Bangalore Waste Report

You know how they say it at the Gym – “No pain. No gain.” The same almost applies everywhere. Think of a city. For a city to grow or flourish in one way, it suffers some other way.

Bangalore, India used to be known as the ‘Garden city’ in the 90s. It used to be a great place with huge parks, big roads and amazing weather. It’s still one of the best cities to live in the country. But things have changed. In the last two decades, the growth of information technology and services brought a sort of economic boom to the city of Bangalore which led to a sudden surge of the population because of migrant workforce in the city. But this also had its side effects on the city. The expansion of the city couldn’t be planned very well and happened without proper provisioning for infrastructure & public services. As a result, the city’s problems like traffic on the streets, foaming lakes and garbage started getting bigger.

Now, let’s focus on Garbage or just Waste.

Bangalore generates close to 6500 Metric tonnes of trash at a rate of ~0.6 KG/Capita on a daily basis. Roughly 64% of that is biodegradable, wet waste.

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Source: Multiple news reports

But do you know what happens to the trash once you put it in the bin?

It’s one complicated system that handles trash all the way from households to recycling or landfills. Let’s look at it step by step.

1. Collection

In some parts of Bangalore, the Pourakarmikas(municipal waste workers) employed by BBMP do door to door collection on a daily basis. In others, the same process is outsourced to contractors. The ratio is roughly 30:70.
It’s been made mandatory by the BBMP to segregate waste at the household level into dry and wet waste. But the adoption is very low. In some localities, the pourakarmikas don’t pick the waste unless it’s segregated.
The pourakarmikas use a waste collection autorickshaw(one per 1000 households) or a handcart(one per 200 households) and bring all of these waste to a collection point or in some neighbourhoods, a processing centre. The collection point is where the garbage is loaded from smaller rickshaws and handcarts to bigger trucks and compactors. They also sweep/collect waste from streets and public bins.


The pourakarmikas don’t  have much safety equipment or protective gear throughout the whole process. Some organisations have worked to improve the working conditions of the pourakarmikas but it’s a huge task. A study on purakarmikas shows some light on who actually these people are. 90% of them are SC, ST or backward castes, 38% are illiterate(another 32% who dropped out of primary school) and 50% are women.

2. Processing

The govt set up 14 waste processing centres in and around the city starting in 2012. Some of these were based on a PPP model and some based on a micro-entrepreneurship model. In addition to segregation and recycling, some of them even had biogas plants(Eg: Jayanagar).
This was a great initiative but not really self-sustainable. Some of these centres have been shut. Now some of them have started to work again.

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But there’s a bigger, unorganised sector working in this space that helps recover much more from the waste generated. This involves ragpickers, local scrap dealers, agents and recycling companies. The flow of trash, in this case, is roughly a) Recyclable trash is picked up from streets/landfills by landfills and from households and industries by scrap dealers who then sell this to recycling companies with the help of agents. The ragpickers are mostly migrant labour and their living and working conditions are much worse. They are mostly organised on the outer parts of the city with a huge number of them near Hebbal. The scarp dealers and smaller recyclers are around Jolly Mohalla and Nayandanahalli.

3. Disposal

Most of this work in the night. Hundreds of trucks and compactors from the city head towards landfills where they wait in a queue to dump all the trash. Some landfills are owned & operated by the government and some by PPP. Some have waste-energy incinerators and grade separators that separate composted food and organic stuff from the landfill waste. The landfills have had some terrible effects on soil, farmlands and water sources around them. This has historically led to a lot of opposition by neighbouring villages resulting in the closure of some landfills and creation of newer ones.

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However, there’s some waste handled outside of this system. For eg, some food waste from restaurants is sent to piggeries and medical waste is separately collected from hospitals and incinerated by specific industrial incinerators etc.


 

Now that we know there’s a system in place and how it works, let’s look at what’s making it fail and what’s helping it work.

Garbage dumps 

Some neighbourhoods and households don’t have access to a collection system at their doorstep. These guys tend to dump their garbage at the collection points. This makes the collection points super dirty throughout the day. In some localities, people and even garbage contractors tend to dump it on empty plots or roads that don’t have any houses or shops etc and sometimes on unused pavements next to large school/industrial plots. These are a bigger mess. Most of it is burnt just to make space of new trash.

Cleanups

Many organisations have been working on cleanup drives and awareness. But ‘The Ugly Indian’ and the Rising movement (Bangalore Rising, Whitefield Rising etc) kind of brought people together and work on such problems with some interesting approaches. For eg, the maroon and white painted walls after cleanups. This is everywhere an is somehow connected to this movement. Here’s an interesting TED talk from the Ugly Indian.

