Take 100 Waste Pickers in India Out of Poverty

by Waste Ventures Charities
Mr. Chandan
Mr. Chandan's happy to be done loading the tractor

Dear All,

I hope this project update finds you happy and well.

As we work towards our goal of shifting the entire waste management sector to introduce sustainable practices, and include waste pickers, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to accelerate our rate of change. We recognize that this is a huge task that we can’t do alone, no matter how many of India’s 5,000 Motihari-like towns we are able to reach.

While there are other waste management service providers already operating in some parts of India, they often fail to do more than secondary collection and dumping of the waste. (Secondary collection is when waste is taken from set ‘transfer stations’, instead of the from in front of the house itself). As a result, much of the waste is left uncollected because the households don’t consistently get it to the transfer point. The portion of waste that is collected is not processed, but just dumped, as contracts are structured to pay for ton of waste taken to landfill. Worse yet, this payment structure pits waste companies against informal waste pickers, as waste pickers decrease the volume of waste dumped, and thus decrease the companies’ revenue stream.

Despite the broken system that these waste companies propagate, they already have an expansive presence in 40-50 of India’s largest cities. In April, Waste Ventures launched a Fellowship program to place environmentally focused business-savvy professionals with progressive waste companies interested in implementing positive change to the waste sector. Our Fellows come from top-tier consultancies and financial services backgrounds, are driven by a passion to build environmentally sustainable businesses, and are constantly looking for problems to solve. They are paired with the strategy team of our partner waste companies in India, analyzing their operations and local markets for opportunities to introduce sustainable processing, and to include the informal sector. Not even two months into the program, we already have three proposed business-model transformations on the discussion table – all of which hold opportunity to increase waste recovery by over 30%, double informal waste picker involvement, and all while improving company revenues.

As we continue to develop our own projects that employ waste pickers and serve India’s smaller towns and cities with low-tech waste solutions, we look forward to this new opportunity to tackle the waste issues in India’s mega-cities as well. ‘The more the merrier’ couldn’t be more true as we seek to leverage the combined strength of organizations across the sector, in a bid to shift short-sighed ‘collect and dump’ practices to adequate recovery and reuse of India’s 120,000 daily tons of waste.

If you have any ideas on how to further accelerate our rate of change, would like to participate in the Fellowship Program, or just want to say hi, you can always reach us at any of the following:


Thank you for being a part of our journey!

All the best,

Tiffany and the Waste Ventures team

Motihari, Bihar
Motihari, Bihar

Dear All,

I hope this updates finds you well!

It's been a few months since our last project update in October, though the time seems to have flown. At the start of November last year, we launched our first project in the state of Bihar - contemporary India’s third-largest state with a population of over 100 million. It’s also one of the least developed in terms of access to infrastructure such as good roads, schools, health facilities, and almost no waste management system to speak of. We’ve set up shop in the northern town of Motihari* to start out with, and will use this as our base from which to launch a cluster of services to small cities and towns in Bihar.

When we arrived, Motihari’s waste management system was particularly decrepit. The city has grown up around a large S-shaped lake, which is also the source of much of the fish in the local diet. As migration from the rural areas has accelerated, the town population has nearly doubled in the last 15 years. Coupled with rising consumerism and access to packaged products, the city finds itself in the midst of a waste management crisis.

The best efforts to combat the piles of waste accumulating on street corners, is to hire a few trucks with laborers to scrape up waste from these piles around the city and get rid of it. As disposal is not regulated, none of the waste is processed, and the 15-20% that is collected is simply dumped in the most central open area – the lake. The result has been the literal transformation of the once-picturesque lake into a dumpsite, where algae now choke the lake and its fish.

Waste Ventures has introduced its ‘EasyBin’ service in a residential area, serving about 5% of the city and employing 7 waste pickers to start collecting and processing waste from this small test area. The response has been phenomenal - with 97% of customers paying the collection fee already in the first month of service, and residents in other parts of the city clamoring for us to expand into their areas.

We are thrilled with the response and eager to carry the momentum forward. Cleaning up all of Motihari will reduce greenhouse gases by more than 2,000 tons of CO2-equivalent each year, and provide safe employment to about 150 waste pickers.

Thank you for your support in making it possible to be where we are, and for continuing to celebrate these small steps forward with us!


Best wishes to you and your loved ones for the New Year,

Tiffany and the Waste Ventures team

Lalbabu and Naveen pose under an EasyBin banner
Lalbabu and Naveen pose under an EasyBin banner


Doorstep collection & segregation
Doorstep collection & segregation

I hope this message finds you well!

Waste Ventures is pleased to provide you with an update on some recent strides we’ve been making in sustainable waste management in India. You might remember from our last update the work that we were doing in India’s heartland – Indore, Madhya Pradesh – to improve the efficiency and quality of our partner’s composting process. The results of our work there was to more than halve the time required to turn organic waste into compost, which has effectively doubled the capacity of their eight small-scale composting plants located in residential colonies across the city of Indore.

Back then, we were also aiming to expand services to a new city, and we now provide door-to-door collection for 18,000 people in the town of Damanjodi, Orissa. These residents were previously taking their waste to central bins, where it was only sporadically picked up, resulting in waste left strewn about in wide swathes around the bins. A staff of 26 waste collectors started with us on September 1st to clean up Damanjodi, and reprocess over 70% of the waste into valuable by-products. These waste collectors all come from ‘scheduled tribes’, or minority tribes that are systematically placed at economic and social disadvantage as a largely rural minority group.

