July 5, 2010 The Unbiased Writer

Waste Ventures will transform the way municipal garbage is handled in developing countries into a more environmentally and socially friendly process based on market mechanisms.  Currently in the developing world, social organizations work to create better lives for marginalized wastepickers (those at the base of society that handle garbage and earn a meager living through recycling).

Vallabh spoke to Parag Gupta, Founder of Waste Ventures:

What was the idea behind Waste Ventures?

Most of the garbage in Indian cities (and throughout the developing world) is collected by waste pickers who scavenge through the garbage for plastics and glass to sell.  This marginalized community makes less than a dollar a day and often suffers many illnesses that decrease life expectancy.  Waste Ventures provides waste pickers with a more lucrative method of processing waste that includes a household collection fee-for-service, sorting the garbage into recyclables, composting the organic waste into bio-fertilizer, and earning carbon credits for preventing green house gasses.  Waste Ventures then helps the waste pickers, which it forms into corporations, aggregate investment capital and sell the bio-fertilizer and green house gasses in larger markets. By doing so, Waste Ventures increases earnings 4x for waste pickers, provides company ownership, reduces garbage by 80% through recycling/ composting, tackles climate change, and returns a profit to investors.

How do you see Waste Ventures evolving?

Our vision is to create a commercial market to invest in waste picker corporations that environmentally process waste.  We do so by proving commercial viability and also smoothing out government policy to encourage recycling and composting.  A commercial market will then self-perpetuate, build more waste picker corporations, and uplift more waste pickers while in turn reducing greenhouse gasses and waste.  Simultaneously, we will be creating a market for bio-fertilizer which will reduce dependency on chemical fertilizer by 25% and increase productivity by 30%.  In this vision, we also achieve a secondary benefit – which is to move the solid waste management industry towards a commercial market which in turn decreases the amount of money spent by governments (estimated to be around 30 – 50% of a municipal budget) and in turn reduces corruption leading to a more efficient system.  We are not making any friends but that was never our intent!

We are currently working in India but have plans to expand to other developing countries in the near future.  A GTZ report estimates that approximately 2% of the world’s poor engage in waste picking activity pointing to a large global market for our intervention.  We are starting two projects in India and are actively seeking waste picker organizations (non-profit or for-profit) that have aggregated waste pickers.  We are also hiring individuals in India.

Parag was formerly Associate Director at the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and Fellow at the World Economic Forum. He worked on social investment and on introducing CEOs to opportunities at the Base of Pyramid. Prior, he founded IDEAS while at the Harvard Kennedy School was a consultant at the Bridgespan Group, and advisor to many international social entrepreneurs.  This is one talented visionary who will likely turn Waste Ventures into a success but may also change systems around the world.  What do you think?

Written by: Vallabh Rao


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