City's waste lights up Arunachal

“I often think about waste, especially when I leave urban environments. But we decided to work on electronic waste after a unique interaction with an auto driver,” explained Rajiv Rathod, co-founder of The Batti Project.

In 2014, Rathod was sitting in an auto having a heated discussion with Merwyn Coutinho, his fellow co-founder on fundraising efforts for their nonprofit. The Batti Project started after Rathod and Coutinho spent months in Arunachal Pradesh, and later were asked to help provide light by the communities they stayed with.

“We were discussing project funds and when I got off the phone the driver spoke to me about the project. He was happy that young people were trying to help others, and wanted to be involved, but didn’t have money to give us. He said that if I ever needed a ride somewhere, I could count on him.

“I realised how exclusive charity can even be, and how it limits your ability to engage with people. If you don’t have disposable income, you are excluded from helping others. But everyone has an old phone or an old charger to give.”

Simple model

From there, the idea to collect electronic waste was developed as a means to raise awareness and funds for The Batti Project, and reduce e-waste in landfills. The model is simple: collect e-waste from homes across Bengaluru, work with a responsible recycling partner, and invest the money into solar home systems for families in Arunachal.

“The Batti Project happened very organically. We were responding to a request from the people in AP and were struggling to raise the funds,” said Coutinho.

“So when Rajiv and I discussed the idea, it was clear from the beginning that this idea would work. Our goal is to connect people, and now we have the ability to reach two different spectrums of society by shining light on waste issues,” he added.

Electronic waste is dangerous because of heavy metals found in the devices leaching into soil and water.

According to a 2012 study, The Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge, by the International Labour Organisation, “Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is currently the largest growing waste stream. It is hazardous, complex and expensive to treat in an environmentally sound manner, and there is a general lack of legislation or enforcement surrounding it.”

E-waste in India

According to the 2016 Assocham-KPMG study, India has emerged as the world’s fifth largest e-waste producer, ‘discarding roughly 18.5 lakh metric tonnes of electronic waste each year. With more than 100 crore mobile phones in circulation, nearly 25% end up as e-waste annually.’

In 2016, the Central Pollution Control Board revised the electronic waste rules with more detailed guidelines for e-waste producers, manufacturers and importers. It called for collection points in cities, and more rules on how to handle e-waste.

Currently, segregation is often done by the informal sector which do not have the right equipment nor are not trained in safe ways to process the waste, leading to sickness for workers.

The Batti Project has been reaching out to local citizens through events and associations to spread the message. Nithya Reddy and Ashima Chander, of Citizens for Welfare Association (CWA) of Richmond and Langford Town decided to work with The Batti Project, collecting 500 kg of e-waste in one week.

Reddy explained, “As citizens, we need to step in and help organise our garbage systems. The CWA came together as a community to create change and even the BBMP noticed that we had staying power.”

Chander added, “We’re generating more waste than ever before. I’m concerned about where all our waste goes. We were having waste segregation sessions, and came across Batti’s work. They stood out because they are working in waste with a holistic solution. After collecting waste, they take the money and reinvest it for social good. To me that’s an end to end thought process.”

The Batti Project team is certain that waste is an opportunity for them, and for those in both urban and rural areas. “If we can collect 2,000 tonnes of e-waste, we can light up 10,000 homes,” Rathod concluded.

“Going door to door gives us the chance to connect with people about sustainability, encourage them to continue their efforts, and tell them that they are making a difference.”

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