Given the scale and complexity of the waste problem in Chennai, it may be necessary for the city to encourage social enterprises that could help reduce the amount and types of waste that is sent to landfills. Hasiru Dala Innovations is one such social enterprise that evolved from the Hasiru Dala Trust since its founders believed this would be the most effective way forward if they wished to expand their outreach. Through its work with waste pickers and waste management, Hasiru Dala Innovations is not only improving the city just environmentally and socially but running as a successful business as well.

There are a number of ways this business promotes a green economy. To begin with it, it has a user-pay model, which means that you pay according to your waste generated. This is a great incentive for people to reduce their waste. It also offers a total waste management service that includes the collection of all categories of waste, products such as compost kits and jute bags and the assurance that a total of 90% of the waste collected is diverted from the landfill and processed in a sustainable manner.   

Hasiru Dala Innovations’ objective is not solely to promote a circular economy but to empower the lives of waste pickers as well. In a span of four years, it has successfully obtained identity cards for 7500 informal waste pickers, giving their work recognition and saving them from arbitrary harassment. This is no mean feat considering Bangalore’s waste pickers are mostly migrants with almost no proper ID proofs with them.

Aside from official documents, Hasiru Dala Innovations is also breaking old social mindsets in subtle ways. For example, instead of parceling off the product compost kit to a customer’s house, a waste picker drops it off and provides instructions on how to set it up. This results in positive interaction between the two. To instill a sense of the importance of waste pickers in the citizens of Bangalore, Nalini Shekar, one of the founders of Hasiru Dala, conducted a survey that revealed waste pickers managed 1,050 tonnes of waste on a daily basis which amounts to whopping INR 84 crores per annum.

Other ways that Hasiru Dala Innovations empowers waste pickers is by providing them entrepreneurial opportunities. Instead of direct employment, waste pickers are encouraged to group into units of five. Each team, of a driver and four waste pickers, is given a truck and the autonomy to handle their own franchise. In this way, Hasiru Dala Innovations has a decentralised system with several micro enterprises collaborating together. It is useful to note how Hasiru Dala Innovations has established a system that balances collective action and the independent way of life of waste pickers. If the sense of responsibility that comes with being a professional service provider of their own is not enough, they get an added incentive: after four years of such work, they are bestowed with full ownership of the truck.

If it were not enough for Chennai to be invested in promoting businesses such as Hasiru Dala Innovations for all the positive difference it makes for the environment and the waste pickers, we should not forget that Hasiru Dala Innovations is also a successful business: it registered in November 2015 and is already collaborating with 20 waste picker franchisees to work for some 300-odd clients of considerable sizes such as large apartment complexes and corporate campuses. It has even expanded beyond Bangalore to its adjoining cities. Perhaps it is time for Chennai to join this list of cities as well.