Abhay Deshpande in talks with Han Zhang from Dow
In Focus

Dow Unlocks the Power of Circular Economy through Looped In

Team Recykal‘s Abhay Deshpande recently sat down with Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics‘ Han Zhang, PhD to discuss how big #tech is creating #sustainable solutions for the plastic waste problem in India, where 10,000 tons of waste goes uncollected every day. Here’s a transcript of the discussion.

Han Zhang

Hello everyone. I’m Han Zhang, Asia Pacific Sustainability Director, Packaging and Speciality Plastics at DOW.  In this episode of Looped in, we will be discussing how big tech is creating scalable solutions for the plastic waste problem in India where 10,000 tonnes of waste goes uncollected every day. To stop the waste we need to rethink plastics, not as waste, but as materials that are too valuable to be lost in the environment. With me today is Abhay Deshpande, Founder of Recykal, who is bringing the digital revolution to waste management and recycling.

Han Zhang

This is Looped In a conversation about unlocking the power of the circular economy. To start with can you tell us about yourself, what Recykal does and how you came up with the idea for it?

Abhay Deshpande

Thanks, Han for inviting me to this show. Just a background about myself. I’m a serial entrepreneur. This is my third venture. I have done two before in a digital space. I have earlier worked in e-commerce and in the retail space for a couple of years. After exiting my last venture in 2015, we were looking for the next big thing, the next big problem to be solved. And somewhere we feel that Waste management looks like a much bigger problem to solve, which has an impact on everyone’s life, whether it is an individual, whether it is business, everyone has a need for that.

Abhay Deshpande

As we started working on it and as we did more research on it, we realised that India is one of the largest waste generators and by 2030 I think, India will be the largest waste generator of plastic or any other waste. At the same time, India has a unique way of looking at waste. There is nothing called Waste in this country. Everything is raw material. There is the people who look at it as a value, they don’t really look at it as a waste. So looking at the Indian context, we wanted to build a business model and do something in that space where we can disrupt it using digital technology

Han Zhang

At Dow, we know solving the Plastic waste problem can’t happen without investment, innovative solutions and rethinking the traditional business model. That’s why we were proud to collaborate with you on Rethink+, a digital platform that encourages that consumers and businesses to capture value in plastic waste. So when we first met in India, you describe your idea. I didn’t tell you at the time. My first reaction was that you were trying to do something like what Amazon and Uber did to retail and the transportation sector.

Han Zhang

Do you think that you are doing something disruptive and how does Recykal reinvent waste management?

Abhay Deshpande

Yeah Han, actually, you’re absolutely right. What you said is that we are doing what Uber and Amazon have done in different spaces. So we are actually trying to build our digital approach and the digital platform is connecting the brand owners, generators, processors and recyclers in one place. And by doing that, we are able to really bring that traceability and more value to each stakeholder across the system. For example, the producer brands wanted to fulfil their EPR obligation that using our technology to fulfil it in real-time using our platforms. The same way a Bulk generator or aggregator can create a pick-up request on our platform which then can be picked up through our network of our partners and they get paid for that material through their digital technologies.

Abhay Deshpande

So I think by connecting all the stakeholders, we are basically creating the Uber or Amazon of trash for India.

Han Zhang

Would it be fair to say that Recykal is a platform company? You don’t own the waste across landfills or recycling factories? It’s a very complicated thing, right?

Abhay Deshpande

Yeah, So Han you are absolutely right. We are an asset-light model where we really don’t really own any of the assets. And what we are trying to do is connect these stakeholders who are actually doing the work already in the ecosystem. So by doing that, we are able to really connect the people who are generating the Waste or who are processing the waste, the Recyclers, directly and remove the unnecessary stakeholders to pass on the extra benefits to them from both sides. That’s one benefit we are putting on the table.