Organisations working on Waste 

There are some organisations promoting composting and helping to make with simple solutions for composting or recycling. Eg: DailyDump(Composting), Citizengage(technology for waste collection), Saahas(Consulting, Waste Solutions), Hasirudala(Pourakarmikas), 2bin1bag(awareness) etc. But there is just so much more of the city to reach.

The IISc also organises a yearly hackathon called ReImagine Waste focusing on building tech-based solutions for the waste problem.

Govt Initiatives

The Karnataka Govt and BBMP have taken some additional measures to tackle this. There have been projects and policies like decentralised processing centre, mandating composting for residential/commercial complex and apartments(large-scale producers), mandating source segregation, ban on plastics below 40 microns etc. But the effectiveness of all these is very low.

For eg, only 45% of the waste is segregated. There are fines specified for those who don’t segregate their waste. But it just doesn’t work!

Consumption, Awareness & Motivation

No matter how much waste management is done, the bigger problem is unchecked consumption. Just to give an example, the food-tech industry has contributed to more and more plastic etc packaging material in the trash. One, there’s more plastic to process and two, it’s hard to segregate containers and plastic bags with leftovers in them. A lot of this can be reduced but the ad campaigns and flashy discounts attract the consumers better than the idea of a sustainable lifestyle.

If you go on the streets and talk to people, you’ll notice most of them are educated, aware of the situation but not just motivated enough to do something about the problem. But with all these efforts by individuals, organisations and the government, there’s just hope that someday the situation might get better.

 

 

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Adespresso: Faster Scaling, Better Insights for FB Campaigns

My everyday work involves a lot of data-driven Marketing. I end up using a lot of tools for all this work. Sometimes I’m selling hotel rooms or getting architects to try out a new design software and sometimes I’m selling business workshops for senior management. But mostly, I sell T-Shirts. In all these cases, advertising is online is one of the most basic things I do. It’s important for me to get the right message to the right audience. But just like everyone else, I’m not always sure of what’s the right message or who’s the right audience.

Enter Adespresso.

At one point in time, I was handling Facebook ad campaigns for 4 different companies through 2 ad accounts. It wasn’t easy creating so many advert sets, ad copies, A/B testing and still not getting the right combination. I discovered Adespresso mainly through online reviews and growth marketing forums. I decided to try the 14-day free trial. I used it to create and optimise some campaigns spending about 100$ with campaign budgets as low as $1 per day.

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Pros

  • Perfect for A/B testing: Adespresso lets you create all possible permutations and combinations of adverts using different creatives, copies for different target audience. If you try to do this manually it might take days.
  • Simple dashboard with an overview to understand how good the campaigns are performing. The graph helps understand a lot of things quickly compared to Facebook’s tables.
  • The dashboard also gives great insights on the audience – based on age, location, device, gender, time of the day etc for specific conversion goals. This helps a lot in figuring out what targeting works the best – without digging through a lot of data.
  • The campaign summaries are great. You get to see the best and worst performing ads and interests targeted.
  • The community/forum – Adespresso university is a great place to get help and understand the platform better.
  • You can set a daily budget for less than the $5 base(on Facebook). As low as $1 per campaign per day.
  • The support is quick and very responsive.

Cons

  • Adespresso does support Instagram and Messenger destination ads but not all features are enabled. Instagram story ads are not available. Also, it doesn’t support structured JSON for Messenger destination ads which lead to maximum conversion.
  • The auto optimisation sounds fancy but doesn’t work that great. It might sometimes take a wrong judgement and stop some well-performing ads. The conversion goals are not specific to the kind of campaign and hence some of the analysis might not be apt for all campaigns.
  • Bulk creation of ads is possible but bulk editing isn’t. You can’t edit/change a creative/link in bulk. It’s hard to even understand how the advert sets are structured on Facebook.
  • The Adespresso dashboard is simple & less complicated but not as powerful as the Facebook dashboard.

It’s very useful for a company/start-up spending lots of time(more valuable than money) on Facebook ads. My free trial ends today and I’ve decided not to go ahead at least for now. I will, however, reconsider the decision if and when they start supporting Instagram story ads and structured JSON for Messenger destination ads. But even then, I won’t be too sure of the auto optimisation part. Facebook is adding new features for advertisers every day and I understand it’s hard for a product like Adespresso to keep up with this pace.

It’s a great tool for you if you run a lot of generic ad campaigns. By generic, I mean something generic goal like driving traffic to your website or page likes.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

10 years of startups and tech Entrepreneurship

How did tech entrepreneurship become mainstream in the last 10 years? What led to explosive growth of tech startups? Was it the abundance of VC money or was it the spirit of Entrepreneurship? I tried answering this on Quora.

The last 10 years of startups worldwide is influenced by a) the expanding reach of the internet through mobile devices b) tech advancements.

