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Indian entrepreneur envisions a world without waste

The TrashCon team winning a cheque at the 2019 Impact Maker Awards.

Indian start-up TrashCon has created a sorting system that can process up to 200 tonnes of waste per day. ‘Our TrashBot can run for 24 hours, non-stop,’ says company founder and ceo Nivedha Ram.  

TrashCon is setting up a ‘mega-sized’ recycling plant in Bangalore, capable of processing 500 tonnes of metals, plastics, glass and fibre (including hygiene products) every day. This complements the existing 16 automatic sorting plants running in six different states across the country.

After processing, the wet waste left over is converted into compost, biogas or fuel. The valuable metallic fractions can be recovered and smelted while the heavily contaminated plastic scrap represents an ‘undesirable’ fraction. TrashCon has created a machine that transforms this waste stream into plywood-like sheets. These can be turned into sustainable furniture and building materials.

By substituting wood with recycled plastic, the start-up is also hoping to help fight deforestation. ‘We’re essentially tackling multiple problems at the same time,’ Ram says.

Her innovation, based on a proprietary technology, could make all the difference for India’s growing waste problem. Plastic waste alone is said to have doubled in the last five years. The nation generated almost 3.5 million tonnes of plastic scrap in 2020; of which only around 30% is recycled. Moreover, an estimated 95% of India’s municipal solid waste is not separated for recycling.

Ultimately, the bulk is still landfilled and incinerated, Ram laments. She aims to scale up TrashBot’s operations in the short term, eager to hit 25 million tonnes of waste recycled per year by 2025.

The entrepreneur, who was invited to Davos in January to pitch her solution to the World Economic Forum, insists she is driven by a ‘very simple dream’. She says: ‘I hope I can tell my daughter, 20 years down the line: “Once upon a time, there was trash.” And for my daughter to answer: “Mama, what is trash?”’

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