WasteSite: Visiting Renewlogy’s river cleanup pilot in India

The following was contributed by Surya Iyer, Graduate Research Assistant for the RISN Incubator.

Mumbai heaping landfillLast month I went back home to Mumbai for my winter break, the place where my journey with waste originally began. Growing up it really bothered me seeing all the overflowing containers of trash and the resulting pollution it caused, especially during monsoon. Mumbai had outgrown itself over the last 2 decades with the booming service industry. If we take all these learnings and a 3 hour’s drive from Mumbai, we reach Pune, an upcoming Megacity. That’s the location where Renewlogy, a waste to energy company within the RISN Incubator, decided to pilot its river clean up initiative. Renewlogy won a grant from the National Geographic to clean up the Ganges, one of the most polluted rivers in India and chose Pune for the pilot as it has one of the most efficient Waste Management initiatives in India. I joined the Renewlogy team to help with their ground research and efforts to learn more about these waste clean up initiatives in Pune.

Swach, autonomous enterprise that provides waste collection to citizens of PuneWe first visited Swach, a wholly owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers operating as an autonomous enterprise that provides door to door waste collection to citizens of Pune. Just imagine how cool would it be if you had someone come to your house every day and pick up your trash, for FREE! The Swach women are from low-income families and act as independent business owners responsible for collecting and selling the waste for their allotted region. They then bring all the waste to a small but highly efficient sorting station that they have set up all over Pune. Each woman work in their station, sorts the recyclables and bags them to make it ready for a vendor to come pick them up at the end of every day.

Mutha river with trash on the banksAs we spent time in the Swach station and learning about their work, right across this place was the Mutha river. At first it looked like a normal river flowing right through the heart of Pune, however, as we walked by, we saw chunks of plastic sweeped across the banks and the river polluted with grey colored water flowing. The river was begging to be cleaned. As part of the Ganges clean up, Renewlogy was in the process of developing a fence based mechanism to place in the river that could collect all the flowing trash. Since this was a small river as compared to the Ganges, it turned out to be a perfect location to begin with.

One key barrier when it comes to waste management is the lack of education. A Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) could be a possible solution when it comes to efficient waste disposal and more importantly collection. With advanced technologies and a gamification aspect, RVM’s are coming up all over India and Renewlogy plans to put a similar one near their main project at the Ganges. Solving the waste problem didn’t sound that bad back in the U.S, but being out there I realized so many things which I wouldn’t typically sitting on my desk.

RISN Incubator issues new call for innovators

Phoenix ManagementArizona State University, named the most innovative school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for four straight years, in collaboration with the city of Phoenix, named the Top Performing City overall by Governing and Living Cities, renew a call for innovators and entrepreneurs to participate in the RISN Incubator, a diverse solutions business development and accelerator program. The application period begins Jan.1, 2019.

The RISN Incubator is a program within the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) and supports new-to-market ventures that focus on improvements in processing or utilization of waste as a raw material for new products or energy. Selected enterprises receive unique access to resources and support from ASU and Phoenix to develop their solutions that contribute to the regional and national development of a vibrant circular economy.

“We are excited to engage a new cohort of innovators to build upon the impact of our initial 13 companies and help drive a stronger, more resilient economy that continues to explore new ways to close loops, create jobs and drive innovation,” said Alicia Marseille, director of the RISN Incubator. “In just two cohorts, RISN Incubator ventures have generated more than $4.1 million in revenue and created 43 jobs, proving the substantial impact these companies have made in just over one year.”

The RISN Incubator provides access to technical experts including university faculty for their advancement, workshops and training, business plan and growth strategy development, access to materials (also referred to as feedstocks) from Phoenix’s waste transfer station, and a process for continuous evaluation and pre-qualification for funding opportunities with introductions to funders.

“By cultivating public-private partnerships to turn trash into new products, the Phoenix Public Works Department continues to work to increase our waste diversion rate and create economic impact in our city,” said Ginger Spencer Phoenix Public Works director. “As inspiring as it is to see the new businesses take hold, it is even more inspiring to work with them to help us meet our waste diversion goals for 2020 and beyond.”

Start-up concepts eligible for the incubator include, but are not limited to: conversion of solid waste into new material or energy; services that divert, reuse, or recycle; and software applications and design services that focus on sustainability. The priority waste feedstocks that the successful ventures will have access to include plastics, batteries, carpeting and carpet foam, broken furniture, mattresses, textiles, food waste, compost and plastic film.

Thirteen ventures have completed their mentorship period within the incubator, including the following:
Renewlogy, developer of a proprietary chemical recycling process that allows plastic to be reversed back into its basic molecular structure, converting non-recycled plastic waste into new valuable products such as high-value fuels. Renewlogy was a winner of the 2017 Arizona Innovation Open and the 2018 Sustainable Brands Innovation Open.
Hathority, which specializes in software integration and application development in order to make societal impacts such as reduce landfill waste, improve recycling and change customer behavior.
Recyclops, who has used mobile app technology to bring recycling and waste diversion through a sharing economy model to areas that otherwise would not have options aside from sending their trash to landfill. Both rural communities and high density multifamily residential complexes are often without recycling services.

“The team at ASU knows everyone in the who’s who of the circular economy space,” said Ryan Smith Founder and CEO of Recyclops. “We have been astounded by the relationships that we’ve been able to build because of RISN and the lessons we’ve learned. It’s truly been a life changing experience for us and has had an enormous positive effect as we continue to push our business forward.”

This call for innovators and entrepreneurs is open until January 31 with cohort finalists notified of their selection by February 18.

The RISN Incubator is operated at ASU by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service and ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation.

Apply now!