Doko recyclers is trying to solve the problem of waste management helping institutes and households segregate waste and reduce the amount that ends up in landfills. Here’s what we talked about with its cofounder- Raghavendra Mahto.
1. What social problem are you trying to solve?
We’re trying to make people aware of best practices in waste management and help them in the process. Since waste management is a multi-faceted problem that has its roots in the mentality and lifestyle of people, we’re trying to change that. We’re very used to a take-dispose attitude towards waste and don’t bother to segregate before sending them out to waste collectors.
Consequently, all kinds of waste end up in one bin regardless of their nature- dry, wet or recyclables. Furthermore, even though the Municipality has been collecting waste from households, most of them end up in landfills instead of separating those that could be reused.
2. What was your idea behind starting this venture? Also, when was the organization established?
The organization was established in April 2017 and we launched our services in July. We wanted to work on something that earns profit for purpose and has a sustainability aspect; something that has various benefits and is impactful towards different societies and the environment.
Social Business is a way by which we can take upon on issues prevalent in a developing economy like ours which required a sustainable approach to tackle problems plaguing basic amenities such as a viable waste management system, which can benefit the larger mass of society. It’s about taking such challenging issues and working around them to find gaps in the system and create value through business model innovation. There’s always so much to work around for the people at the bottom of the pyramid in any part of the world, just need to make sure we are able to create customer demand and keep revenues flowing.
Our journey together started when we noticed a functional gap in the waste management system. Even when people were segregating their waste, the entire notion was not appropriately taking place at the source, in our context. We then examined the gap between people and discovered there was no one to collect the segregated dry waste. That’s when we realized that this could be an economically viable, sustainable and profitable social venture. So, we at Doko, implement methods to help you segregate your waste at its source into different categories before it enters our waste stream. Once it enters our waste stream we continue to separate into different recyclable categories ensuring that the right materials make to the right industries who then extract and reuse existing resources from that waste to create new goods.
3. Are you only working with dry waste? How do you collect this waste?
Yes, we only collect dry recyclable waste. In regards to collecting the waste, we have members who are also our clients and subscribe to our services with a certain fee. However, we provide free collection services to households but they have to meet our collection criteria. We have around 120 clients, including hotels, schools, colleges, and businesses.
4. How did you raise the funds to start your company? When you began, how many employees did you start with and what is your current strength?
We bootstrapped the initial investment for initial infrastructure development, logistic set up and management team. Three of us started together, as the core team, then there were around 10 members with us. Now we have about 35-37 members working with our organization.
5. What stage is your company in right now? How would you elaborate on your growth as an organization?
We are somewhere between growing and stabilizing. The growth as an organization was statistically proportional to the demand in the service. The public response has been very encouraging and we find that many people are willing and want to do what they can for our environment. We hope and aim to provide as much as services as we can from pick-up to shredding, e-waste, upcycling and organics.
We intend to continue to drive behavior change by promoting different forms of reducing, reusing and recycling while providing our primary service of waste pick-up. We aim to scale our services so that we can reach a larger and growing client base. Our shredding, e-waste, and composting services in addition to our waste pickups, awareness training, waste segregation infrastructure setup all allow you to do this instinctively in your homes and offices.
6. How many clients do you have?
We have around 120 clients and 3000-3500 householders. Householders are not regular clients; they call us whenever they have certain waste in terms of weight (minimum 12-15 kgs).
7. What kind of challenges did you face while operating the company? Are there any other challenges that you are currently facing?
One of the basic challenges that we faced was changing the mindset of people regarding waste segregation. Though we have been able to successfully implement our system in close communities like schools, colleges, offices, it’s a challenge as soon as we step out in the public. They’re not easy to convince and train on waste segregation.
The government lacks policies or needs to update many of them ranging from the definition of waste to include paper and by-products created during manufacturing to establishing e-waste policies.
We were not doing a typical business venture that was appeasing to the masses. Our neighbors here were not so receptive to us when we first started and instead thought our work was very unhygienic.
A negative recycling value is also one of the challenges we face. Negative recycling value means that the cost of transporting and recycling is higher than the cost of manufacturing it. So, we want to focus more on finding solutions to recycling those items that have negative recycling value.
Last but not least, the Nepali government has very few infrastructures suitable for collecting and recycling all sorts of waste. So, this is also a kind of challenge for us.
8. What inspired you to come up with Tatva? Would you share with us your purpose behind starting this venture?
We realized Nepal does not have a glass recycling factory and that most of the imported bottles go into waste when they could be upcycled. Even the informal waste sector does not collect them. We saw an opportunity here and decided to turn any recyclable product we receive in waste to turn into decorative items or kitchenware. Since people are already adopting the idea of using upcycled products, we see a growth in this area.
9. What do you think are the key needs of the company?
We need finance to grow our team and our infrastructure and are currently exploring different options for finances. We also want to semi-automate our Material Recovery Facility (MRF) which will help in increasing our efficiency, allowing us to handle higher volumes of waste. Apart from theme internal needs, we would also like the government to play a more substantial role in improving the waste management system in their end.
10. Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur? Do you measure the impact of the services you have been providing?
Yes, we consider ourselves as social entrepreneurs. We measure our impact in multiple ways like calculating the recycling rate, awareness rate, segregation rate and so on. We also provide our clients with an online dashboard that allows them to track how much, when and what we collect. Accordingly, we provide 5 key indicators- trees, oil, landfill space, and energy in terms of KW in order to determine our impact.
12. What is your further plan with the company?
We want to expand out of Kathmandu to other cities that are booming and require an efficient waste management system. We also want to work in the hospitality and tourism sector and specifically help tourism entrepreneurs to better manage waste in the communities.
One of our long-term goals is to develop rural models to handle waste in rural Nepal without having to transport it somewhere else. There are many places where the vehicles cannot reach in order to collect waste so we want to develop these rural models that can be replicated across the country as well with ease.
13. Do you have any advice or suggestions for other start-ups, about how to start a business?
There is so much willingness, drive, creativity, ingenuity, and intellect in Nepal that we think there is so much more to come. We have seen an increase of new market solutions and young entrepreneurs in Nepal ranging from IT to art-making strides. We are excited to see and support what our peers can and will create in Nepal!
If there were no challenges, there would be no opportunities. Sometimes it is just about taking the risk. However, you have to do good research and be constantly updated about market trends and competitors. Want to swim in the ocean? You just have to dive it. In the end, value creation should be the primary aim of any business/startup.