The internet now has reached to almost every corner of the world making it easier to scale a business that’s built on the internet. This started to happen in the late 90s but wasn’t very successful back then. A lot of VCs lost their money in what was called dot-com bubble. Most of this happened due to the ‘growth over profitability’ mentality. Things didn’t work that well back then because of limited reach and access internet. But things changed in a few years,

  1. Mobile internet became mainstream
  2. The phone became a multi-gadget with camera, music, GPS etc
  3. The survivors of the dot-com bubble and post-bubble companies became platforms or enablers for the new age startups – Amazon, Facebook, Google etc.
  4. Faster, flexible networks around the world – 2g to 3g to 4g all around the world
  5. The middle class or the mass consumers got comfortable with the internet
  6. Business policies got liberal and global expansion became easier
  7. Banks evolved, payment gateways came in – making it easier for people to actually perform transactions online
  8. The world started discovering new stuff – like APIs, tools built by internet companies, growth hacks etc
  9. We also advanced in hardware, education and business policies
  10. Venture capital started flowing and Unicorns were born making it a dream for lots of tech folks to be a unicorn entrepreneur.

Then the world thought, let’s do it. Let’s build a Unicorn. And in a way, what we call the 4th industrial revolution or the digital revolution began and started spreading around the world.

Three simple parameters to choose the best job

Let’s start with the basics — Why do you need a job? Why does one need to work? Common responses would be money, learning, people, growth. Man can’t live without working. We either for ourselves, our farms or businesses or some of us get a job working for others(organizations or individuals). Most of us in today’s urban world need a job to survive.

So how does one decide on a job? The basics — the skills that you have and the skills you want to learn, things you can perform and want to perform, your focus area(s), the places you want to travel to or live in, your goals and ambitions and the money you want to make etc. There’s more. The 3 most important parameters I’d say.

Positive Contribution to the world

This is the first most important parameter to anyone considering a job. I’ve pinned this tweet on my twitter profile.

You’re never getting younger. You’re at the best of health. Stay fit. Stay focused. Keep up the pace & contribute positively to the world. Our time on this planet is short, we need to make the most of it, leave a positive mark behind.

I’m not asking you to take up a job in the social sector — to go work with a non profit in Africa or rural India, that would be much better though. Positive contribution in this context means something that’ll help make the planet a better place. If you’re building technology, build something that’ll make lives better or businesses work better. If you’re in marketing, do it for the right product or service. If you’re consulting, help companies do the right business.

I’ll give you an example. I once worked with a technology company that focused on banking products. I was mainly working with banks in south-east Asia and Africa, helping them run their business with better tech. There was good money in this job and I was contributing positively to the world. Later, I moved to another job, here I was helping my company sell their product to major outsourcing companies around the world. The problem was that the product wasn’t really good enough. We had to sell it with a hundred lies and I’m not really sure it helped these companies do business better. Here, I wasn’t contributing positively to the world.

It’s plain and simple. The jobs that contribute positively to the world will stay. Also, they give you better job satisfaction.

Working with the leaders

There are leaders within every industry. All of them need not be famous. But they lead in their own way. Some might have a technology vision, some might work in a different way, some of them might want to change the world or the way we do business etc. No matter how small or big, every leader makes an impact. Working with such leaders will help you learn a lot of things. It’ll help you gain expertise in your industry, get exposure to areas other than your job role and improve your habits and skills at a personal level.

Every boss or manager is not a leader. The store manager at the supermarket might not be a leader but a street vendor selling lemonades could be one. There’s no definition to identify the right leaders to work with; but you’ll know the difference when you start working with them. Leaders have big aspirations for themselves and their team members and they work hard to achieve these. The leaders inspire people who work with them. They influence your habits, thought process and lifestyle. Working with such leaders will help you become one.

Disruption

Disruption — one of the most overly abused words of this generation. Everyone talks about it; but few actually get it. Disruption in any industry is a process where a company uses new/different business models or products or services to meet the unmet needs of the market, thus hugely impacting the way entire business works. There are always examples of disruption in every industry. For example Netflix disrupted the movie rental industry; Apple disrupted personal computers and mobile phones; Uber(debatably) disrupted the taxi industry. The point is — you can build a better career working in a company/industry that’s disrupting than the ones that are getting disrupted.

In the early 2000s, technology started disrupting banking in India. The bank employees unions were against the computerization of the banks. They feared computers would take away their jobs. My father led one such union. In one of the meetings they had with the management, the General Manager of the bank explained it to them using the theory of ‘Paradigm shift’ saying – “If we don’t adapt, we won’t survive.” My father has been keen on me taking working with industries/companies leading such ‘Paradigm Shift’ ever since. I simply like to call it the Disruptors — the industries or organization leading the change.

