Environment

This Chennai startup makes money from food waste

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Through their start-up Carbon Loops, Kern Agarwal and Ranjani Prabakaran show that it’s possible to create a waste-free planet as well as make a successful business out of it

Two years ago, when Kern Agarwal and Ranjani Prabakaran, set up Carbon Loops, little did they think they’d come this far. Back then, their start-up was incubated at Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), and they worked towards tying up with corporates and educational institutions to segregate waste and create compost that was sent to farmers in rural areas to increase soil fertility. Also in the pipeline at the time was a biogas plant at Loyola to create fuel to power its kitchens. Today, they’re in talk with the Goverment to set up community biogas plants in Tiruvallur that will be used to light up streets in the town.

“We’re doing a pilot project in Poonamallee. The idea is to collect waste from different hotels for a fee and process it at the Government biogas plants. This will be used to power street lights,” says Kern. “The loss of soil fertility in rural areas led us to set up Carbon Loops. Back in 2017, we were testing waters with the idea to create closed loops in the food cycles. Food travels from rural areas and ends up as solid waste in cities. The plan was to close this loop.”

This Chennai startup makes money from food waste
 

They began by creating compost that was sent to farmers in and around Chennai. They then progressed to creating biogas to power the canteen kitchen at Loyola. In 2017, they recycled 127 tonnes of organic waste into biogas and compost at Loyola. In March 2018, they began working with Stella Maris as well. Soon Mahindra World City came on board too. “In the last two years, we’ve worked with over 4,000 tonnes of waste there. The biogas created here is used to fuel tractors and buses,” explains Kern, adding that they’ve also signed MoUs with star hotels such as ITC Grand Chola and Savera. “The food waste that we collect is processed at the biogas plant in Loyola. The plant has a capacity of 1,000 kilograms per day; the campus is currently generating around 700 kilogrammes.”

Carbon Loops has spread as far as Oragadam with a tie-up with automobile giant Daimler as of July. “We’re setting up an end-to-end solution for them on their 400-acre campus,” says Kern, adding that typically, they require 1,000 litres of water to process one tonne of food waste. “But we used sewage treated water for this.”

While Kern and Ranjani have made their presence felt across the city and now the State, the switch to an entrepreneurial life didn’t come easy. Both held well-paying jobs with Standard Chartered, but decided to quit in 2014 and plunge full time into organic farming. The decision, however, wasn’t easy. They faced their share of challenges; but overcame them all. Their initiative had them interact with farmers across the State and they managed to convince several of them to switch to organic farming.

In the last two years, the company has had a turnover of ₹2 crores. “We’re hoping to touch the same figure this year alone,” says Kern, adding, “We’re basically helping clean up the planet while creating a successful business out of it. Currently, we’re probably the largest recycler of organic waste in Tamil Nadu after the Corporation.”

This Chennai startup makes money from food waste
 

The couple works with people and encourages them to segregate waste at source. The compost generated from this is supplied to farmers to increase the viability of the soil on their land. “It’s a great way for urban India to do its bit for rural India,” says Kern. With about 40% of waste at landfills being biodegradable, waste management is the need of the hour.

The company, that has been making inroads with educational institutions, hotels, corporates and the Government through their work, however has remained focussed on a bootstrap model all along. “We do have several investors who’ve approached us; but we’re looking at this as a service. We want the profits to go to the public. So a bootstrapped model works best as of now,” says Kern.

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Printable version | Aug 23, 2019 9:02:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/this-chennai-startup-makes-money-from-food-waste/article28832516.ece

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