The Dump

I had a good laugh when I found out that I would be working for an organization called Daily Dump under the mentorship of someone named Poonam. After four months of work at “the dump” as I call it, I have come to learn that my placement organization’s name derives from the process of at-home waste management that our products and services promote. As for my mentor’s name, well, that’s just a funny coincidence for the immature among us.

My first meeting with the wonderful Poonam Bir Kasturi – designer, compostwalla and goofball
My first meeting with the wonderful Poonam Bir Kasturi – designer, compostwalla and goofball

Daily Dump’s mission is to provide solutions for households and communities to manage their waste in a decentralized manner. We offer a range of decorative terra-cotta composting products that make composting accessible to any urban dweller, regardless of whether they have a small terrace or a large garden. We also offer large-scale solutions for apartment complexes and corporations that are looking to manage their “wet waste” as a community on their premises. These products address a need that is rooted in the failure of Bangalore’s city government to effectively collect and process waste. The complacent citizenry that relies on this broken system exacerbates the problem. Our products represent an ideology and a practice that allows people to step outside of this system, all while producing healthy manure that can be used to grow their own plants and food. Unfortunately, it seems Daily Dump is paddling against an ever-rising tide, as many Bangaloreans choose to remain blind to the acute issue of waste that is crippling their urban environment.

An action shot of me demonstrating how to use the “Khamba,” our most popular product, to a potential customer
An action shot of me demonstrating how to use the “Khamba,” our most popular product, to a potential customer

As a Daily Dumpling, I am working on a project that will help the organization understand the psychology of Indian consumers and their misconceptions about waste. Specifically, I am trying to figure out how we can position ourselves to reach the people who are likely to adopt our product, and how to convert the complacent. Towards this aim, I have gone into our current customers’ homes to learn about their experience with our product, their consumer characteristics and their views on why our concept is such a hard sell in urban India today. I will save the findings from this research for another blog post. For now, suffice it to say that selling our product and cleaning up urban India is a matter of changing people’s perceptions of and behavior towards their own waste, as well as coordinating enforcement and efforts among local governments and waste organizations. Our challenges derive from working in the absence of consumer motivation and coordination between waste organizations and the government.

I am also leading the pilot of a mobile application called Recycle Guru, which brokers a relationship between informal waste workers and households in order to increase the value chains of the former. Like Daily Dump’s products, Recycle Guru promotes a decentralized framework that increases the capacity of the informal waste sector. This application has the potential to be an important innovation because it addresses two deficiencies of centralized waste management. On one hand, Bangalore’s size and infrastructure, among many other issues, make it nearly impossible to operate an effective centralized waste collection system. Therefore, it is critical to increase the effectiveness of the informal sector to collect and manage solid waste. On the other hand, many of the efforts to process recyclable waste end up crowding out the informal sector, which is more than 60,000 people strong in Bangalore. Instead, Recycle Guru is an attempt to increase the income and dignity of informal waste workers. The application will also help collect data on solid waste generation and disposal in Bangalore, which has erstwhile been under-collected and under-utilized. Despite its potential, there are many challenges to implementing Recycle Guru, such as mobilizing informal waste workers and changing society’s negative perception of the sector. These are some issues we will be working through as we continue to develop the structure and content of the application.

Outside of Daily Dump, I have been indulging in all that Bangalore has to offer, including its San Diego-like weather, lively social enterprise scene and many microbreweries. This is my third time in India and Bangalore is the third Indian metropolis that I have lived in. Much like in the other cities, I constantly feel like my senses are being harassed, and sometimes tickled, by the vibrancy of daily life. However, there is something special about Bangalore’s entrepreneurial spirit. Seemingly intractable challenges facing the city, such as waste management, are being looked at as opportunities for entrepreneurial innovation. I am lucky to be working for an organization that is a product of such a mindset and to be immersed in a broader ecosystem of creative problem solvers.

Michael spent his undergraduate years studying the dynamics and implications of

international development, focusing on the context of South Asia. He first traveled to India to intern with a logistics company in Mumbai, where he worked on setting operating procedures for a newly established free-trade and warehousing zone. Eager to engage with the country's development issues, Michael returned to India the following summer to pursue a research project on the politics of land acquisition and displacement in rural India. He utilized the three months of interviews that he collected from farmers, lawyers, activists and government officials to write his senior thesis, titled "Democracy & Displacement: Contesting Land Acquisition in India's National Capital Region". Outside of the classroom, Michael was a member of Brown's varsity swimming team. Michael is interested in exploring the role and impact of social enterprise in India's development space through his work as an AIF Fellow.

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2 thoughts on “The Dump

  1. Michael
    Collection of organic waste in a systemic manner is a key to renenergizing the top soil in India which has degraded through too much use of chemical fertilizers. As an advisor to one of India’s largest maker of organic fertilizers I know what a great challenge it poses because of a lack of centralized waste management process. But every little bit helps. Came across DD nearly 8/10 years ago as an innovative startup. Glad that it has sustained.
    But apart from a centralized process there also needs to be education of the citizenry about the need for waste management/ recycling. Indians are extremely difficult to organize even to act in their own enlightened self Interest. Reminds me of a story shared some time ago comparing China with India around the DD. Apparently in rural China the entire village moves systemically from one field to another for this purpose enriching the soil. As any train ride through the Indian countryside would testify that activity is totally disorganized like many things in India.
    Sridar

  2. Growing up we had a compost pile between our pet cemetery and the shed in which kept a weedwacker and random cans of petroleum products. It was a giant lump on the ground. Turning it was one of my childhood chores. You could smell that thing from like 50 feet away. We also had random piles around our ranch of head-high towers of horse poo and garden weeds. They stank to high heaven. Even as someone who grew up with a pretty comfortable relationship with waste and decomposition, I was highly skeptical about the practicality of urban compost. Wouldn’t a compost pile with a 50-foot stink-bomb radius mess with like 4 or 5 homes in a crowded place like Bangalore? Well, stink radius be damned, I am rocking the Dump’s Kumba. I have to say I am really surprised how well it works. We have 0 wet waste! This makes the job of the pickers much more dignified as they don’t have to sort through our soiled mess in order to get to the recyclables, and we are creating some really good looking fertilizer. Perhaps we have just become “those people” who have become way too used to the smell of their own compost, but I truly have not noticed. The neighbors haven’t complained, but I suppose they wouldn’t know why there has been a sudden spike in fruit flies around building 5.

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