The Quest for Waste AKA Managing Waste in India

Waste management in India is a big challenge and local government seems unable and/or unwilling to tackle the problem. While cities have a semblance of garbage collection mechanism, it is practically non-existent for small towns and villages across this vast land. In addition, the recent boom has generated uncontrolled and unplanned development giving rise to mountains of garbage in towns and villages close to bigger cities. Of all the civic services a local government can provide, waste management has a huge impact on public hygiene and livability index.
The question is, how do we change this picture? The answer might be the most cliched acronym in India – PPP or Private Public Partnership. Ketan Shah, a serial entrepreneur from the Silicon Valley is now starting his new quest in waste management. Ketan, who has had several successful exits, is originally from Udwada, a small coastal village in Gujarat, close to Daman and Vapi ( One of the biggest industrial zones of Gujarat ) After his last venture, he decided to go on a sabbatical and spend time in his hometown. What he found was that the village had turned into a garbage dump. Daman and Vapi are growing very fast and people’s search for cheaper land is taking them to surrounding areas. The increasing demand for land has multiplied the prices by orders of magnitude. Indeed, land around the village seems more expensive than the Silicon Valley. The exploding population is generating mountains of garbage with no collection mechanism to account for. Granted the village had little garbage collection infrastructure previously, but to Ketan’s recollection, it certainly was not a dump. This coupled with unplanned development, industrial growth and out of control traffic have converted this seaside village into a nightmare.

In the true Silicon Valley entrepreneurial fashion, he has taken the initiative to change it. First off, he started a trust, the sole goal of which is to improve civic services infrastructure within Indian villages and small cities. Udwada became the first village on the list for obvious reasons. That was the easy part. The hard part was to follow; the first challenge was to clean the garbage that had collected over a period of time. Once that was done, a regular collection system with a buy-in from local leaders (government) had to be setup. Thirdly, a place to dispose off the garbage had to be found and lastly, a way of getting people to pay for garbage collection had to be found.

Once he identified the challenges, he set out to tackle them. He hired garbage trucks and workmen to clear out the garbage. In order to understand the composition of the trash, he himself got down to it and spent a week with the workers clearing out the trash and getting sick in that process. Once the trash was analyzed, he realized that majority of the trash could be recycled or turned into compost. At the same time, he worked with local leaders and got their support for this project. The project started with good enthusiasm, media coverage and support, but has now stalled. The dumping ground became inaccessible due to the rain and people living in that area started complaining. Key lesson: Nobody wants garbage in their backyard. Ketan called for townhall meetings and distributed educational pamphlets to create awareness among locals. Nothing further can be done till a new dump site is found.  Acres of land granted to every village for this purpose seems to have disappeared from govt. books. Now he is working with local govt. officials to get a new dump site. That seems to be a big task and will take time. Meanwhile, he is also trying to find private land, away from the town, on lease.
Ketan does not see a long term future to running this as charity. It needs to run like a business and Social enterprenuership  is the model in his mind. Ketan has also realized that money is not a issue for these villages. Most local government has enogh revenue to provide such serivces if they really want to and people are willing to pay IF they get good service in return. Daman actually has a working model that proves his theory – around 14,000 households there pay Rs. 850 per year to have their trash picked up every day by a private waste management company. There is no reason why this would not work across India if people realized the benefits.
Ketan firmly believes that people do have the awareness. They understand benefits of clean roads but they don’t have any trust in the local government. They just don’t care anymore. Current local government system that provides services such as these is broken and Ketan thinks a parrallel system is needed to take care of basic neccessities of people across villages and towns.
Let’s hope for our sake that everyone quickly realizes that the new model, which has worked very effectively in the developed world, takes root here and grows. After all, the US creates 56 tons of garbage every year per person, which is more than any country in the world, but still manages to clean it day in and day out; you will never see overflowing garbage bins anywhere.
Ketan can be contacted at if you need more information


3 responses to “The Quest for Waste AKA Managing Waste in India

  1. good piece – should meet ketan if he is around

  2. Abhijit Ranade, please contact me if you need more info or want to participate in anyway. After we get some experience from my village, I am thinking of systemize such initiatives in few other villages with the help of local people who are willing to take leadership.

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