Interview with Siddharth Hande, co-founder of Kabadiwalla (KWC)

Creating a “smart” city to limit urban pollution
Published in the dossier of October 2018

31-year-old Siddharth Hande is an engineer who specializes in urban data processing. Concerned by the scale of urban pollution, he relies on digital technologies to come up with concrete solutions to the challenge of waste management.

International recognition for Kabadiwalla Connect (KWC)

When it started up in 2014, the young business KWC received initial financial support from the international community: a grant of CHF 50,000 (50,800 US dollars) from the World Economic Forum. In 2016, the World Bank also made a contribution of 200,000 US dollars through the Global Partnership for Sustainable Data. More recently, KWC obtained 100,000 US dollars in funding from Expo 2020 Dubai (Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme). The aim of this financial aid is to support KWC’s development and make it an inspirational model for major cities in developing countries.

Planet. What motivated you to embark on this adventure?

Siddharth.Hande. /I became aware of the pollution on our city’s beaches at a very young age. When I was at high school, I belonged to a group called “Reclaim our beaches” that cleaned them each week. I then realized that we didn’t know what to do with all these discarded objects once we had collected them. Moreover, urban waste salvaging and recycling has always been one of the informal sector’s main activities. The existing waste management ecosystem was therefore poorly adapted to the scale of the pollution to be treated, particularly the plastic waste permeating our environment. I tried to deepen my understanding of how this sector worked and I obtained a grant from the World Economic Forum to continue my investigations. I called on the skills of an engineer, Sonaal Bangera, with whom I founded KWC. A specialist in information and communication technologies, he was keen to put his know-how to the service of this informal economy to make it fairer and more efficient.

P. How does this informal collection ecosystem work in Chennai?

S.H. It brings together five extremely interconnected activities, from street picker to specialist dealer. At the end of the chain, there emerges a high-quality secondary raw material that is then processed by manufacturers, who are often located outside the city. We can improve the living conditions and income of these behind-the-scenes workers if we organize this clandestine economy. This is where the need for a tool that is able to meet this challenge comes in.

P. Is this tool KWC?

S.H. We rely on information and communication technologies. As a specialist in urban planning promoting the smart city concept, along with my team, we mapped Chennai, identified each individual dealer and their shops, district by district, and then developed mobile applications. These apps provide the user with all the necessary information to collect, resell, plan their work, find out about the volumes of waste treated and the prices applied in real time, connect and optimize their itineraries. Thanks to a digital dashboard, the kabadiwallas can easily navigate along the smart value chain. We have recently developed a smart bin that sends a notification to the kabadiwalla on their smartphone when it is full. For those who do not have sophisticated cell phones, our RecyKle® alert system works on landlines.

What is your business model?

S.H. S.H. For the moment, Indian municipalities send most of the urban waste collected to open landfills. Only a small amount is recovered for energy via incineration. By reducing the amount of this waste sent to landfill by 70% by developing their collection and recycling via the informal sector, Indian cities could save at least 3.5 billion US dollars*, and be able to reassign these funds to the recycling sectors. Local authorities should trust us. To launch our business, we obtained financial support from the international community (see boxed text), which saw in our initiative a credible alternative for limiting pollution in developing countries.