'Zero-Waste Human Settlements': Indian Enterprise Makes Way To Singapore's 'Young Social Entrepreneurs'
Started in April 2019, Shoonya aims to contribute to the sustainable development of India, through the implementation of integrated waste (material) management practices to foster environmental and human well-being.
Shoonya Environmental Solutions Pvt Ltd is a solid waste management company that aims to create zero waste human settlements by enabling the creation of waste segregation infrastructure with the inclusion of the local community of waste collectors.
The waste we generate, if not processed properly ends up in landfills, sea, or is simply burnt. If we take only landfills, they alone contribute to more than 11 percent of global emissions.
India is producing far less waste than countries like the US, 10 times less in fact. Thanks to the informal ragpickers we are also doing better work when it comes to processing the waste for each dollar spent. If you go to an Indian landfill you will find barely any recyclable plastic. What you will find is non-recyclable plastic such as packets of chips or biscuits mixed with a lot of cloth and organic matter.
To tackle the non-recyclable (Multi-Layered Plastic) fraction of waste, the government introduced Plastic Waste Management (PWM) rules 2016 particularly the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) under it. As the name suggests EPR puts the responsibility of tackling the waste on the ones who produced it, the brands. The brands started partnering up with the local EPR service providers who would collect, segregate, and dispose of the non-recyclable plastic on behalf of the brands.
However, with the passage of time, each stakeholder started to know that what is being disposed of in the name of plastic is actually mixed waste. This has started to wane the trust of each stakeholder involved. But no-one is at fault as the real problem is the fact that India lacks infrastructure where mixed waste can be segregated. This is what we realized after working for 1 year in the waste industry. And this is what we aim to work on. Unless we develop infrastructure, the emissions from the landfill will keep on rising along with the emissions caused by the disposing of mixed waste and all our collective work will be good for nothing.
The idea of Shoonya first struck us when Kabir, Ishaan (my brother) and I were traveling, and we crossed the Ghazipur landfill. We had a small conversation about waste and what can be done but then we left it. A few days later, I met an old friend and told him in general that my brother has graduated and is looking to start a venture, he suggested I take a closer look into the waste industry so we did some research, made some site visits, and in return we decided to do it.
Started in April 2019, Shoonya aims to contribute to the sustainable development of India, through the implementation of integrated waste (material) management practices to foster environmental and human well-being. We are engaged in the scientific disposal of non-recyclable plastics across 20 states in India. Our diverse team specializes in transforming linear waste management systems to circular waste management systems – from implementing waste audit, and our Circular Economy Waste Management Strategy to providing solutions services. Through this the process, we hope to enable better environmental and human health outcomes through a reduction in greenhouse emissions.
We take pride in the fact that we worked around the challenges that COVID created and despite being the fact that we are working on the ground, always moving across the borders and are doing so in the most susceptible industry we still continued segregating and disposing the waste, not letting it end up at the landfill, in areas where we were working. During COVID we disposed of 400 MT of non-recyclable plastic waste alone.
In July this year, we took the leap of faith and participated in the Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) program by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF). We heard about this program from a program alumnus who happened to be a close friend. It is an eight-month programme that inspires, equips, and enables youths to start or scale up their social enterprises. Based on his experience we learnt about the support that YSE provides throughout the entire social entrepreneurial journey and decided to apply to join the program.
We joined the program virtually via various digital platforms and I think the spirit of the facilitators was great. The trainers shared very useful tips and strategies on running a successful social enterprise that focuses on both social impact and financial sustainability. The overall conduct of the facilitators during COVID times and the pace at which they have adapted to the online medium is my biggest take away.
We are happy to get the full support from the entire YSE team, and especially our mentor Ayushi Bainwala, who was generous in sharing advice and experience. Ayushi was extremely clear and articulate with her feedback. It was extremely useful for us and she helped us preempt the questions we could expect based on our presentation. She also shared lists of relevant impact funders with us. She was very up to date with the impact investment world and understood in great depth the expectations of various impact investors. She has also kindly offered to share time with us as and when we might need her support.
It is wonderful to see that there are young people across the world making persistent efforts even when the odds are stacked against them. As an entrepreneur we face an uphill task where many times we begin to doubt ourselves, it is at such times that stories of likeminded people help us a lot.
We were truly ecstatic to be one of the shortlisted teams. Over the next six months, we will be working with our mentor towards a pitching session next year for a chance to get funding of up to SGD 20,000.