In the contemporary world, faced with mounting environmental challenges, effective waste management has become increasingly crucial, particularly concerning food and plastic waste. Despite being ranked 107th out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index 2022, India discards a staggering 67 million tons (MT) each year due to inadequate storage, inefficient supply chains, and low consumer awareness.
Additionally, the country faces adverse impacts from plastic waste, generating approximately 3.4 MT, with a mere 30 per cent being recycled. Effective waste-to-value conversion is crucial to curb the amount of this waste and minimise greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
India's strong commitment to sustainability and the rapid growth of its start-up ecosystem is crucial for desired outcomes, including employment, business, and national growth. Women entrepreneurs, in particular, are revolutionising the waste management segment by leveraging their unique skills and perspectives.
The evolving female workforce in India has been prioritising sustainability within their businesses and playing a significant role in achieving our sustainability goals, particularly in the waste-to-value conversion segment. In 2017, 29.5% of all start-ups registered with DPIIT, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, and Govt of India had at least one woman director; this increased exponentially to 47% in 2022.
According to a survey by Bain & Company, more than 45% of Indian women in rural areas were driven to start a business. Furthermore, statistics show that women-led start-ups provide a 35% higher return on investment (ROI) than those led by men. These figures highlight women entrepreneurs' exceptional capabilities and potential to drive positive change in the waste management sector.
Leading The Way
Women entrepreneurs foster collaboration and community engagement, actively forming partnerships with local communities, waste collectors, and NGOs to establish inclusive waste management systems. These partnerships generate economic opportunities and contribute to overall social well-being by enhancing waste infrastructure and combating environmental pollution.
These entrepreneurs are converting waste into value by innovating in renewable energy, water management, and waste management. They prioritise social and environmental sustainability, addressing the needs of marginalised communities and promoting inclusive practices.
By challenging conventional practices, women-led waste management initiatives have the potential to transform the industry and contribute significantly to India's sustainable development goals. Initiatives such as TVARAN by Villgro & Cisco are dedicated to expanding the market reach of such women entrepreneurs and providing them with incentives to drive transformative changes.
To support women-led start-ups and promote sustainability, the Indian government has launched various programs alongside comprehensive waste management initiatives. These include the Swachh Bharat Mission, the GOBAR-dhan Scheme, and the Waste to Energy program.
Moreover, initiatives like Mudra Yojana, Cent Kalyani Scheme, and Orient Mahila Vikas Scheme aim to empower women entrepreneurs. Individual states have also taken proactive measures, such as implementing GPRS-equipped waste bins in Chennai, harnessing methane gas in Ahmedabad, enforcing waste collection bylaws in hotels in Nagpur, and establishing a 6-MW Biomass Cogeneration Power Plant in Uttar Pradesh.
In The Driving Seat
Women entrepreneurs are at the forefront of driving a transition towards a circular economy in India's waste management sector. Out of the staggering 67 million tons (MT) of solid waste generated annually, only 43 MT is collected, with a mere 11.9 MT undergoing treatment and the remaining 31 MT ending up in landfills.
Recognising the urgent need to reduce landfill waste, women-led start-ups are prioritising waste reduction and resource utilisation.
For example, KNP Arises converts used cooking oil into biodiesel, while Greengrahi transforms pre-consumed food waste into Insect protein & bio-fertilisers using black soldier flies. Additionally, enterprises like Swachha Eco Solutions are working towards recycling plastic waste into reusable products like granules, tiles and mixtures for road construction.
By addressing the intricacies inherent in waste-to-value conversion and harnessing the power of innovative approaches, in conjunction with the active involvement of women entrepreneurs, India has the potential to lay the foundation for sustainable development and usher in a future characterised by environmental consciousness and vitality.
Technological advancements such as automatic waste segregation, onsite waste processing, gasifiers, and pyrolysis can transform India's current waste management scenario.
Embracing novel solutions and progressive approaches will alleviate the burden of waste and lay the foundation for a harmonious coexistence with our natural surroundings. By providing support, empowerment, and resources to visionary women, societies can unlock their full potential, foster innovation, and pave the way for sustainable progress.
- Kalyani Krishna, Manager, Diversity and Inclusion, Villgro