For her unparalleled contribution to society and environment, Sudha Singh was recently bestowed with Sri F.B. Nigam Memorial Award by Navratan Foundation.
Do you remember the times, when our grandparents and parents would stock old newspapers away in storerooms and garages, and as the end of month approached, they would vehemently bargain with local scrap dealers for a fair price, even if that meant a paltry sum of ₹5 or ₹10!
Although for a majority of the population, smartphones have replaced the good old newspapers, many households across the country continue with the tradition.
In India, approximately 40.7 crore read newspapers, and these statistics include both urban and rural readership. So, imagine the substantial amounts of paper that is churned out daily and invariably finds its way to the trash can at the end of the day.
Not only are we cutting down thousands of trees for this purpose, but are also significantly piling on to the already mounting waste burden on the planet.
What can exactly be done? Banning newspapers once and for all might be a step too drastic but what if one could figure out an environmental friendly solution in this scenario?
Instead of bargaining with your raddiwalas for old newspapers, what if you received a plant for the same value?
You might appreciate the idea right away for its simplicity and inventiveness but will most probably also retort by saying that the visionary idea only seems plausible as a concept and not something that can be applied in real life!
But here’s the twist! Not only can the idea be put into effect in real time, but it has also actually been implemented across Noida, thanks to one woman’s steely resolve and self-propelled commitment towards the environment.
Wasteroots is a social enterprise powered by Noida resident Sudha Singh, based on the novel idea of exchanging one’s old newspapers, notebooks and paper wastes for potted plants at the same value.
Operating in Noida and nearby areas, the venture works on the mechanism of door-to-door collection of paper waste on requests placed by individuals, housing societies and corporates and in turn, they receive a plant-pot-manure to spruce up their home or workspaces. The collected paper waste is duly routed to local registered paper mills where it is recycled.
Additionally, Wasteroots also gives one the opportunity to ask for particular plants of their choice!
It all began when Sudha took a break from her 13-year-long career in the corporate sector to lend complete attention to her son. Having always been cognisant towards the waste crisis, it was during this time that she realised that the issue was way too severe and something needed to done to tackle it.
Another crucial point that made her explore the idea further was when she realised that her apartment complex was dealing with waste management in a problematic way.
“Unlike the door-to-door collection in Delhi where we’d previously been living, here it was the shoot system that had no segregation mechanism and all types of waste were collected together. I tried broaching this issue multiple times with concerned authorities but all I ever got was clumsy and disinterested responses,” says Sudha to The Better India.
Sudha was also bothered by the lack of tree cover in her locality and the neighbouring areas. “I think all these aspects came together and planted the seed of unrest in me. I wanted to initiate something that I knew I could undertake within my reach and capabilities. It did not matter how small the scope was but I, at least, wanted to try,” she explains.
Initially, Sudha wanted to work out a modus operandi around plastic waste, but the magnitude was a deterrent.
She finally zeroed down on newspapers, and paper waste and the idea of exchanging old papers for plants was a sudden brainwave.
“Having worked as a trainer, I knew that the ‘incentive’ idea would always appeal to people, who were otherwise only getting measly amounts for their old newspapers. Not only do plants make a home look beautiful, but also keep the air clean. What could be a better incentive for people in place of old newspapers!” laughs Sudha.
Sometime in mid-2016, Sudha’s innovative idea took flight in the form of a Facebook page along with flyers and pamphlets. Renting a small terrace as a storage place, she teamed up with a local gardener who helped her with potting, and she drove her own car for collecting papers.
The idea appealed to people in Noida so much that word about the venture quickly spread, and this did wonders for Sudha. Soon, she registered Wasteroots as a one-person enterprise along with a website of its own in December.
However, there was an interesting incident that occurred following Diwali celebrations.
Someone had anonymously posted information about Sudha’s initiative along with her phone number across various newspapers but did not mention where Wasteroots’ operations were centred.
“My phone was flooded with calls from people across the country for over six months, and I was clueless about what was happening. Whoever the person was, in a way, helped in getting Wasteroots a lot of traction but sadly, I had to disappoint a lot of people from Bengaluru, Gurgaon and Pune as this kind of practice has not been set up anywhere else,” says Sudha.
There was a point when her friends and relatives were very apprehensive about her venture as they did not want a woman to be working in the scrap industry or be associated with scrap dealers, but Sudha was firm in her decision and wouldn’t step back. “This was my way of contributing to the environment and in no way was I going to let anyone’s opinion get the better of me,” she says.
Two years down the line, she has reached out to over 4,000 people including residential societies, schools and corporates in and around Noida’s ambit, and has many returning customers.
She also manages to route roughly about 6-7 tonnes of paper to the recycling mills in a month. Many in Noida have come forward to volunteer with Wasteroots in terms of pickup, and other assistance, which Sudha says has indeed been a blessing.
The only condition she keeps for the volunteers is that they must motivate ten more people in their circle to exchange their papers for plants, which they have gladly done.
Wasteroots remains connected with all of its customers through Whatsapp groups. Sudha mentions that people have been regular in sharing photographs of their plants, especially when they bloom. “Seeing them become this excited when their plants blossom is the takeaway I gladly look forward to,” she says.
A typical plant-pot-manure combo costs about ₹100, with the papers being exchanged at a price of ₹10 per kg.
Although this business model is not very lucrative or profitable, Sudha believes that the idea and the way it is encouraging more people to contribute towards the betterment of the environment is what genuinely matters.
While the entire venture is singlehandedly manned by Sudha, she currently has employed four helpers. For her unparalleled contribution to society and environment, she was bestowed with Sri FB Nigam Memorial Award by the Navratan Foundation recently.
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What a novel idea to manage one’s waste while livening up one’s living spaces with plants! We hope Sudha’s initiative inspires more people and try to incorporate similar models in their cities and towns as well.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)