Trash Into Treasure

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Trash Into Treasure
 
By connecting trash generators with trash collectors, Khaalisisi helps not just the collectors but also mitigates Kathmandu's waste-management woes.

Just as is the case with most Kathmandu's denizens, Aayushi KC grew up seeing piles of garbage littering every corner of her beloved city. Wherever she looked, she saw mismanaged waste: most households never even cared to separate their recyclable waste from their non-recyclable detritus. And over time, she came to realise that somebody needed to innovate how Nepalis managed waste. KC thought it might as well be her. That's why she decided to leave her cushy job at USAID (as unconventional as the move might have seemed to people who knew her) and set up a company, Khaalisisi, which would work with waste management in a whole new manner.

After registering Khaalisisi in February 2017, she first spent quite a bit of time coming up with a working model. She didn't have any good examples to look up to or failed companies to learn from, meaning, the only recourse left to her was to prototype various business models. Once she had a solid business plan outlined, she went live with her company on June 5 on the occasion of World Environment Day.

Her idea was to not just mitigate Kathmandu's solid-waste-collection problem, but also give the key players of the industry, i.e. waste vendors, a bigger platform for better business opportunities. To best implement that vision, KC built Khaalisisi around a digital platform that connects trash sellers with trash buyers--both of whom are referred to as Khaalisisi Friends (KSFs). The Khaalisisi trash-transference model is very simple: you connect with Khaalisisi, who in turn connects you with trash collectors, who schedule trash pickup at a time of your convenience.

Taking on trash

Although there are an estimated 8,000 to 13,000 waste collectors in Kathmandu who collect, clean, and segregate recyclable waste and sell it up the value chain, most households don't bother with segregating their bottles and other recyclable waste from the rest of their household trash.

For most people, trash is merely useless stuff that the municipality takes care of. Twice a week, a municipality truck pulls up into every neighbourhood in Kathmandu and hauls piles of waste. (Each day a Kathmandu resident, on average, produces 450 grams of waste, all of which adds up to a whopping 500 tonnes of garbage for the city.) The truck then travels to the Teku Transfer Station, where just a little bit of the recyclable waste is salvaged, while the rest is loaded onto bigger trucks. These trucks, with a capacity of a few tonnes, then make their 27-kilometre journey to Sisdol, in Nuwakot, where the trash is dumped into a landfill.

'The Sisdol landfill has helped keep the city clean, but it's not enough. We need newer solutions to the age-old problem of trash disposal,' says KC. The way Kathmandu handles its trash now, it's only a matter of time before the city will need to find a new landfill to dump waste. Khaalisisi's intervention, small in scale though it may seem now, has to do with having waste collectors retrieve pieces of trash that can be recycled--bottles, paper, even e-waste. The recyclables are then sold to recycling companies that will repurpose the trash to either create new products or reuse bottles and so on after they've been cleaned thoroughly.

Khaalisisi Friends

The first Khaalisisi recruit was Ramsagar, a waste vendor who frequented KC's neighbourhood, looking for recyclables. One day, when Ramsagar was in the neighbourhood, she invited him into her house and explained her Khaalisisi idea to him. Initially, Ramsagar wasn't very convinced. He believed that people would rather throw all their trash--unsegregated--into the dustbin than go through the hassle of sorting through it and selling it to vendors like him. However, since there wasn't much going on for him financially, he thought he might as well try his hand at something new; and that's how he became the first Khaalisisi recruit, a Khaalisisi Friend.

Today Khaalisisi's network comprises over 150 waste collectors, most of whom get connected with Khaalisisi through referrals from existing collectors and vendors.

How Khaalisisi works

Khaalisisi has mapped Kathmandu into various sections. If, say, someone from Jawalakhel schedules a trash pickup, a Khaalisisi Friend who is familiar with the area will pick up the trash. There are two ways you can transfer your trash: you can either choose to sell it or donate it. When someone decides to sell their trash, they get a market-value return. When the trash is sold up the value chain, 10 per cent from the sale goes to Khaalisisi, and the rest is retained by the collector. Even if you decide to donate your trash, 90 per cent still goes to the collector, but the remaining 10 per cent goes towards the welfare of the collectors' families. (Once a significant amount has been collected, Khaalisisi reinvests the amount on the collectors. For example, the most recent fund was used to provide an education scholarship for a collector's son.) The collected recyclables are then taken to a scrapyard, where the trash is separated into categories like paper, plastic, glass and so on, and sold to recyclers or wholesalers of trash items.

During their prototype phase, Khaalisisi scheduled pickups only once a week. But now, with more households and corporate houses buying into their idea, the company now registers more than 20-30 pickups a day. 'We once even got a call from Singhadurbar. It was really encouraging to see the government embracing the idea,' says KC.

Looking ahead

With the kind of market Khaalisisi is covering right now, they could easily buy vehicles of their own to make door-to-door trash collection more convenient or even set up a profitable recycling centre, but they don't want to, because at its core, Khaalisisi is a platform for collectors. Instead of putting in resources to open its own recycling centre, Khaalisisi wants to continue collaborating with the already-existing centres. And instead of making five-year plans, or ten-year plans, Khaalisisi believes in growing one day at a time. 'The plan is to increase waste collection on a daily basis, and add more members to our Khalisisi Friends network on a daily basis,' says KC.

Since Khaalisisi started operations, it has helped generate thousands of kilos of recyclables that would otherwise have been dumped in Sisdol. That's a big contribution by such a small company. But what Khaalisisi has done for collectors is even more commendable. According to KC, on average, collectors who work with her company earn 32 per cent more than their counterparts who work alone.

And with every trash pickup scheduled, the company is creating a more and more robust link between the two key actors in the waste-disposal chain--waste generators and waste vendors--and ultimately, contributing to creating a cleaner Kathmandu. 

First published in M&S VMAG

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Guest Friday, 22 June 2018