Startup Saturday: Waste disposal gets woke solutions
Garbage is precious for a generation of woke entrepreneurs. Waste is an asset that gives great value. Namita Shibad takes a walk on the wild side to meet two scrap cowboys making gold from mountains of waste.
Chemtech to solve stubble burning crisis
Craste, converts farm waste residue to make particle boards and packaging materials
Every year, farmers burn residue on their fields to make way for the sowing of new crops. This burning causes air pollution.
Shubham Singh completed his Master’s in Chemical Engineering, specialising in carbon capture from the Imperial College, London, when he read the news of Delhi’s air pollution. “It bothered me a great deal. Farmers were burning the crop residue that was impacting the health of several people. I wanted to do something about it. Then I came across a fellowship programme at the Venture Centre calling for projects on “waste to value”. I applied and got through,” says Singh.
To find a solution to the burning problem Singh first needed to know why the farmers were doing what they did.
“I spoke to hundreds of farmers and understood that the problem was two-fold. One was time, they had a window of 15 to 20 days before the next sowing season; and two, the machines to remove residues were too expensive,” Singh explains.
Singh also found that some farmers did take their residue to small factories that made bricquettes for supply to brick kilns. “They were paid Rs 1.5 per kg and were willing to cart their residue. I thought, why not further incentivise them?”
Singh worked on a special glue that was unlike the formaldehyde used by all plywood companies in India.
“Formaldehyde is carcinogenic. It continues to release the carcinogen for a period of 70 years after use in furniture and though it is banned all over the world, strangely, not in India. I worked on creating a glue that would bind rice straw to make particle boards. (These boards are used in place of plywood).
With his patent pending formulation Singh developed his company, Craste, in 2018 (registered as Futuristic Material Labs). He understood early on the nature of his business. “The government has banned trees from getting cut, so particle boards hold great promise. In addition to that, procuring raw material is as good as free, since it is waste material. To incentivise the farmer I pay them Rs 6 per kg,” says Singh.
He made a prototype of the particle board that showed good results.
“I had them tested at government labs (Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology) and they are stronger than the best brands available in the market. It is also healthy as the glue is 100% safe,” claims Singh.
Being environment friendly is one thing, but competing in the market is quite another.
“Our R&D is constantly going on. The glue that we make is good, but quite expensive. I have to find a way to make it either cheaper or find ways to use it more optimally,” says Singh.
As a result, the cost of his board is slightly more than the best available brand. “My boards are of top quality. I even made a coffee table for myself to test it out,” says Singh.
Scaling to commercial level.
“We have hired a manufacturing unit in Nagpur and have installed a capacity of 1,000 tonnes. It is important to have decentralised units since a large unit may have supply problems that may lead to idle capacity,” says Singh, adding, “Our plan is to franchise the manufacture of boards to people who can set up the plants in a 20km radius of farms and provide the technology. Once the product is ready, we will market it ourselves. This will be a B-to-B model, where we sell our boards to companies like Ikea, Urban Ladder and Featherlite.”
1,000 tonne particle board plant will sequester 1,46,000 kgs of CO2
1,000 tonne plant will save 34,000 trees
1,000 tonnes of pulp manufacured will save 15,000 trees
System to fight the e-waste behemoth
Hi Tech Recycling, manages electronic waste
India is the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world and recycles less than two per cent of the total e-waste it produces annually. By 2020, India’s e-waste from old mobiles and computers will rise by 1,800 per cent and 500 per cent, respectively, as compared to 2007, according to an Assocham-KPMG study.
Lead, arsenic, coating enamels, non-recyclable plastic and other such materials are being burnt or dumped in water bodies, or the soil.
Hi Tech Recycling, set up in 2008, took on the challenge by adopting scientific methods to dispose off such waste.
Manish Patil set up his company that followed guidelines laid down by the Ministry of environment and forestry (MOEF) and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).
“This involves collecting waste in closed vehicles, and then segregating. The ones that can be refurbished we set them right and sell, as second hand goods, and the ones that cannot are dismantled,” Patil explains. The crux of the disposal lies here.
“We have to segregate plastics, cables, PCBs, ferrous and non-ferrous metals,” Patil adds.
A few years back Hi Tech Recycling was handling 1,000 metric tonnes of e-waste. However, with new players in the market that number has seen a decline to 45mtr/tn. “There are a few companies that have procured licences from the government, but they outsource the job to unregulated players who dispose the waste in the most unscientific manner, polluting the soil, air and water bodies,” Patil alleges.
“Disposal of non-recyclable waste is a costly affair, if carried out in proper manner. As a result, I have started a parallel business of refining nonferrous metals that I import. Material is a mix of non-ferrous metal scrap and we recycle and sell non-ferrous metal ingots,” says Patil.
“Companies are doing vendor audits to ensure that waste is disposed in the correct manner. Some even change the categories of e-waste to general waste to avoid the wrath of ISO or EMS ratings during audits,” Patil alleges.