Abhay Deshpande

At the same time, we bring more transparency and traceability for each stakeholder, so they don’t have to delegate on that. The third thing basically is the quality of the material because the material is processed in our ecosystem ethically, and it is with complete traceability that brings extra benefits for all the stakeholders. In terms of challenges, multiple challenges, because the first challenge is the quality of the material. This is something because it is waste, it is processed at multiple places, multiple people do the job. So really getting consistent quality is a challenge and we actually brought in some technology solutions into that, digital as well as physical solutions into that to get the best quality material.  The second challenge, which we faced, is the industry’s completely informal industry and the people there are like the bottom of the pyramid so many times getting them to adopt technology is a challenge and that initially, we face that challenge a lot, but now thankfully we were able to solve that problem to some extent because we are able to provide them much better value to their material, naturally, they are getting driven by that. SO I think these are the challenges and the benefits which we bought into the ecosystem in the last couple of years.

Han Zhang

So we absolutely need to feel an ecosystem of innovation incentivize the marketplace to find a solution and open consumer minds to what’s possible. Abhay, there are quite a few companies trying to do similar things of digitising waste management. But I have to say that Recykal is one of the most successful companies in this space. What’s your secret? Can you tell us about the success you are seeing and the impact you are making?

Abhay Deshpande

So, there is no secret as such, Han. What we have done is we have spent the first two years of our journey in understanding each ecosystem player because we worked with kabadiwalas, we worked with recyclers, we really worked deeply with them. Understood their problems, understood their challenges and then created a solution for them. And I think that is one of the reasons our solutions getting more adoption across the ecosystem. In terms of the impact and in terms of the traction which we have got, we are almost working with 1000 plus Bulk generators, we are working with half a million consumers already were working with hundred plus recyclers. We are working with 500 plus aggregators and we are able to channelize almost 10,000 plus metric tons every month already. So last year we have done 75,000 to 85,000 metric tonnes already been channelized through our ecosystem. We are looking at 300,000 plus metric tons for this financial year, we just started. So we’re looking at the scale growing every year where 4 – 5x in terms of the impact which are creating on the Waste space and our vision is to channelize 2,000,000 metric tons of the plastic by 2025, which will effectively be 8 to 10% of the plastic generated in India Market.

Han Zhang

Recykal recently received the investment, of the Circulars Capital Ocean Fund The world’s first investment fund dedicated to addressing Asia’s plastic crisis. So would you tell us what this means to you and how are you going to use the fund?

Abhay Deshpande

I think Circulate investment definitely means a lot for us because they are the only fund that is focusing on solving the plastic problem across the South-East Asia region and their belief in us is something that gives us more confidence. So as far as the money, as I said, we are just channelizing 10,000 metric tons now and we’re aiming to go to 2,000,000 metric tons by 2025. So we need a lot of money in building that awareness,  building more stakeholders in the ecosystem, create that digital footprint and that money will be used for all these purposes to make the world and the company also grow around the 4-5x and then achieve the goals we have kept for ourselves.

Han Zhang

The Recykal team has created a scalable solution that has already achieved so much. Do you share what do you see happening next with a sustainable solution and what’s bringing you to hope for a more sustainable future?

Abhay Deshpande

I think Han, this is just the beginning. I think what we are started to seeing and COVID has really made people aware of sustainability. Most of the corporate consumers are really acting on it now. And I’m really hopeful that the world after 10 years will be completely different and all the digital footprint which we are creating and other people will create globally, will learn from each other and we have a more sustainable and more circular world in the coming year.

Han Zhang

Innovative recycling solutions like the work Recykal is doing in India, takes imagination and a long-term vision. With this mindset, companies can be empowered to design products for circularity and provide a new life for used plastics. Thank you very much, Abhay for joining us today. It’s a great business case on how technology can make recycling work. And I’m glad we had the opportunity to discuss it, so we look forward to recykal continuing the progress.

Abhay Deshpande

Thanks, Han, for inviting me to this programme. It is a pleasure.

Han Zhang

Thanks to everyone for watching. If you enjoy Looped In, you should check out our other episodes, including conversations with Suntory, Sealed Air and many others. You can find them at dow.com/loopedin. Thanks again for joining us.

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