RVM Recycle Pvt Ltd, the brainchild of Rishabh Agarwal, Prateek Mittal, and Nimish Gupta, is a unique company that uses smart bins to recycle PET bottles. Launched in Delhi, the initiative is all set to reinforce Zeleno, its brand by setting up 100 odd smart bins by the end of 2018 in North India Region.
By Kavitha Srinivasa
Gaurav Joshi, a professional working in a commercial vehicle manufacturing company has earned a discount at his favourite bookshop by merely recycling a PET bottle. Instead of throwing it into the regular trash dustbin, he has put it into a reverse vending machine (RVM) and it has fetched him brownie points. Joshi, taken by surprise, shared the experience, “It’s easy, it’s simple and it’s interactive. Never thought that recycling could be so much fun, just three steps in 30 seconds, and I earned a discount at my favourite bookshop.”
This is a small but seminal change. Outwardly, it’s difficult to find a connection between a discount coupon and PET bottle. Seen objectively, both the individuals and the bin have a symbiotic relationship. The individuals put their bottles into the bin, which in turn, dole out freebies.
When Social App Hub took a closer look, we realized here is a story waiting to be explored. RVMs branded as Zeleno are innovative recycling products, which are the first of their kind to be introduced in India. Rishabh Agarwal, Prateek Mittal, and Nimish Gupta have co-founded the company RVM Recycle Pvt Ltd, whose brand Zeleno is slowly making the rounds in parts of Delhi-NCR, Uttar Pradesh and few other north India regions.
The PET journey goes back to days when Rishabh Agarwal, Prateek Mittal, and Nimish Gupta were studying management at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. What is common to them is their desire to do something on their own and the fact that they come from business families. Putting aside these commonalities, as students, the trio visited Kellogg business school, Chicago. As part of the management program curriculum.
The Smart disposable machines installed at petrol pumps caught their attention. It may have been a fleeting moment, but the thought lingered on. Back on the home turf, the image of smart disposable machines reoccurred and this time, it opened up many ideas. A couple of brainstorming sessions established the fact that technology and trash can come together to address a societal problem. Though at that time, they didn’t have much clarity on it, they knew that trash could be put to some good use.
As young students the team was trying to figure out a common link between technology and trash, however, at the back of their mind, it also occurred to them that they could perhaps pursue this line of thinking and make it ‘their’ venture. It wasn’t clear then, so the concept had to go through several discussions. During one such discussion, the trio got to know that the word Zeleno probably symbolized ‘green’ in parts of the western world. The name clicked and the brand came to be christened as Zeleno. The idea may have fallen into place, but executing it wasn’t so simple. “Zeleno was started as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission with an idea to involve everyone in Recycling. Recycling with Zeleno is fun and rewarding, we hope to bring in a major behavioural change in the minds of people towards recycling,” said Prateek Mittal, Co-Founder, and Director.
A deep understanding of the market, networking with thought leaders, industry experts and technology giants finally shed light on the situation and they arrived at their ‘PET’ venture. Six months later, they created Zeleno, whose bottom-line being ‘Throw Trash. Save Cash.’
The company’s initiation also aligned with the fact that some of the faculty members at ISB had ingrained thoughts in their mind that they should try to use their education and skills to give back something to society.
Though the company was registered in June 2016, the first machine was formally inaugurated in December 2016 by the honourable vice-president of India, Shri Venkaiah Naidu Ji, prior to the launch, six months were spent in piloting the project in different parts of Lucknow and Delhi-NCR. This helped them whet the market where it was well received. In order to make people responsible for the environment, the core team has decided to incentivize the service. Reward-based recycling is the USP — users can dispose the PET bottles and in return — get rewards in the form of coupons, cash back offerings and e-money for helping in saving the environment.
In the present set up the coupons can be availed in bookshops, food stalls, and apparel stores, which are in the vicinity of the smart bin.
Coming from a business background, the trio has made the recycling model into a business venture that serves a social purpose.
Reverse vending machines (RVM) cuts across all barriers as individuals begin to slowly drop their PET bottles into it. No doubt public places have throw-away bins, but an RVM that is meant to recycle plastic PET bottles and aluminium and steel cans draw home the fact that this is an exercise for civic consciousness.
It looks like any vending machine, but it has driven home the fact that recycling PET bottles are good for the environment — simply put — it makes the air we breathe less toxic. Slowly the ‘I’ is becoming ‘We’ as people are collectively beginning to realize the need for carbon and toxic free surroundings and are willing to take responsibility for this through this initiative.
Growing awareness among consumers and the need for a clean environment has led to the acceptance of the concept. The most happening hub is where people less than 25 years of age throng. This NextGen crowd tends to consume coke, which is available in aluminium tin cans. “Among all locations that we are present in, Connaught Place in Delhi has the highest footfall, about 25,000 per day. In this area our bins easily cycle around 150 to 200 bottles in a day,” observed Rishabh Agarwal, Co-Founder, and Director. Technology is at the heart of this realization.
