Redefine Success
Explore Blog

How 4 waste management companies are mending India’s waste value chain

Discover how these social enterprises are introducing technology and dignity to waste workers, changing old systems, and cleaning up the environment
November 15th, 2022
Website hero 1245x675-1

Image provided by Derrick Hosea

Overflowing landfills are a mounting issue around the world, particularly in India where dense populations and growing urbanization contribute to unmanageable waste buildup across the country’s cities. 

“Current systems in India cannot cope with the volumes of waste generated by an increasing urban population, and this impacts the environment and public health,” says the Royal Society Publishing Journal

Despite these threats, landfills have actually become a primary source of income for informal workers. Across India, these workers have come to depend on collecting and sorting recyclable materials to earn a living. Recyclable materials range from plastics, paper, glass, metals, and even textile waste. 

The work is far from dignified. Many do not have access to steady and accurate wages, healthcare, or other means of protection. In addition, approximately 80 percent of waste pickers in India are women, and around 12 percent are children — both groups are often subject to harassment and exploitation, and made even more vulnerable by their exposure to hazardous chemicals and human waste.

Participants from 12 social enterprises joined Acumen Academy’s Green Growth Accelerator, eager to reimagine a more dignified and sustainable workforce for these informal workers. During the 16 week program, these enterprises learned how to effectively scale their early-stage enterprises across the waste management sector, while promoting equitable growth practices that center humans and the earth alike.    

Through innovative solutions that address the need for dignified work, working capital, and environmental protections within the waste management sector, discover how four of these companies are building trust with members of the waste value chain and redefining the informal economy.


EcoSattva employees

Image provided by EcoSattva

EcoSattva focuses on the public perception of waste collectors. Inspired by what she saw firsthand, Gauri Mirashi and her Co-Founder Natasha Zarine founded EcoSattva in the city of Aurangabad where they grew up. 

“There are human resources dedicated to lifting, transporting, and processing waste — and yet, it was everywhere,” says Gauri. “Waste was burning on street corners, and it was out in the open for days altogether. So we wanted to understand that — that’s where our journey started.” 

Through their hybrid enterprise, the team at EcoSattva has built a women-led organization with a community-based model, building partnerships to design data-driven solutions that tackle civic and environmental challenges. This includes eco-sensible solutions for solid waste management, green cover management, and water body restoration.  With a team of 70 women, they set out to understand the life of a city waste collector. 

We started by following the waste collector who came to our house — observing how he does his collection, where he empties out the waste, and how the waste transportation vehicle is loaded. Learning from the ground up has carried throughout all of the work that we do.

Gauri Mirashi
Co-Founder at EcoSattva

Dignified work

Determined to change the public’s perception of waste collectors and to improve the city’s waste management processes overall, EcoSattva designed a plan to position waste workers as leaders within their community and provided technical and soft skills training to the workers. 

They started by providing the workers with technical training: teaching them the necessary elements of source segregation and composting, as well as soft skills training in conflict resolution and public speaking. 

The workers are now using these social skills to sensitize the city’s community about the impacts of littering and how to properly recycle. “Giving the workers leadership positions can not only help them to instill confidence, but it can also bring them more respect from the residents they’re working with,” Gauri adds. 

Working down the supply chain, EcoSattva created dignified employment opportunities for informal waste pickers at material recovery facilities. At the facilities managed by EcoSattva, the waste pickers earn a more consistent income; they also develop a strong sense of community, so much so that they feel like it is a safe place to bring their children while they work. 

Previously, they would say they’re going to go waste picking. Now they’re able to say they’re going to the center.

Gauri Mirashi
Co-Founder at EcoSattva

The organization has expanded their reach by building trust among many more waste picker communities through word of mouth. “We were working with about 95 waste pickers who were working at our centers every day, who we were engaging very closely with. Through [that] network, we were able to extend support to about 600 waste-picking families in Aurangabad city and support them through the COVID period,” says Gauri. 

EcoSattva has also helped some of these workers to get their drivers’ licenses, which allows them to drive collection trucks into areas of the city that the government services don’t reach. Gauri plans to expand this team of waste collectors and create more formal employment. 

By equipping workers with interpersonal and practical skills and providing them with a formal workplace, EcoSattva is helping to improve their quality of life and shape their public perception in long-term, meaningful ways. 

Environmental impact 

To tackle the environmental impacts of the waste value chain, EcoSattva is reviving failed investments in waste management infrastructure. The company is also providing valuable data to stakeholders for meaningful action.

