When he chalked out the blueprint to tackle Kerala's waste problem in 2014, Jabir Karat, founder of Kozhikode-based solid waste management company Green Worms, had no idea that his business endeavour would fetch him a turnover Rs 3.8 crore five years later.
Picking waste management as a means of livelihood was not an easy choice for this Delhi University post-graduate, especially due to the low social status and the low income associated with it.
“Rapid industrialization, population explosion and the growing consumerist culture was bound to create an exponential growth in waste generation. My time in Mumbai during a Gandhi Fellowship after college made me realise the huge business potential hidden in waste,” says Jabir recalling the beginning of his journey.
Jabir's solid waste management firm is a unique example to prove that social commitment can be driven by a successful business model as well.
Before embarking on this journey, Jabir studied similar working models. He even spent three months with the rag pickers of Coimbatore to fully comprehend the current waste management process in our society.
His research paid off. Green Worms is one of Kerala's most successful solid waste management models as it bridges the essential gap between waste generators and recyclers.
Green Worms collects waste from hotels, business entities, manufacturing plants, hospitals etc after primary segregation, that is, assortment into wet, dry and sanitary waste. A secondary and tertiary level segregation of waste occurs at different Green Worms outlets.
The segregated waste -- plastic, aluminium, e-waste – is then handed over to various recycling firms for further processing. Of the total waste generated in any entity, 70 per cent is recyclable, 25 per cent can be co-processed to form other useful products. Only 3 per cent needs to actually reach the landfills, going by the principles of this waste management firm.
Even expired products such as noodles, or pharmaceutical drugs are converted into cattle feed and fertilizers through bio-processing at Green Worms.
“When we started off, we were handling just 300 kg of waste per day. The corresponding figures are now 40,000 kg per day. Our monthly turnover is Rs 40 lakh. We expect to cross an annual turnover of Rs 7 crore this year,” says Jabir.
The money comes in from both ends of the ladder — the waste generators and the recyclers. Some waste generators are reluctant to pay the nominal fees charged by agencies like Green Worms. They prefer dumping the waste elsewhere free of cost.
Only a conscious effort to spread awareness and offering of other incentives like waste management services can convince them to turn around, says Jabir.
Role of local bodies
According to the Green Worms founder, a proactive local body will eliminate most of the waste related problems in a panchayat or municipality.
To aggravate the problem, the number of Kudumbashree workers fell by at least 50 per cent in the past five years in his part of town due to the low pay and social status associated with the job.
“Waste management is usually not a priority for the panchayats. What they do not realize is that with a sum of just Rs 6 lakh annually they can address the waste issue in their vicinity. This fund can be easily accessed through the viability gap funding provision available for panchayats,” the social entrepreneur said.
Once they find a space to collect the waste, they can easily segregate and sell it to recycling companies for a price. In fact, this can provide an additional source of income to the ragpickers in the area.
“The panchayats need to ensure that the inflow of waste to the collection centre matches the outflow. Otherwise the purpose will be defeated. A well managed collection and segregation centre maintained impeccably is not difficult — at a practical or an economical level,” says Jabir, adding that his firm offers training for this.
Green Worms has also hit all the right notches of networking to ensure the smooth running of the waste management process. It coordinates with big corporate entities and helps them fulfilling their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
EPR is a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.
Besides recycling plastic waste Jabir’s firm also offers zero-waste-management services to large waste generating events like marriages, conferences etc. By renting out reusable cutlery and selling eco-friendly, bio-degradable options the firm has managed to eliminate a significant portion of the waste generated here.
Jabir's crusade against waste can only bear fruit if the society as a whole accepts 'waste' as a priority issue.