“Trash can be cashed”

IIM-B student, Amrendra Kumar is confident that if recycling is monetised, people will be motivated to take it up.

Amrendra Kumar, a twenty nine year old Ph.D student of Public Policy at IIM Bangalore stunned the audience at a conference on "Integrated Solid Waste Management- Waste Generated v/s Managed" at Municipalika 2011 by claiming that within a year he could make India as clean as Switzerland.  A native of Patna, Bihar, Amrendra completed an integrated degree in Physics from IIT-Kanpur and is been pursuing his Ph.D at IIM-B. Branding himself a "missionary", he wants to clean up India through his organisation Clean Credit, which believes that "Cash is Trash".

Amrendra lays out his plans for a clean India in a conversation with Citizen Matters and how it might just work if the government and companies that use plastic extensively as containers for selling their products support the idea.

Firstly, you stunned everyone in the audience with your claims. Do you not feel it is a little far-fetched idea to claim you can make India as clean as Switzerland within a year?

It is true that the claim seems outlandish but it is a vision and I honestly believe it can be accomplished if there is enough cooperation. If not within a year, it can definitely be done in a few years.

How do you plan pull off this mammoth task of cleaning up the country?

I aim to do this through Clean Credit, a unique litter control and Solid Waste Management System. Every piece of material that has the potential of being littered such as polythene bags, pet bottles, paper cups and plates, aluminum cans and tetra-packs will have a "clean credit" mark which is easily recognisable. Tagging is necessary because it identifies the third-party that undertakes collection of waste and also because it would enable us to distinguish between genuine and fake products since, companies will be using our tags.

Each tag has a rupee value demarcated, which signifies the residual value of the package. The marked trash can be exchanged for money at the deposit centre, which will be any retail store. The empty package can be redeemed by the consumer themselves or if they litter it, it can be redeemed by any third party picking it up. Thus I am creating a reverse supply chain where the trash will be collected by the shopkeeper, which will then be picked up by designated collectors from my organization, compacted and forwarded to recycle centres.

If companies do not accept responsibility, we will try to persuade them through campaigns. They can reject my organisation but not the idea because they are already doing it in many countries.

What is the incentive for a shopkeeper to accept trash?

Through Clean Credit, a monetary value is infused in litter. The "clean credit" stamp is sold to companies for Rs 1.5 which they will then affix on each container. Rs.1 will be redeemed by the customer, the shopkeeper will get a commission of twenty paise per container and the rest will be used by me for operational purposes. I have not spoken to any shopkeeper yet but I am hoping they will endorse it as they can gain financially too.

How did you come up with this idea?

I chanced upon this idea during the Common Wealth Games that took place in Delhi in 2010. While the rest of the world was talking about how dirty the venue was, we were only concentrating on corruption scandals. Nobody was paying attention the filth in the country. It was a national shame. Recycling is not the problem but the flow of trash for recycling is a problem as no attention is paid to it. Also, have we ever seen stacks of old newspapers or beer bottles lying around? No, because they can be resold. They have a monetary value attached to it. Regrettably, majority of India is lacking in civic sense and we always look for any financial incentive before doing anything.

The concept is not new as it is actually done in 15 countries around the globe including Germany because they believe companies that create trash are responsible for it. Although this is being done only for pet bottles, glass bottles and aluminum cans. Third parties are doing the recycling, as it might not be viable for individual companies to segregate trash from hundreds of locations and recycle them. If the same company can accept responsibility in one country, then why not in another? India deserves to be clean as much as any other country.

Have you tried this on a pilot basis anywhere?

Yes. I tried this on a pilot basis during IIM-B inter-collegiate fest Vista, in October 2010 and during Unmaad in January this year. I affixed a "clean credit" stamp on pet bottles, plastic covers before they were sold. For the three days fest went on, the campus was spotless as there was no litter anywhere because people redeemed the money and threw away the trash in designated trash cans. Maintenance staff also made money by redeeming any trash in case it was littered. This showed that if a monetary value is attached to anything, people respond more readily.

Why should companies support this initiative?

Apart from the fact that it is their responsibility, they can generate immense goodwill among the public if they endorse the idea. Environmentally conscious consumers will definitely endorse a company that is green over another which is not. I am asking people to upload pictures of branded trash (trash of major soft drink, mineral water and other companies) on the Facebook page so that companies will take notice of how trash is being created and how they are damaging the environment.

Do you think people will come forward for such an initiative? Won’t they be cost sensitive?

I think they will. If not a large majority, even a substantial minority which is environment conscious can influence companies to endorse this idea. We will try it on premium products like soft drinks or bottled water first and a minimal increase of Rs.1 will not be a burden on most consumers. They will eventually get back the money so they have nothing to lose.

What is the way for Clean Credit next? How will you try and implement this now?

Several Municipal Commissioners and Mayors who attended the conference have invited me to their districts to implement this on a small level. I am also working with the IPL Royal Challengers Bangalore – Go Green initiative to see if the concept of clean credit can be implemented in match venues in Bangalore during the 2011 Indian Premier League. Once the concept and its viability is demonstrated in various places and enough awareness is generated, I hope people and the government press for a policy change and make companies responsible for the trash created.

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