Some weeks ago, I was struck by a few repeated rounds of emails from a company that upcycles old footwear into new shoes. The company was reaching out to organisations and corporations for CSR partnership and/or donations. I was particularly struck as I felt it might not be difficult for such a company with sustainability and circularity principles embedded in its core business to get investments. In India now there is a growing buzz on investments meant to achieve measurable sustainability impacts (sustainable finance). Ideally, this company should be a doyen of this transforming industry with a queue of financiers interested to support them.
According to the UN Environment Programme, the world today faces three interconnected planetary crises - the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the pollution crisis. These three crises stem from unsustainable patterns of consumption, lifestyles and production.
A large volume of resources is being wasted every second, and at an alarming pace. We need to find ways to reduce material waste to abate this pollution crisis. In India, with expanding industry and manufacturing the volume of all streams of waste have been increasing over the years, whether it's electronic waste, agriculture waste, textile waste, food waste, etc. From a circular economy, resource recovery point – this implies there is always enough and more resources (waste is a resource at a wrong place at a wrong time) available to reuse, recycle, refurbish. So, there is a need and also scope perhaps for hundreds of enterprises like the one mentioned above with circularity and resource recovery embedded in its core business, to thrive. However, this transformation can happen only if society inspires and rewards these 'champions' – the Wasterprises. Enterprises whose business model is engineered to transform otherwise material waste into useful and quality products, thereby tackling the pollution crisis.
Unfortunately, there is little incentive or motivation for such enterprises currently. A number of entrepreneurs especially youngsters seem to be connected to the idea – and have been brave enough to set up such Wasterprises largely on their own. We need more and need them now.
A good thing is that India is blessed with technologies and experiences in converting various types of material waste into useful items e.g., wood composites made from crop residue like paddy straw, wheat straw, bagasse; M-sand or manufactured sand made from crushing of discarded stones/construction materials; mattresses (durry) made from textile waste; bricks made from fly ash generated by thermal power plants; tiles made from marble slurry; and so on.
An ecosystem is needed to inspire and support such Wasterprises – by the right enabling policy and government incentives; by ensuring technologies to be easily available and accessible to potential entrepreneurs; through easy financing opportunities and finally awareness among consumers about the long-term benefits from purchasing such products. Creating demand in the market is critical. Today, even if certain categories of consumers are driven to buy such products, information is often scarce and ambiguous.
Finally, to create this movement at scale we also need institutions and Centres of Excellence which can produce and nurture such new age entrepreneurs – Wastepreneurs. Government and businesses can come together and set up such a Centre to ready a battery of Wastepreneurs. These champions can come up with project ideas that will provide roadmap on how to access the technology, finance, market and of course the skilled workforce.
Let's support and motivate these new age businesses – Wasterprises in whatever ways we can. This is my call to action today on World Environment Day 2022. Our organization, Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) will soon launch an initiative that will identify such Wasterprises from across the country – and support their journey in whatever small ways we can.
Also Read: World Environment Day: Here's How These Women Live Agricultural Life On Own Terms, Popularise Sustainable Farming