Nivedha Creating An Impact Through Her Social Startup
I am Nivedha, someone who believes that the skills and education one is bestowed with should be put across to the benefit of the society. With the same ideal and a great amount of passion, I started ‘Trashcon Waste Management’ at the age of 21. I co-founded an NGO at the age of 17 and continued it for four years during my graduation. To sum me up, I believe in ‘creating an impact’.
If each of us could do our bit of good, the world could be a better place to live in. I have been blessed to be supported by a great team, mentors, and establishments. Trashcon has won several awards and recognition globally. I envision that there be a day when there is no waste dumped on the streets.
Why Waste Management?
I was involved with a lot of social work from my childhood. Hence, when the call of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ was just beginning, I found myself looking closely at the destruction caused by our waste menace. I wanted to do a campaign to bring home the point of proper waste management and I realized that I could do so by clearing a piece of land near my institution. I, along with a large team, did so.
We were acknowledged by everyone, including the residents and the decision making authorities.
But to my disdain, a week later, the mound of waste that we cleared was back to the same quantity!
It pricked me and led me to ask questions. We had very approachable authorities and I was full of questions in my head:
1) Why is this a recurring affair?
The crux of all the waste management crisis is ‘Waste Segregation’. When waste is segregated, the value could be generated; while when it is mixed, it has to be either dumped or burnt.
2) Why don’t we simply go ahead and segregate?
To which I was informed about the existing laws, how they levy fines and how all their attempts have led to not more than 5% segregation. But again, the residents claimed they segregate and that the chain of events succeeding it is not clear.
3) Why can’t we go and change the mentality of people?
There are but a lot of companies, agencies, NGOs and government bodies trying to do so. But time is too short and the problem has gone beyond recovery. What is required is a quick fix, a one-stop solution.
And they said, “Who better can do it if not an engineer like you?” Which got me thinking and I plunged into it. Of course, nobody could believe that a 21-year-old can crack anything. But with the right support of professors and institution, with absolutely no weekends over the past 1 or 2 years, we have arrived at a solution that, we believe, can be the one-stop solution.
The Will To Succeed
Right from the time I started understanding how waste segregation is not just leading to one evil, dumping or burning, but the associated evils such as - pollution from burning of waste, the leachate due to dumping which percolates our groundwater and contaminates it, and the fact that men and women, who work with this kind of waste, have an average lifespan of not more than 40 years - I was not sure if I will have a company when I started my research. But I was driven by the grueling statistics and of course, the blaring reality in front of me.
‘’My only motivational factor was to take a step towards changing this scenario, instead of just cribbing about the waste piled around us. “
There were many failures but the vision was clear - I wanted to secure a solution to ensure no more helplessness. We handled real mixed waste and after a lot of perseverance, we built a bench model of the concept back in college. That’s when I felt this could be it.
A series of supporting events such as a grant from Karnataka Government, fundings from IIMB, Shell, Economic times, each steering us ahead, gave rise to a prototype that we tested at an apartment with 140 houses. This gave us a huge boost and of course, real-time learning. It propelled us to build a 6x version of the prototype that we called ‘Commercial Prototype’. We are running it in a BBMP yard for the past 3 months leading to pivots and more enhancements. We have filed for 3 patents with our technology. The current model can take up to 300 kgs an hour and segregate it to more than 99.7% efficiency.
What Exactly Does TrashCon Do?
Trashcon churns out innovations that can ‘actually’ solve the waste management crisis. We have built machines we choose to call ‘Trashbots’ which are essentially municipal solid waste segregators.
“Trashbots can take large amounts of mixed municipal solid waste at any given time, and segregate it into biodegradable waste and non-biodegradable waste. “
The bio-waste can be either composted or converted into biogas and its byproducts; while the non-bio waste can be converted into high-quality fuel by the process of pyrolysis, mixed with bitumen for road construction or used as wood-plastic composites. We believe in ‘decentralized waste management’.
Centralized waste management leads to huge investments in the transportation of waste, to repairs that can cause an entire plant to shut down and obviously leads to difficulty in maintenance. Trashbots have been designed to be placed at zones/wards wherein waste can be taken from a limited radius, segregated and the outputs can be utilized within the established area, thereby causing almost an 85% reduction in travel costs.
Was Age & Gender A Challenge?
I have not faced any dreading challenges because of my age or gender, as what drives me is the passion and that’s how the world sees us as well. I have an excellent set of mentors who are extremely skilled and experienced. I am blessed to have a great team of accomplished experts who bring with them their expertise.
“And I am totally against the myth that to have a startup or a company, one needs to have experience or higher qualifications. What matters most is your perseverance and passion. If that is sky high, then everything will fall into place. “
Understanding Waste Management
With the advent of ‘Swachh Bharat’ on the move, it requires no explanation these days. But we do need to explain the feasibility of the technology, as most often, people are closed to the fact that anything can be actually done, especially with technology. So, there it takes a lot of convincing to help people understand that it is definitely possible.
Also, one more misconception is the fact that monitoring and spreading awareness about segregation is the only way out. We agree that it is a great way; but we propose that the solution could be achieved by technology, along with awareness, once and for all.
We do get a great amount of response from most of our followers and onlookers but yes, we definitely need more acceptance when it comes to technology and innovation. When something has been done for the first time, there is a lingering apprehension in trying it out.
Statistics Related To Waste Management
“Just about 5% of our waste is being segregated and we generate around 63 million tonnes a year in India.”
We have around 4 million ragpickers trying to segregate the waste that we generate but again, what they could possibly do is segregate the dry waste. The mixed waste still remains unused.
Landfills are burgeoning. Most landfills have burnt waste, as methane released from the waste being heavier tends to settle down and with an increase in temperature, causes explosions. Most dump yards have witnessed this happening and the pollution caused due to this is beyond imagination.
There are people living near landfills who cannot go out for a stroll or a walk due to the harmful insects and rodents around their area.
“We have received calls from people staying in villas worth crores of investment, but the mothers there are afraid to send their kids out to play, as the nearby playground has been converted into a waste yard. “
Waste to energy plants may be a solution, in case they are affordable and efficient but they are not. What can be done is that dumping can be prevented and we can dump into our Trashbots, to generate a value never seen before.
Is There Still Hope?
There absolutely is. Waste need not be filth, there could be the tremendous amount of value generated if mixed waste could be segregated. The moment we segregate waste, we don’t need to spend money transporting it to landfills, thus creating a dent in our cash flow.
Rather, one could create a beautiful environment of circular economy and regeneration of resources such as compost or oil. All it takes is acceptance and support and a step towards believing that it’s actually possible!
Advice To Young Entrepreneurs Like You
The path is not going to be great. It is going to be mired with a lot of difficulties and ‘giving up’ situations. But before you begin the journey, let yourself know why exactly you started it. What matters the most is the vision - be it when you hire employees, seek mentors, raise investment - do not dilute the vision. As with the vision, you can create the impact that you set out to do when you began this journey.
Let us not get into pressures of performance and cash flow when we embark on this beautiful journey, but rather on the insights or learning. If the journey has been great, other things would follow. May success not be a destination, but a by-product of this journey.
What I learnt from all the great people I met during this journey is that not one of them is afraid of failures. It is for them an education and hence, they are steadfast and nothing excites them or drops them dead, as they continue. Be open to views - you never know where the idea of your next big innovation is coming from.
“There is no right age or the right time to do what you love. If something that you do makes you happy, it’s time.”
I would love to sit and exchange insights and learnings. Please feel free to get in touch with me over email - [email protected]. I shall revert to any queries, comments or anything for that matter as soon as possible.