Nokooda: How two brothers are trying to solve India’s garbage problem using waste-to-energy plants

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NoKooda

Two brothers, Manish and Manoj Pathak grew in a township of a thermal power plant, in Begusarai district, Bihar. The huge amount of dust the plant used to generate, lead to several inches of coal dust getting accumulated on the rooftops. Having experienced the devastation first-hand, environmental concern became part of their growing up, starting from their early childhood.

 

While there was awareness, there was no immediate trigger for action. Manish graduated from BIT Mesra started began what most consider a normal corporate life working for companies like CDAC, TCS and HCL. Manoj, a science graduate, did the same working, with Kenwood and Panasonic, eventually becoming Vice-president, Technology (NIEM Radiation division) of a Delhi based company when an incident changed his life, and in the process Manish’s life as well.

Waking up and smelling the garbage:

Manoj was riding his bike to office, when a chunk of garbage fell on him from a garbage truck, something snapped within, and he decided to stop this practice. He narrated the incident to Manish who shared his passion and motivation. Soon the brothers Pathak put their heads together and started working on possible solutions. They divvied up the work. Manoj began developing the technical piece and Manish took a stab at the business and sustainability part of the problem.

“The problem of garbage is not new to us. We keep witnessing small piles of garbage in our neighbourhood, to the mountains created out of it as landfills, in the vicinity of our cities. Our aim was to create “zero waste society” deploying decentralized solutions,” says Manish. Thus was born NoKooda, which is a combination of ‘No + Kooda’, meaning ‘Nothing is Garbage’.

India’s garbage problem:

Remember the pneumonic plague in Surat in 1994? According to Wikipedia the reason was, “A combination of heavy monsoon rain and clogged sewers led to massive flooding which resulted in unhygienic conditions and a number of uncleared animal carcasses.” The plague adversely affected India’s agricultural exports, tourism, not to mention the tremendous shame suffered internationally. Surat of today is different, boasting of an efficient solid-waste management system and water treatment plans.

Sadly most of India struggles with the problem of garbage piling and disposal. Even the big metros are struggling with the problem. Most of the attempts to deal with this problem have gone unsolved.

The NoKooda Solution:

NoKooda’s  urban waste management model focuses on providing decentralized solutions with an equal emphasis on the technical, process and operational aspects.

“We deploy smart indigenous technology, innovated by us at the closest location of waste generation, convert the waste into a useful by-product and then take care of the supply-chain of the by-products. At each stage we try to create grassroot level entrepreneurs (enviropreneurs) also to make the entire business a social venture,” adds Manish. NoKooda’s waste-to-energy multi-capacity machines are suitable for mixed, organic and other materials like plastic pet-bottles.

But there has been opposition to the waste-to-energy plants from ragpickers; who feel that their livelihoods are being threatened, and environmentalists; who are of the opinion that they are counter-productive.

Impact so far:

Manish states that NoKooda’s solutions have been well-received by the government authorities like CPWD, NDMC, Greater Noida Authority, MCD, NCR Planning Board, Ghaziabad Development Authority. He estimates that NoKooda’s machine installations have the potential green waste reprocessing capacity of 18 metric ton daily. “This translates to direct green job creation for 25 people, availability of clean cooking fuel for 5000 families, CO2 saving of 13000 TPY (throughput yield) and entrepreneurship opportunities through the installation and maintenance of the machines. Our target is to handle 2000 MT of green waste in the first phase of our growth,” opines Manish.

Challenges, and support of friends and family:

For Manish and Manoj, gaining access to right people in decision-making bodies was a major challenge. They attribute luck to being able to find the right folks in almost all the civic bodies they approached. Funding was another major challenge, luck played a part here as well, as they found angels at each critical point of their startup journey. Their current challenge is to hire passionate people for the next phase of growth.

“Without the support of Family running a social enterprise is not possible. My wife was not only supportive but is part of the team where as in my brother’s case, not only his wife supported on each stage of struggle and experimentation, his teenage son also helped his bit by sacrificing his play time to help us do the IT stuff for the company,” states Manish.

NoKooda wants to create ‘enviropreneurs:

The complete operations of all of NoKooda’s installations can be managed by third-party associates. They act as independent units attached to the mother unit for support in technology, operation and supply chain capabilities. Having already experimented with women enviropreneurs in the supply chain process, NoKooda plans to scale the model.

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