“A lot of cities have gone ahead and constructed composting pits or biomethanation plants [that process organic waste],” she explains.“But all of that investment is lying unutilized because the foundational systems that are required to enable and feed raw material into that equipment are missing.” 

EcoSattva is working to change that by ensuring that segregation and the right quality of organics are made available for plants like these to function properly. “Just improving upon what [infrastructure already] exists can have a massive impact on efficiency, environmental outcomes, and social outcomes,” says Gauri. 

We were able to get [a plant] started again. So I think we’re also breathing life into a lot of the monetary investments that have already been made.

Gauri Mirashi
Co-Founder at Eco-Sattva

EcoSattva has also been collecting data through applications, which provide them with several categories of information on the types of waste being collected on the routes they manage and how much of it is being sorted. This data collection can help the company understand what areas of the city produce the most carbon emissions. Leveraging this data for EPR( Extended Producer Responsibility, a policy that requires producers to manage the proper disposal or treatment of these products post-consumer, in this case for low value plastic waste and electronic waste) partners and government stakeholders will be an important part of EcoSattva’s growth plans. 

The app’s tracking capabilities can also provide stakeholders concrete evidence of their impact over time. “When we have donors coming on board, they also value this kind of data about the impact their material recovery facilities have had,” said Gauri. 

The data can even serve as a guide to government leaders seeking information that will help them improve the system. “We’ve already been able to offer a municipal commissioner the data he’s looking for to understand where the challenges are.” 

As Gauri and her team continue to find new ways to capitalize on technology to understand the sector’s carbon footprint, EcoSattva proves how promoting environmentally conscious and equitable growth practices are the cornerstones for a sustainable waste management industry. 



Chandrashekar Bhat first noticed the waste management crisis as an undergraduate traveling across remote parts of India, and saw an innovative opportunity to tackle waste through a marketplace for recyclables. 

Chandrashekar created TrashIn — a climate tech online B2B platform that helps recycling businesses network, communicate with each other, buy and sell, and receive guaranteed payments. 

By repairing the broken system with a digital one, Chandreshekar believes TrashIn will help improve recycling rates and reduce landfill waste, indirectly impacting waste pickers by meeting their payment needs more efficiently. 

“A couple of years back, it was impractical to launch a technical product or software solution to solve the waste problem,” he says. “Most early-stage enterprises in this field were generally operation-intensive businesses.” 

“[But] the cost of smartphones has become more affordable [and] more informal or unorganized intermediaries day by day are using [them],” says Chandrashekar. “We have a huge opportunity to be an early on-trend and a product-market-fit.”  

Working capital 

In the waste value chain, working capital (or the cash needed to conduct daily operations) is one of the biggest challenges to overcoming the broken value chain. Waste pickers want to get paid immediately so they can provide for their families, but waste collection centers don’t have enough working capital to pay waste pickers upfront. 

These collection centers must first get paid by fulfillment centers or material recovery facilities — the stage of the value chain where recycled material is processed — before they can pay waste workers. As a result, waste pickers traditionally wait weeks or sometimes a full month to get paid, leaving them unable to provide for their families and giving them no transparency into the monetary value of their collected recyclables.

“Our product’s biggest value proposition to our users is guaranteed payments as a seller, including collection centers, scrap dealers, and other waste aggregators,” says Chandrashekar. “There’s a feature in our app called ‘spot pay’ which means you get paid on the spot directly into your bank account within 30 minutes.” For buyers (collection centers), a 7-day credit limit is available, during which they can make payments to their waste pickers. 

TrashIn encourages any user in the value chain to use its platform — buyers and sellers can invite each other onto the platform to stay connected. And they’re launching a new feature soon to make it easier for sellers to source raw materials. “We will be enabling the discovery feature for users to discover the best price in the market and the best buyers around them. We will make this even more dynamic with the ratings and review system, where the level of trust is established.” 

In providing these solutions for working capital, TrashIn is both helping scrap dealers and other informal waste intermediaries get paid faster and improving the lives of these informal workers. 

[Before the accelerator], we never looked much into human impact. We were only looking at the economic impact, but this accelerator definitely has nudged us to think more about human impact, making the life of our users more dignified and integrating them into the organized economy.

Chandrashekar Bhat
Founder at TrashIn


Women Safai Saathis

Image provided by ReCircle

ReCircle is a resource recovery enterprise that works to divert, reuse, recycle, or repurpose waste away from landfills and oceans. In doing so, ReCircle creates a circular ecosystem while building capacity and employment within the informal economy. 

