Hem Bhandari spent several years abroad and returned to Nepal to find the waste management issue to be a major issue. Before he left the country he recalls seeing sacks of glass shards collected in his neighborhood that the waste collectors weren’t willing to take and no one knew what to do with. They remained in storage spaces occupying unnecessary space and posing a safety issue as well.
He knew then that this “garbage” could actually become a resource. He found that glass is an excellent recyclable material that can reduce the cost of manufacture of new glass products and other construction applications without compromising quality. During the completion of his MBA in Ireland, he had the opportunity to observe the waste management practices there and hopes to apply those ideas here. Continue reading to hear what he has to say about the concept himself.
1. Could you give us a general introduction to your idea?
I wanted to start a glass recycling company in Nepal named “Glass Co. Nepal.” I saw a lot of similar organizations in other countries but there was nothing of the sort in Nepal. I studied business and didn’t have much of a background in waste management but once I started this project I learned the details of Nepal’s waste management issue. A lot of the non-degradable material in waste ends up in landfills and I wondered what happened to the glass waste. I wanted to start with separating the green bottles, brown bottles and white or amber bottles. People or businesses could separate these bottles for collectors or put them in containers meant for glass collection. We plan on including a door to door service where we pay and take the bottles.
The goal is to use the raw product from this glass to manufacture new glass products and even if we couldn’t manufacture the actual products initially, it is possible to create cullet which is used to pitch roads. The cullet can be used to replace pebbles used for pitching the roads, for constructing the basement for water pipes and even for making cricket grounds, marathon tracks and golf links. It significantly reduces the cost of these actives and essentially works like sand. Even when you produce new bottles, you need 80 to 90 percent of dust from recycled glass and only a small portion of the mixture is silica and sand.
2. Why did you want to start this business?
When I was abroad, their waste management system looked like it was quite easy. I saw that they had different bins allocated for different kinds of waste. They had to be segregated and seeing people throw everything in the same trash here was initially bothersome. Glass especially wasn’t used for anything. We use a lot of glass through bottles and jars and such. Then I got really interested in the idea of getting involved with glass recycling.
3. What is your previous work experience?
I studied project management and received my MBA from Ireland. I saw a lot of recycling companies there doing a great job with waste management. Before looking into this glass recycling business I also had a travel agency that I recently sold.
4. How many members are on your team?
Initially, the idea was just mine, when it came to this competition my wife helped me with her background in publicity and media, and I had a member of my staff helping me as well. It was at his suggestion that I participated in this competition. I believe once you have an idea assembling a team is not usually a problem. I have friends at the Kathmandu Jaycees who are willing to help as well.
5. Who are the relevant parties that you would have to collaborate with for this project?
Primarily we would have to collaborate with the local community, local government and KMC for the glass collection. I spoke to staff at some waste management organizations and they seemed to be interested because there aren’t any companies that work towards processing just recyclable glass in Nepal right now. In other planning phases, we considered the option of going to hotels and approaching people to collect bottles. Right now, only brown bottles are consumed in Nepal. India only buys the clear white bottles, but we don’t really know where the beer and wine bottles go. When looking at the trade of these clear containers, the jars typically used to store pickles are purchased for Rs. 25 per bottle but when the same container is sold back it is sold for 5 rupees per kilogram. We could certainly help reduce that price gap for the product.
We’re thinking of working with corporations to help improve their Corporate Social Responsibility as well. Additionally, we’d like to have a cash collection point for people to bring their glass to and receive cash or rewards in return. We could collaborate with local markets and supermarkets to have these points in the form of a machine.
6. What are your needs as a company?
I need to set up a site and start collecting the glass. Once I’ve collected a certain amount then I would have to get a basic grinding machine. Machines that are typically used to grind pebbles and sand could work too, but I would really like to wait and invest in more sophisticated technology. I haven’t registered the company as of yet. But despite that people are asking me to get started on the idea already, it all comes down to the money. It’ll take at least 10 to 12 crores just to get started.
Depending on how things go, I’m flexible. If I can find a good team I wouldn’t mind working under someone else either, as long as I’m working with someone good and qualified. I’ve experienced life as the owner of business before but I don’t mind working at a different position if the work is meaningful. Waste management is a huge business, it will never end and its a big problem now that needs to be dealt with.
7. What are your main challenges?
Financing this idea is going to be the biggest challenge but even after we do find the financing, it could take a little while to make people understand some of the specifics. You’re not only asking them to separate glass from the other waste, but you also need them to separate different colors of glass too. That is an area where I would need help from the government, coordinating schemes where people receive some kind of discount or reward for segregating the glass.
8. Do you think people are well-informed about the importance of waste management?
Yes, I think many people are aware of the importance of waste management but there are many who aren’t as well. However, everyone has an issue with glass and not knowing how to dispose of it. Whether it’s a mirror or glass bottles, the problem exists ubiquitously.
We’re hoping to leverage that awareness in people to establish a PPP model that allows everyone to participate and invest in the venture in their own way.
9. Do you have any advice for potential entrepreneurs in Nepal?
It is easy to start a business in Nepal but very difficult to keep it running. Finances are the biggest issue and you should make sure you are financially secure before you choose to do so. If there is a specific business you’re certain about, you should try to find jobs relevant to it. It is crucial to have knowledge about your current market and how it’s changing. Keep yourself informed, and don’t jump into anything with a partial understanding of things. Most importantly, never let your creativity die and once you start your work, do not stop. Even if you face obstacles you have to keep pushing forward as much as you possibly can.
As a boss at my previous company, I always made the tasks that my employees had to do quite clear. They completed the work based on their best judgment and I always gave feedback and made sure to differentiate the positive from the negative. It is important to create a good work environment for your employees as well.
For more information about Glass Co. Nepal, please contact Hem Bhandari at email@example.com
Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.