NOIDA’S ‘GARBAGE MAN’ RUNS UP A PROFIT. MISSION DELHI NEXT? Manik Thapar, an Indo-Canadian entrepreneur and Founder CEO, Eco-Wise Waste Management says “We still see garbage as kabadi business, but there is so much more one can do”.
As we become wealthier and consume more, we are producing unprecedented quantities of rubbish. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that our largest cities produce on average 760,000 tons of solid waste per day. It predicts that there will be a two-fold increase – to 1.8 million tons – by 2025.
It seems almost too much to handle. And it is. Much of Asia is literally wasting away. ”The growing volume and toxicity of waste is simply threatening to overwhelm our cities,” says Michael Lindfield, principal urban development specialist with the ADB in Manila.
The proper recovery, treatment or disposal of garbage is beyond the financial resources of many national and municipal governments. The World Bank says some municipalities are spending as much as half their budgets dealing with garbage. And even so, it is common that half of all the waste goes uncollected.
Hidden under piles of garbage, Manik Thapar has uncovered a golden opportunity. Granted, organizing the waste management industry isn’t easy, but Manik’s Eco Wise is leading the way and expanding on solid success.
The sight of a suited businessman sifting through garbage isn’t common in India . But if you find yourselves on the outskirts of Noida, just east of the India ’s capital New Delhi , and spy a suit amid the garbage, you’ve probably found Manik Thapar, an Indo-Canadian entrepreneur who is setting aside conventional caste wisdom and getting his hands dirty.
Garbage collection is hardly the most envied of businesses in India , where a caste hierarchy mandates that rubbish collection is not the domain of the educated and wealthy. Mr. Thapar didn’t care. India , which recycles more than 90 per cent of its waste, offered huge opportunities in waste management. In 2005, he launched Eco Wise Waste Management Pvt. Ltd., providing a four-stage process of collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of waste material.
The idea, he says, germinated with a study on producing energy from garbage during his days as a management student. “I saw the business potential in waste management.” The result: Thapar decided to set up a similar project in India, and even convinced a US firm to invest in it.
Though the project died soon, the idea of business potential in waste still remained. The Noida project finally took shape last April. “I invested Rs 1.6 crore, through family and bank loans,” says Thapar, looking at odds in his power suit at the garbage disposal site on outskirts of Noida.
Moreover, Eco Wise isn’t a classic small-scale Indian business. Mr. Thapar’s employees were drawn to his company because of its unusually protective labour practices. Mr. Thapar’s monthly costs include health benefits for all his workers. Employees and their families flock to the plant every Sunday for a free barbecue, and several of them will soon be provided free accommodation on company property. Most of them are migrant workers from Bihar and Bengal who make about 5,000 rupees ($133 Canadian) a month, a pittance by Canadian standards but above the average salary of a government worker.
Eco Wise is already the biggest plant of its kind in New Delhi and Noida. “We have the capacity of 100 tons per month. We are running at only 45 tons at the moment,” Mr. Thapar says. He hopes to be servicing all of Noida’s 130 sectors soon.
But all that’s only a short-term plan. What Mr. Thapar really wants to do is make energy out of waste and is excited about “bringing ideas that haven’t been tried and tested in India back here.” He wants to set up an anaerobic digestion plant, which takes wet garbage and converts it into compressed natural gas and electricity for domestic and commercial consumption.
For the time being, however, Mr. Thapar’s energies are focused on pushing people to be more enthusiastic about sorting through their garbage and using the recycling bins provided by Eco Wise. That, he acknowledges is an uphill task. “Even my friends told me, ‘Why are you getting into such a dirty business?’ It will take a long time to change that mentality.”
“The waste is segregated and then divided into bio-degradable and non biodegradable waste. The Biodegradable waste is then converted to compost,” says Thapar.
Wet waste, which is primarily kitchen waste is then converted into organic and vermiculture compost. This sells for Rs 40 a kilo, while the organic manure is sold at Re 1 per kg. And it’s not just about making money – Thapar says his venture saves Noida Authority, which produces around 350 tonnes of garbage every day, around Rs 9 lakh a day. Also, the men working under him are each paid Rs 5,000 per month and are given medical insurance. And Thapar plans for more!
“Future plans include expand work to cities like Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Kerela. And crush PET bottles and supply these to Reliance and turn them into fibre optics,” says Thapar.
Thapar’s also an advisor on the MCD’s solid waste management committee. And while he’s certainly making money, he says what drives him is also the will to make a difference.