Weekly Startup Profiles > Ecowise Waste Management
|Ecowise Waste Management|
|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.|
A waste management company that collects and disposes residential, commercial and industrial waste.
A snack-laden table is laid out on an open farm. Employees bask in the early evening light chatting happily with their co-workers and their families. An Infosys picnic? No, it's an Eco Wise barbeque Sunday for its waste management employees.
In a country where waste management workers don't get the best treatment, Eco Wise's human resource policies come as a breath of fresh air. "The first step is respect. We do not call our employees rag pickers or garbage collectors, we call them health officers," says Manik Thapar, founder and CEO, Eco Wise.
If one were to look solely at the workers' benefits, one might think Eco Wise is an NGO. On the contrary, however, Eco Wise is one of the first businesses tackling the multi-crore opportunity in waste management in India.
Manik Thapar originally hit upon the idea of starting a waste management company while developing an academic project on electricity generation from waste. He was excited by figures that outlined the enormous potential. His original idea for a power generation company hit technical and logistical barriers, but his interest in building a business in the sector persisted.
In 2005, Manik launched Eco Wise, leasing a plot of land close to Noida started operations in 2 sectors in Noida. Some of the benefits were immediately clear: "I end up saving the Delhi Municipal Corporation almost Rs 9 lakhs every day," says Manik.
In India, the waste management opportunity is worth Rs 6128 crores, claims DARE magazine. Delhi alone produces 6000 tonnes of garbage everyday: laid out in an area of 500 acres that garbage would stand 2 - 3 floors high.
Typically, the waste is collected and then dropped at dumping grounds or landfill sites, presenting an enormous environmental and health hazard. "Though disposing in landfills is one of the best methods of waste management, it has become the worst method in India because it is not done systematically," explains Manik. "Everyone is suffering due to this. Property prices are falling. Tourists see India as a dirty country." Eco Wise is working to turn this around.
Eco Wise collects, sorts and treats both residential and commercial waste. Their customers include governments that contract out specified geographic areas or sectors to Eco Wise; and commercial enterprises that are engaged by Eco Wise directly.
Residents in the Eco Wise sectors have come to enjoy the benefits of daily professional garbage collection, says Manik. The residents are even given a complaint number, which they can call in case their garbage has not been picked up.
However, Eco Wise's largest and most stable clients are the commercial and industrial organizations that need efficient garbage disposal. "Usually, these commercial establishments dispose the garbage themselves, or get it dumped illegally, or pay the government to dispose their garbage. We at Eco Wise collect their garbage from their doorstep and dispose it in an environment-friendly manner," Manik explains.
For the companies the added cost of working with Eco Wise is outweighed by the benefits. In addition to the convenience, "Some companies have got the 14001 certification which is an environmental certification that deals with proper and environmental friendly disposal of garbage," Manik explains.
For Eco Wise, there is money to be made at each stage of the waste management cycle. "In residential areas, you make money from disposal and segregation. In industrial, it's collection. Most of the money lies in segregation and treatment of waste."
Despite the size of the opportunity, however, Eco Wise's competition comes primarily from the unorganized sector: kabadiwallas or raddiwalas, who deal in inorganic waste like paper and plastic; sweepers; and the so called garbage 'mafia', who don't take kindly to new players on their turf. Indeed, in the early days, Manik received many threatening calls and some of his laborers were injured.
Manik attributes some of the lack of organized competition to the social stigma attached to dealing with waste - a stigma particularly strong in India. However, another barrier he feels is the lack of clear government regulations and enforcement. "Corporates aren't getting into it because the sector is so unregulated that they can't calculate risk," Manik explains. "And of course, the garbage mafia does put people off," he admits.
Manik has invested a total of Rs 1.5 crores in the business, 90% of which came from his father. The rest of the capital he has raised from bank loans.
Profits are ploughed back into the business. Without revealing figures, Manik says that Eco Wise's growth rate above average. "The potential in this sector is enormous. It has a 800-1000% growth potential over the next 10 years," he says.
Manik started Eco Wise with 22 laborers.
Eco Wise's laborers get protective gear, free housing, health benefits, barbeque Sundays with families and a newfound respect. The last bit is very important for Manik, along with adhering to strict company norms of not employing children, a common occurrence in unorganized sectors.
As far as wages are concerned, Eco Wise has implemented a pay-for-work system. "If the employee collects 200 kg of garbage today, he is paid Rs 200." Manik says this usually results in monthly earnings that range from Rs. 4000 - 8000.
Today Eco Wise has 140 laborers and 5 staff members.
Today, Eco-Wise collects garbage from 16-17 sectors in NOIDA and feels that they are in a comfortable position.
Manik is planning to expand along several dimensions. Geographically, he plans to go into cities like Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Next year, he's planning to set up a centre that will dispose hospital waste.
In 2-3 years he plans to start India's first landfill site with a recycling plant within its premises. Creating energy from waste is on the cards. "In five to ten years, we would be in a position to create energy from waste profitably."
"I am trying to expand everywhere. It is a need of the nation," Manik says.
"Nothing!" he says. "I always try and thing about the positive," signs off Manik. But is there any issue that bothers him constantly? "Most of the labourers are migrants who come here for 4-5 months to make some money and then go back home. It won't say that it keeps me awake at night, but it is definitely always on my mind," says Manik.
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