be market driven and not an emotional one as he's a Keralite.
"For me it is not about doing it in places but to see that am I actually solving the problem and not be just another company to be in the clutter of things over there. We want to be a company who aims at solving this problem,” Jose concludes.