Rajkumari Sharma Tankha
It was while he was pursuing his MBA from Welingkar Institute that Madhur Rathi, an industrial engineer from Nagpur University, attended a conference on waste management that got him hooked to the idea of waste management. After completing the course, Rathi joined a waste management company to gain a deeper insight into it. “I got to know how recyclers were mixing virgin (new plastic) along with recycled one to make products,” he says. Back in his hometown Amravati, in 2017, Rathi decided to set up his own venture on similar lines. He approached three of his like-minded childhood friends – Roshan Pidiyar, Bhushan Boob and Ashish Modak – and together they launched Recycle Bell Private Limited. They would collect waste, segregate, and sell it to other recyclers. But deep down, the foursome wanted to create durable products without using virgin plastic, and hence started researching on it. A year-and-a-half later of R&D, was launched Econiture, in 2019. The group started with 20 SKUs and now has more than 150 SKUs.
Econiture, as the name suggests, is eco-friendly furniture, in the outdoor furniture space. Rathi, CEO and Co-founder, Recycle Bell Private limited (Econiture), tells us more:
How do you go about creating furniture from plastic?
We collect all types of dry waste, like plastic articles, plastic films, and paper, from the formal as well as the informal sector. Then, this waste is brought to our material recovery facility where it is segregated into more than 100 recyclables. After processing, we sell it as a raw material to recyclers for further recycling. Out of all, the recovered and segregated dry waste, some type of plastic polymer and plastic film, we keep to ourselves. Using the extrusion process, we manufacture plastic beams or lumbers from them. Then, we perform wood machining like cutting, screwing, and drilling to make Econiture furniture.
What kind of challenges did you face or are still facing? How did you overcome them?
During the initial phase, we faced a lot of resistance from informal sector. People weren’t, and still aren’t, segregating waste into dry and wet waste. This makes it more difficult to segregate it further, as inorganic and organic waste are mixed together. Due to this, we lose a lot of resource material.
Also, it is a highly labour-intensive business and if labour is absent, segregation reaches a bottleneck. There are machines available for segregation that require less manpower but they are costly compared to labour. Sorting and washing are important steps when you recycle plastics. When you have a mixture, the mechanical properties go down quickly. So, you must obtain all the different plastics out of the waste. So sorting techniques are crucial. But for some products, it is quite difficult. For instance, in the packaging you have multilayer plastics, with sometimes four to seven kinds of different layers, separating them isn’t possible. That is a big issue in recycling plastic packaging.
What all furniture items do you make?
We have a diverse product range which includes chairs, benches, racks and shelves, stools, among others. We also have products on the home decor side, with a focus on eco-friendly planters and more.
Tell us about your customer base, traction and growth since inception?
We have garnered a very diverse customer and stakeholder base. Since our inception, we have recycled more than 20000+kg of plastic, 200+ waste collectors, and 300+ waste generators connected. We have more than 60+ recyclers as customers and 1200+ unique Econiture customers across 25 Indian states and 6 union territories.
Additionally, 70 per cent of our workforce includes women, and there has been a 30 per cent increase in the income of our waste pickers due to our policies and fair prices. On the revenue side, there has been an 80 per cent increase in the last five years with an enormous positive impact on environment.
There are many other players in the sustainable space, what is your USP?
Ours is a sustainable outdoor furniture brand, the eco-friendly substitute for wooden and metal furniture. We do have competitors from wooden & plastic furniture, metal furniture and recycled furniture space but our furniture is a cheaper, durable, low maintenance and more eco-friendly than wooden furniture. It does not rust like metal furniture. Econiture products are not just waterproof, but all season-proof.
Further, since it is a green product. It saves natural resources, reduces deforestation and metal mining, and also reduce the carbon footprint. And on top of it while Econiture furniture is 100 per cent made from plastic waste, it is aesthetically appealing, colourful, and vibrant. And it can be used both indoors as well as outdoors.
Please share your future plans.
We have a long vision of making Econiture the partner for a green world. Firstly, we will be opening our Econiture Retail Store soon and will look for connecting to more municipal councils to add them to our network for the barter model. Secondly, we also aim to increase our waste segregation to reach 200 MT in the next three years.