By Sonal Rana
Nothing is ever wasted in nature, but consumer culture has created a colossal crisis by generating millions of tons of waste, much of it non-biodegradable, and dumping it on landfills and in water bodies. These two courageous Bengaluru women are trying to do something about it.
Wilma Rodrigues found herself conflicted while working as a German-speaking tour guide in the Department of Tourism. “Even in the early 1980s, India with its beautiful landscape and heritage monuments was grappling with incredible ugliness on its streets in the form of garbage strewn around with nobody seeming to care,” recalls Wilma.
Almost two decades later, in 2001, the thought sprouted into Saahas (Hindi for ‘courage’), a not-for-profit organization tackling waste management.
“Back then, it was not easy to work with waste. It did need courage,” says Wilma of the reason behind the name. Starting off in Bengaluru with the State Bank of India as their first big client, Saahas initially offered only on-site wet waste management. Today, 17 years later, they offer complete end-to-end services from consultancy design during design phase of the building, to waste audits and trainings.
Saahas now lends its services to approximately 15 lakh waste generators across Bengaluru, Gurugram, Surat, Chennai, Hubballi and Ballari, working with mammoth corporate organizations besides managing household units.
“When waste is managed at source and converted to resources, we get back products that are again put to use,” Wilma explains, calling this circular economy the very basis of the ideology out of which Saahas took root. Today, Saahas Zero Waste, a social enterprise that evolved from Saahas, manages 35 tonnes of waste per day, out of which 90 percent is converted into resources, she says.
Wilma admits that in her early years things were not as easy. Family and friends donned a critical eye for her apparent interest in waste and its management. But with every new customer that adopted Saahas’ approach and bought into their zero-waste programme, the spirits of Saahas kept rising.
“Unfortunately, the mindset of the general public towards waste management is the biggest challenge we face,” adds Wilma. It is a monumental task to convince people that environmentally-friendly methods might not necessarily be financially unfriendly: “The best way of illustrating this would be by showing them a working model of a financially friendly sustainable solution.”
Saahas ensures financial stability to its customers by inviting them to Kasa Rasas, Saahas’ community waste-processing centres. This method, Wilma believes, helps customers understand the long-term benefits of their investment.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Wilma believes her adopted city Bengaluru has changed remarkably in the last 20 years. “While we do have our problems, especially around waste, there is tremendous citizen involvement, which is similar to what Mumbai was in the eighties.”
Presently, Saahas provides employment to 250 people, a significant chunk of whom are women from the bottom-of-the-pyramid families. “It is satisfying to think that we have helped many families move up the ladder in terms of social and economic status,” asserts Wilma.
Plans are in place to target bulk waste generators like corporate campuses, gated communities and makers of plastic and electronic products. Visit saahas.org for more.
Pro Waste Concepts
Waste can become a resource only when it is segregated accordingly, handled efficiently and disposed off safely, says Nupur Tandon. The founder of Pro Waste Concepts Pvt Ltd, a for-profit social enterprise centred in Bengaluru, believes “waste management is not just picking up the waste and dumping it somewhere”.
“Just sweeping places is deceptive cleaning,” she says.
Nupur left her job at the French embassy to pursue a Master’s in environmental sciences, after following a calling to do “something meaningful”. She then moved to Bengaluru in 2010 and started working with several NGOs and organizations to learn the practical aspects of waste management.
She says, “I understood that to address the issue of waste management, I needed to take up a professional approach. Thus, Pro Waste Concepts came into being.”
Initially, Nupur found herself investing her personal savings on her enterprise but over the years, Pro Waste Concepts has gained the sustainability that allows it to address waste management in a systematic, holistic and decentralised manner.
Headquartered at Bengaluru, Pro Waste Concepts works with seven large public and private institutions, including Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advance Scientific Research, Bengaluru, and Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar.
One of Nupur’s most crucial targets is to achieve a future where cities are devoid of landfills. To do this, her company ensures end-to-end procedures on the scene to establish Zero Waste Zones. But the dream is still fairly far from realization.
Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has helped create awareness among the common people about cleanliness, it has not educated them about what to do with their garbage, how to segregate, recycle and dispose it.
“It has not eased my work at all,” says Nupur. “Effective waste management is a long way to go.”
Despite the significant lack of awareness, inefficient infrastructure and the presence of a considerable gap among bulk generators at a large scale, the toughest challenge, according to Nupur, is inducing behavioural change in people. In her dedicated years of waste management services, Nupur has experienced equal resistance, if not more, from ‘the educated ones’.
To tackle this apparent struggle against change, Pro Waste Concepts works relentlessly with the community at the very ground level. “Our model is people-based; effective communication with all stakeholders is the key,” says Nupur.
Her company’s mission, according to Nupur, is “to change people’s habit of throwing waste, and instead segregating it and giving it to recycling centres.” This technique, says Nupur, not only helps clients reduce their spending on waste collection, but also earn from the sale of their recyclables. In the process, it is redefining waste as something that is not to be thrown, but given. To know more, visit prowaste.org.
First published in the August 2018 issue of eShe magazine
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