This is also the first project within which we are employing the new and improved handcart designed by MIT engineer Adam Talsma. You can see more about his research and cart design here. The design addresses three critical failures of existing carts: cost, durability, and ease of use. Previously available cart designs cost over $200, were prone to frequent break-downs due to design flaws, and difficulties in loading and unloading often caused back and shoulder problems for the staff. The new wastecart can now be locally manufactured for less than $100, is durable enough to carry double the weight of waste and a lifetime of at least five years.

Your generous donations have made it possible to fully equip our 26 waste collectors with uniforms, protective gear, and these brand spanking new wastecarts. Besides feeling and looking smart, the waste collectors now carry themselves with greater pride and find the carts lend dignity to their oft-disdained profession.

As our friends, we value your thoughts and like to hear from you! You can always send us an email, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook. Thank you for your ongoing support in transforming the emerging waste sector!

With warm regards from New Delhi,

Tiffany and the Waste Ventures team

Compost unit, Indore
Compost unit, Indore

Dear All,

Greetings from New Delhi, where the weather report is ‘blowing dust’ and 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The fact that the Thar desert is encroaching on us from the east serves as a daily reminder of what climate change is slowly doing to many areas bordering deserts around the world.

We are continuing to combat this warming by taking the waste inside cities to create compost, an all-natural soil conditioner. This soil conditioner is needed particularly urgently in central India, where farmland has been leeched of nutrients from decades of exclusive use of chemical fertilizer. Most recently, we’ve been working with our partners, Indian Grameen Services in the city of Indore, to improve compost quality and accelerate the production cycle from over 90 days to just 40 days. This accelerated production more than doubles our compost capacity, and is done using all natural processes of optimizing aeration and moisture levels. We are also expanding into another few housing associations, which will increase the amount of organic waste supply. What’s very encouraging is that we have not yet been able to meet the demand for compost around Indore.

This has been some exciting progress, as we work to improve incomes of the waste pickers that collect and transport the organic waste to the composting centers. Further, in the three months that follow, we aim to catalyze a completely new integrated solid waste management service in a nearby town. This town’s existing waste management system consists of households throwing waste into the street, where it is sporadically swept up and dumped in the nearest lake on the outskirts of town. The environmental impacts of this practice have been serious, and we are all-hands-on-deck to launch our model there by September.

Thank you for your continued support! As a reminder, you don’t have to wait three months to hear updates from us – feel free to send us an email anytime, and also follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Warm regards to you all,

Tiffany and the Waste Ventures team


***Extra Special Thank You***

For all who helped us out on the SlideRocket competition in March – you rock! Thanks to you, we were selected for first place, a prize of $10,000 and a generous match for an additional $10,000 by an anonymous donor. We are privileged to have you as friends. Please give yourself a hug because we can't.

Dear Supporters,

It’s hard to believe three months have already flown by since the last project update. I’m writing this one from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, where Waste Ventures has been working with Indian Grameen Services - exploring ways to involve the 5,000-plus waste pickers in and around Indore in the region’s solid waste management initiatives.

Indian Grameen Services (IGS) has been working with over 1,000 of these waste pickers in eight urban and peri-urban slums over the last four years. With educational programs for waste picker children and financial literacy training for their parents, they’re building groups of waste pickers that are investing in better futures. More than 100 children were moved into the mainstream public school system last year (kids who were otherwise helping their parents collect waste scraps - completely missing out on the chance to ever learn to read). They’ve helped hundreds of women open up savings accounts, and form them into self-help groups, which encourage savings and make collective loans to their members.

It’s awesome to be able to work with a change-making team like IGS, and we’re exhilarated that we get to help up the ante even more. IGS has helped waste pickers to do more with what little they have, but the fact remains: they still have way too little. Without a model for increasing their ability to earn, they continue to cram their families into one-room homes without access to running water, much less a toilet. This is where Waste Ventures comes in.

By working with IGS to build a waste picker company, we will increase the revenue potential of each kg of waste by 4x, thus increasing waste picker incomes, and giving them a stable, safe working environment. We are now in the process of comparing a few options for introducing door-to-door garbage pick-up services provided by waste pickers – all in and around Indore. The focus is on residential communities that do not have access to garbage services, and where waste is piling up in empty lots and roadside drains.

Once we have selected a project location, you will be the first to know – after all, your donations are what will make it possible to equip the first waste pickers we hire. Thank you (again)!

You don’t have to wait three months to hear updates from us, and can always read up on founder Parag’s blog, Talking Trash, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook.

Warm wishes to you all,

Tiffany and the Waste Ventures team


*March Special*

2 minutes of your time helps us win $10,000 – thanks to a presentation contest hosted by SlideRocket. To make it, we have to be among the most-viewed presentations. If you have just 2 minutes, please just take a quick look and then pass it along to everyone you can!



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Organization Information

Waste Ventures Charities

Location: Saket, New Delhi - India
Website: http:/​/​www.wasteventures.org
Project Leader:
Tiffany Talsma
Fremont, CA United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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