Each RVM has a digital screen. Users open the door of the smart bin and they drop in the bottle by following the basic commands on the touchscreen. Sensors detect the aluminium and scan the bottles. The details of the PET and aluminium bottles are then tallied with the database and then it is passed through the conveyor belt.
After inserting the bottles, users can choose from the basket of reward options available on the screen. The machine then prints the receipt, which can be subsequently redeemed at the specific outlet. The RVMs and individuals share a symbiotic relationship, RVMs recycle the PET bottles, and in turn, individuals are rewarded for their gesture. “I was amazed to see that PET bottles can give you rewards. It is one such initiative that could unite the whole country to promote recycling. I believe this project will not only clean India but also spread happiness. Wonderful initiative, a Wonderful team,” said PC Joshi, Secretary-General, PET Packaging Association for Clean Environment.
Unless you incentivize, it’s difficult to bring a change and this is a human tendency. This is something the founders had understood. “Zeleno aims to make the recycling supply chain efficient by incentivizing public with the support of Government agencies. We have a vision of installing 6000 machines reverse vending machines on a PAN-India basis in a span of 5 years,” highlighted Nimish Gupta, Co-Founder, and Director.
This is how consumers of PET bottles (like you and me) and even the rag pickers take home a token for putting such bottles into the smart bin. To break down the process, rag pickers collect bottles thrown carelessly on footpaths and street corners and put it into the bins. As of now, they collect points, which can then be redeemed for cash. At the other end, the company has partnered with recycling units that collect the trash from the bins. “The server is controlled in Lucknow, where I’m based. When the volume of trash swells up and the bins are nearly 80% full, it sends out a red alert. I then know it’s time for the recyclers to spring into action,” said Agarwal. In order to strengthen the supply chain and simplify processes, the entrepreneurs are working on Mobile-Wallets. The Smartphone app is another aspect that the company is focusing on, and this will be tied up with Mobile-Wallets, Paytm and Aadhaar Wallets. With the mobile platform on, rag pickers can redeem cash points through the mobile. E-wallet money and free Wi-Fi access will be added shortly.
The crux of the matter is to make India clean. Though this is a young initiative, it has already grabbed eyeballs and brought the brand into contact with the right place. “We were given a subscription of 10,000 USD for two years for Amazon Cloud Services, as part of NASSCOM Accelerator Program and also got selected Startup India Program,” explained Agarwal and added, “Our backend operations are on Amazon cloud and on the front end we work on Android. However, going forward we will be moving to Linux shortly. Linux being an open source technology, it offers users a wide range of options along with increased security.”
Apart from this subscription, the founders have themselves funded their company. As part of their upcoming funding strategy, the founders plan to approach venture capitalists.
The smart bin also doubles up as a platform for advertisers to showcase their campaign and position themselves as part of the green brigade. The LCD display panels of the RVM provide advertising space in the form of either rotating or static or video slots. This drastically reduces the carbon footprint of more traditional advertising while remaining cost effective and highly visible.
A word-of-mouth publicity and the social media have given the brand a certain amount of visibility and acceptance in the eyes of the public and in the government corridors as well. However, in order to go mainstream cost-effective measures will need to be in place. For instance, each machine costs around Rs 4.5 lakh + Taxes as some of its parts are imported and assembled here. Sensing a business opportunity, the founders want to upgrade the system to lower the cost. A further step in this direction is to manufacture the machines in the domestic market. This forthcoming project will go in line with Make in India as envisioned by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Coming from business homes, it’s not very difficult to set up a manufacturing plant in Delhi or even in Lucknow. We ourselves can make our machines, install it in various public places and if a need arises, even take care of the recycling part of it,” reasoned Agarwal.
As of now, there are around 22-23 smart bins in parts of North India This will increase to around 100 bins this year, Delhi alone, Agarwal pointed out can accommodate easily over 500 bins in its metro stations and malls. Many such bins will be installed in Delhi under the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), North Delhi and South Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Going ahead, the forthcoming agenda extends to the airports. Given the fact that the Delhi airport ranks among India’s busiest, the Zeleno team has Delhi International Airport (P) Limited (DIAL) on its radar. Other than that, the accent is also on tourist spots like Rajasthan, Agra, Varanasi, and Lucknow. Besides airport, the company wants to monetize in railway and bus stations, apart from metro stations. The company has had talks with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (DMRC).
“As a long-term measure, we would like to create scalable replicable smart machines that can find users anywhere in the world. That’s because we have got queries from overseas. Parts of the US, Mexico, Singapore, Dubai and Africa have shown interest in our venture,” summed up Agarwal.
Besides public places like malls, whose garbage bins are prone to coke bottles, such smart bins are also suited for schools. Here it may not be so much an incentive driven initiative, but it’s more to do with the fact that the bins will help inculcate civic responsibility among children as they grow up.
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