Every few days, a small group of ragpickers heads briskly to a block of buildings in Andheri West, making sure they get there before the municipal garbage collection van.
There are families waiting for them here, with bags of carefully segregated recyclable trash. The ragpickers, or kabadiwalas, collect the bags and head to their recyclers, where they are assured of a marginally higher rate per kg. Why the higher rate? It’s all part of The Kabadiwala Project, a simple yet powerful initiative started by two 25-year-old management students from Bangalore. Still at the pilot stage, it’s an initiative with such far-reaching implications for the mounting problem of solid waste management that it’s been shortlisted by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) for its annual social innovation award. Only 20 other projects from across the country made to the list.
The way it works is simple: The project will use a website, SMS service and helpline to connect informal scrap collectors or kabadiwalas with waste generators (households, eateries and small businesses in the area) and recyclers.
“A lot of recyclable waste is currently not getting recycled. This is not eco-friendly, and it’s not good for the kabadiwalas,” says Pavan Murali, who conceived the project with classmate Gayatri Hegde. By getting families to pledge to separate their trash and keep it ready for the kabadiwalas, the project gets the ragpickers an assured supply and more substantial volumes, then pushes for the recyclers to up the rate they will pay the kabadiwalas per kg.
The Kabadiwala Project was born last March, while Murali and Hegde were interning with a private waste management company in Bangalore. “We realised that kabadiwalas could play a big role in recycling, but they were not getting their due attention,” says Hegde. So they began working on a blueprint for an agency that would use technology to create a network of waste generators, scrap collectors and recyclers.
They launched a pilot project with a small group of kabadiwalas and households around their campus, the SP Jain institute in Andheri. “We are now working with 10 volunteers to work out any loopholes and finalise a revenue generation model.”