The company aims to bring together different stakeholders in the waste management ecosystem on one platform to encourage recycling and traceability
Call it serendipity, if you will: The day we spoke to Chandrashekar Bhat, the co-founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based startup TrashIN, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai erected a sign urging citizens to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle [for] Clean Mumbai, Healthy Mumbai”. According to official estimates, Mumbai generates about 11,000 tonnes of solid waste per day, a tiny fraction of which is recycled.
Bengaluru, where most of TrashIN’s operations are centred, grapples with 5,000 tonnes of solid waste every day, much of which ends up in landfills. The civic bodies of Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai are faced with 8700 tonnes, 4,500 tonnes, and 5400 tonnes of waste per day, respectively.
The writing is on the wall: Growing urbanisation to accommodate a rising population, coupled with a consumptive lifestyle, will force our cities to drown in garbage, unless we take up recycling on a war footing. However, it’s easier said than done, given how fragmented the waste supply chain is. TrashIN aims to bring together different stakeholders in the waste management ecosystem on one platform for seamless coordination among waste generators, waste pickers, waste management vendors and recyclers. “It’s an online marketplace for dry waste that’s capable of creating a triple bottom line impact, involving profit, people, and the planet,” says Chandrashekar, an alumnus of National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal (NIT-K).
Since its inception in 2016, the startup has diverted upwards of 7,500 tonnes of waste from landfills and aims to increase the income of waste pickers by at least 40 percent by giving them access to a dignified and predictable livelihood. Till now, the company has impacted the lives of at least 750 waste pickers associated with 50 waste collection centres. Over the months, these centres — TrashIN calls them Partners — have increased their volume of transactions by 300 percent. Barring construction debris and bio-medical waste, TrashIN purchases all streams of dry waste for recycling – regardless of their value – from these partners at market prices.
The startup’s modus operandi is simple: Households/corporates can schedule a booking, as per their convenience, for a no-contact recycling pick-up through the ‘Trashin – Waste Pickup and Recycle’ app. However, they need to upload a photo to show the level of segregation. The app also notifies them when a collection drive is underway in their area.
The second app called Trashin Biz – a B2B application – intimates the collection partner about the booking in his area. Since many of these Partners are based in Bengaluru, each one of them caters to nearly 1,000 households. To encourage transparency, a partner rejecting a pick-up will have to cite reasons. “We are trying to make our operations as decentralised as possible to ensure that these people in the informal sector can conduct their business efficiently. It’s a way of giving back power to these marginalised people without whom existence in a city would be a nightmare,” says Chandrashekar. The B2B application, or the partner app, is multi-lingual, enabling these people conduct their affairs in their mother tongue. It’s designed to boost financial literacy, helping them gain insights into their day-to-day operations, such as the incoming volume of waste, how much they are selling to TrashIN, the value of each transaction, and the amount of profit. When these partners decide to sell their trash, the startup arranges for a pick-up within three hours. Payment is done on the spot for segregated bulk dry waste, which it sells to recyclers approved by the Central Pollution Control Board.
From a brick-and-mortar model, TrashIN pivoted to an online aggregator platform during the pandemic when it had to cease operations in the initial months of the lockdown. The sourcing app or the consumer app was launched in October last year while the partner app came into being three months ago. Since then, the enterprise has onboarded 150 collection partners after a rigorous process of vetting.
Chandrashekar and co-founder Vivek M Shettar, a fellow NITK alumnus, are on an expansion spree. Waiting in the wings is the driver app that will integrate waste pickers on the platform. Eventually, the fulfilment centers, which do the final sorting, and recyclers will be onboarded to close the loop. “Before long, we will establish a chain when the recycled products can be sold to our customers,” says Chandrashekar.
Right now, all efforts are trained at ensuring that the sourcing/customer app goes live in 15 cities across the country. “Our partner applications will only be given to verified partners who can build our brand in these geographies. The next target is to cover the whole of Bengaluru in six months and have at least 5000 collection partners in the city transacting through the app,” he says.
Social Alpha’s role
The founders are profuse in their praise for Social Alpha’s timely investment, which enabled them to strengthen the asset-light online model. “The funding helped us bring on 150 new collection partners on the platform. Social Alpha’s confidence in us helped validate our biggest assumption that the entire business can be brought online,” says Chandrashekar, adding that now he is confident of scaling up to 1 lakh partners across the country in a couple of years.
The two critical challenges in the waste management sector are fragmented ecosystem and lack of transparency along the supply chain, says Poorvaja Arun Kumar, Social Alpha Portfolio Manager for TrashIN. “This results in low rates of material recovery. TrashIN, through its vertical SaaS-enabled-Marketplace platform addresses the above problems by collecting bulk volumes of high and low value segregated waste, including glass bottles and pet bottles, and single-use plastic shopping bags,” she says.
As TrashIN looks to digitize the entire waste management supply chain, Social Alpha’s investment plays a key role in product iterations and in the startup scaling up to include a wide diversity of collection partners, says Poorvaja. Through its partner app, the start-up has been able to support the Partners, helping them open bank accounts. “The startup’s intervention in the sector adds to the efforts undertaken by all stakeholders to formalize the largely informal supply chain,” says Poorvaja.