We remove the word 'waste' from what we do. We feel that all waste is a resource. It has a value that is inherently present, which we are harnessing here at ReCircle.

Gurashish Sahni
Co-Founder at ReCircle

Gurashish Sahni and his Co-Founder Rahul Nainani devised the concept for ReCircle while at a Google start-up weekend. When developing a business plan for ReCircle, they went right to the source.

“We ended up interviewing over 100 scrap dealers and making calls to the recyclers we knew,” says Gurashish. From there, they started building a company to connect institutions and individual waste pickers with scrap dealers in India.  

Today, the company has created a reverse supply chain, which can extend the life cycle of materials: from the original source all the way up to when it reaches the recyclers. 

“We are building an ethical reverse supply chain that is traceable. We’re using the people who are preexisting in the supply chain to become a part of it.” 

Dignified work 

At the center of ReCircle are the waste pickers and scrap dealers who source recycled materials. “What we feel is the biggest pain point [for scrap workers] is just respect and dignity. These people have been working in this trade for the longest time, they really are the backbone of recycling in India,” says Gurashish. In their work with collection partners across the country through standard operating procedures, ReCircle's work is improving working conditions, better payments and prohibition of child labour. 

ReCircle aims to create a dignified environment for these informal workers, gaining their trust by ensuring an ethical and traceable value chain with the use of data tracking, and implementing strict policies and procedures for their protection. 

The company’s data tracker creates auto-generated reports that can help them record and evaluate the waste pickers’ financial progress. “This data helped us and them to see what they were actually earning. So it brings about a lot of transparency, when you get a slip of what you earned, and there is a number you can call with questions about the transaction,” Gurashish explained. These receipts ensure that the workers are being paid properly for their recycled materials and helps them avoid malpractice. 

Muddle Art


Sanjay Chauhan and his co-founder set out to solve a unique problem in the worldwide textile value chain. Approximately 85% of global textile waste is accumulated in India every year. The bulk of this waste is downcycled, incinerated, or dumped in a landfill. While post-consumer and imported textile waste are significant challenges, Sanjay is formalizing the upstream and downstream market with his company Muddle Art, focusing primarily on pre-consumer textile waste (PCT). 

PCT waste consists of spinning waste, mill waste, cutting waste, and deadstock. Muddle Art envisions significantly reducing the waste that is being downcycled or ending up in a landfill due to the fragmented and unorganized nature of the value chain. Through their enterprise, the founders are streamlining the supply chain for PCT waste and enabling aggregated input for small recyclers and upcyclers. 

Dignified work

While the challenges Muddle Art faces are similar to the other enterprises, textile waste requires more knowledge than other kinds of waste when it comes to sorting, which makes its collectors more vulnerable in a loose system. 

Due to the textile supply chain’s informal system, waste workers do not receive fair remuneration for the effort they take in sourcing textile waste. They are often mistreated, because they have no rights or protection as informal employees. 

Sanjay’s approach to dignified employment is multifold. Muddle Art is formalizing the smaller unorganized customers by bringing them into a formal supply chain. The company is also empowering women and other marginalized groups with the skills to sort textile waste, which requires a specialized expertise.  At their facilities, they provide safe working conditions and fair pay.

“MuddleArt ensures that all our workers are governed by the appropriate labor laws, are remunerated in accordance with fair wage regulations, and [are assured] safe working conditions,” says Sanjay.

Sanjay also mentions that the company’s sorting units can be set up easily across different geographies that have access to textile waste, thus creating more formal employment opportunities and a broader way to manage that waste. 


In their efforts to understand and meet the needs of waste workers, scrap dealers, collection centers, and recyclers, EcoSattva, TrashIn, ReCircle and Muddle Art are gradually sewing up some of the system’s biggest holes by creating secure job opportunities and integrating sustainable solutions with technology, upskilling, and working capital. 

By stabilizing and improving working conditions for workers, simplifying the flow of buying and selling materials with technology, tracking impact, and reviving pre-existing infrastructure, these companies are impacting the waste value chain in diverse and innovative ways. By collecting data, they are able to provide evidence that their integrated approach in strengthening the system is reducing carbon emissions, thereby having a domino effect for the better on the environment. 

Got a specific social issue or challenge that you want to focus on tackling? Free course Start Your Social Change Journey will help you take the first steps to sustain your social impact efforts and keep your goals on track.



Emily Hooper

Emily is a New York City-based copywriter for Acumen Academy. She has explored topics around gender equality, leadership, dignified work, sustainability and more. When she's not writing, Emily is trying new recipes, daydreaming about owning a dog, and creating original media content.