It’s 2021 already, and an entire month of the new year has almost passed.
We have made a ton of progress in the last three months, but we still feel like we are moving slowly. I know this sounds trivial, but the biggest update is that Jitu (my co-founder) and I are finally in the same city.
Until only a couple of weeks ago, Jitu had been scrambling to get his Ph.D. wrapped up in South Korea and I was trying to settle into a new city here in Pune. All the while, we worked virtually. Yes, I know that seems normal with COVID-19, but it’s pretty hard to get a physical operation set up whilst being in different countries. But it almost worked to our advantage.
Theoretically, we narrowed in on our starting point. We considered every option while we could. We found inspiration and alignment through Cradle to Cradle, which came to our doorstep far too late but soon enough. From batteries and plexiglass to “AirCarbon” and graphene, there are so many cool things people are doing out there that tickled our fancy. But finally, we settled on multi-layered plastic (MLP). And polycotton. And PET bottles.
Yes, that is more than one starting point. But, there are synergies — ambitious overlaps that light up our eyes with giddy excitement, only to be dampened by the cheap perfume of naivety.
Nevertheless, I did what I do best and built out a fancy, super long deck to present our case to our wonderful advisors. And they did not destroy it! It seems like we are onto something that makes some sense, at least for now.
So the plan? We are developing recycling processes to treat these three types of plastic waste. MLP and polycotton are generally considered to be low-value plastic waste while PET is high-value, serving as a hedge.
Our goal is to convert this waste into high-quality 3D printing filament which we will then use to produce high-margin products. 3D printing allows us to be nimble and rapidly adapt our products to market demand, and so yes, we love it.
We will use our profits/margin on two aspects: (1) upliftment of waste-pickers and (2) cross-subsidizing the recycling of other low-value waste. Throughout this process, we will focus on incorporating waste-pickers and kabbadiwalas wherever we can.
Our eventual goal is to create decentralized “resource cradles” or recycling centres at the sub-district level across India that upcycle all types of municipal solid waste, formalize and incorporate the informal sector, and are financially sustainable, mini-manufacturing units.
Yea, lofty dreams, I know.
And that is the struggle. This gets very exciting, only for me to be rattled by how gargantuan and idealistic our goals are. Upcycling even one type of waste is hard. Neither of us has ever 3D-printed anything before, let alone waste. Neither of us has ever built something from scratch or sold something that needs to be sold.
But we are far from giving in. Dancing on the edge of uncertainty and ambition is like walking into a boxing ring for the first time — we know we are going to get punched, but we know we can still do this.
We are about to finalize real estate for our mini R&D lab here in Pune. We are connecting with local entrepreneurs and incubators to garner the support we need, and they have been largely supportive. We have become buddies with our neighbourhood waste-picker, and he has been nice enough to sell us some plastic waste for experimentation. We have chemical glassware, and gloves and masks, and our first little magnetic stirrer. Jitu screamed eureka when his at-home experiment successfully separated a packet of MLP — we don’t know into what exactly, and how clean it was, but we can’t wait to reproduce it and test it out.
And it’s only been about two weeks since Jitu and I have been in the same city. So yes, a ton of progress, but at the same time, some much left to figure out.
If you have any thoughts or want to do a quick catch-up call, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can do with all the wisdom we can weather.
P.S. If you have not noticed, we’ve updated our website with a lot more information than you’ll want, but go have a gander, and if there’s any feedback, please feed it back.
We are a young social enterprise focused on waste management and poverty in India. We write quarterly letters to our supporters to bring them along on our journey. If you want in, sign up here — we promise we won’t spam you!