I don’t need to say further on how this will help you build a better career. Your job might get disrupted or you might be on the forefront of the disruption. It’s up to you! But if you’re in an industry or company that’s leading the disruption, you will for sure have multiple opportunities to grow.

My current job doesn’t really fit in any of the three parameters plus there’s not much learning opportunity in my focus areas. The only good thing about this job — Money! I zeroed down on these parameters when I decided to start job hunting. It has just begun, let’s see how it ends.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on twitter for more interesting stories. 

Urban Mobility: Trends, Challenges, Opportunities

Growing urban population and rapidly growing cities in emerging countries has given rise to a lot of problems and hence opportunities in the urban mobility space. For entrepreneurs and policy makers, these growing trends present challenges that need immediate action and solution. The biggest problems in urban mobility today are affordable public transport, traffic management, enabling multi modal transport and ensuring a safe commute for everyone.

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Image: New Delhi, 2014

 

If we take a closer look at the urban transport landscape, we understand that it’s quite a complex and diverse system. The focus of urban planners or designers in such a system is always based on certain trends. For example, if we look at Bangalore, the key focus of urban planners twenty years back was to build bigger roads and fly overs so as to accommodate more cars on roads. Then about ten years back, the focus shifted to establishing mass transit systems like the metro and sub urban rail. Recent trends show us that the focus of today’s planners is towards pedestrians and cyclists. We’ve seen roads becoming smaller and pedestrian foot paths getting bigger. We’re seeing the growth in the number of pedestrian over bridges and separate lane for cyclists. Present day trends especially the one’s from Europe suggest that the future might be car-free neighborhoods, more affordable and sustainable public transport and even massive bike sharing systems across the city.

It get’s even better when we talk of the massive businesses that can be based on these challenges of urban transport. Hailing a taxi today has become easier and more affordable and it’s also providing better livelihood options to many. It’s usually one idea that’s executed well in the west that is later copied, adapted or brought here to India. We’ve just begun exploring wide range of possibilities provided by such big operations. Today, using similar processes we’re achieving better logistics and delivery of food, groceries etc.

It’s not always easy to adapt an idea and bring it efficiently to India. Mass transit and bus services similar to Leaptransit or Bridj could work in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad etc. But the laws involved and the permissions required are quite complicated. Such opportunities are also not limited to private entrepreneurs, government corporations could also take an initiative, provide such services and add another strong revenue stream. For example, the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation started a taxi aggregator service for airport service.

There are a few companies that try to do something in this space but are either ahead of their time or are not executing well. Bike sharing systems have been introduced a few years back and are yet to gain traction. May be the infrastructure, the mindset is not ready yet. Similarly, Bla Bla Car hasn’t been able to gain as much attention as Zoomcar, may be because people feel it’s not safe or just because they’re shy and do not want to share a car.

However, the future looks bright. More population in cities, more complex transport systems and more challenges for the Government and Entrepreneurs to solve.

Yo! What’s your problem?

That's not offending here because everyone is either working on a social or a business problem. All this as a part of our curriculum, we study design thinking, problem solving etc. This is a precis I had written on one of the problems I am working on. Posting it here for the good of the world!

Problem: Balancing the Bike Sharing System

We have bike sharing systems everywhere. These systems mainy allow people to rent/share/use bicycles in a defined space. These could be on campusses, work areas, SEZs or even certain areas of a city or a town. Usually there are stations from where the user can pick up a bike to travel to another station where he can drop it. Some of these bike sharing systems are free and some are paid. The major challenge in maintaining such bike sharing systems is to balance them or to make sure every user gets a bike when they need one. However, this challenge can be overcome upto some extent in bike sharing systems that require a payment or authorization from the user. Here, there is some data available on the no of bikes at different stations, who takes it and where they drop them. This data can help create a lot of patterns on bike usage based on weather, locality, person, events etc. Though this doesn’t solve the problem, there’s at least more data that can be used to create a solution.
But in case of Bike sharing systems which are free to use, there’s no data available and extracting this data using sensors can be expensive. In most of these systems basic data like the no of people using this system on a regular basis is also not available. This makes the problem more complicated. This exact problem is seen in the bike sharing system we have on our campus.
The bike sharing system on our campus is not completely balanced. At a point of time. nearly 100 bikes are in use through 5 bike stations. Out of these 5 stations, some always have insuffiecient or no bikes at all and some have too many at certain points of time in a day. The stations being linear makes the solution of finding a bike at a near by station also not feasible. If we can get more data on availability of bikes at stations, patterns can be analyzed based on weather, terrain, schedule etc giving more options to optimize the system may be by restricting the routes, or by setting up more stations or even physically transporting bikes from surplus stations to defecit stations.
What’s the most economical way to solve this problem? Can this problem be solved without collecting bike data?