A visionary and an environmentally-conscious cricketer shares with us how their non-profit has helped Mumbai recycle
Dr Smita Birkar (right) and Sachchidanand Chaturvedi with the EPS melter-compactor that recycles thermocol
They called her a risk-taker. You’d have to be one to quit a corporate job and start an optimistic non-profit dry waste-aggregating organisation during the initial months of the pandemic. But a successful outcome can only be achieved by someone as well-researched and dedicated as Dr Smita Birkar, founder-director of 5RCycle Foundation. This month marks their second anniversary, and they’re celebrating it by hitting a milestone: a total of 105 metric tonnes of dry waste collected.
(Left to right) Dr Smita Birkar with a few members of her team — Latabai, Hirabai, Savitri, Nirmala, and co-director Sachchidanand Chaturvedi. Pics/Satej Shinde
The organisation has come a long way since June 2020 when Dr Birkar would drive to pick up waste donations herself. Today, two vans charge through the city, targeting 60 pick-up points in the western suburbs and collecting upto 600 kg of dry waste from housing societies, colleges and eateries in a day. Back at their headquarters in Kandivali, the waste is further segregated and sent to recycling centres. The team has grown from two to 12 members, with 5,000 registered waste donors. They’ve upped their e-waste collection, accept used cooking oil which gets converted to biodiesel, and have started collecting thermocol. With an EPS melter compactor — a machine that reduces the volume of thermocol by 90 per cent — we’re told that they’re the only aggregator with a thermocol recycling machine in the western suburbs. They’ve also introduced a recycling project in rural Raigad. “For recycling to happen, the collection-segregation process must be robust,” she says, stressing the importance of infrastructure.
5RCycle Foundation in Kandivali West
And even though they’re working with well-structured systems, Sachchidanand Chaturvedi, co-director of the non-profit and a club cricketer, adds, “It’s a working model and we’re always making it bigger and more efficient.” The green cricketer, as he is called, reminds us, “Don’t think that one person can’t make a difference. And don’t let your waste end up in a landfill.”
5RCycle is a crucial link in the recycling process, the middleman between consumers and recycling centres that redirects dry waste from landfills to its appropriate end. “Our intention is to create a platform for people to undertake recycling efficiently,” explains Dr Birkar. She ensures this through awareness drives and dynamic communication systems. Standing in the warehouse, the magnitude of our actions is evident. “Waste is a real problem. We might not know the impact immediately but it’s mounting, and we need to deal with it.” Dr Birkar’s philosophy is simple — “There’s no right time to jump in. Whenever you jump in is the right time.”
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