Meeting Poonam Bir Kasturi

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Interview with Poonam Bir Kasturi, winner of the 2016 German-Indian ideas competition "From Waste to Resource – Turning Garbage to Gold"

Out of 83 ideas for sustainable waste disposal in Indian cities competing on the open innovation platform www.innovationskraftwerk.de, Poonam Bir Kasturi won over the top class jury with her smart idea of a “Community Composter”.

During the award ceremony, which was held at the German House for Research and Innovation in New Delhi on September 29, 2016, we had a chance to talk to Poonam and find out what her idea of a "Community Composter" is all about.

To start with: Congratulations!

What made you enter the German-Indian ideas competition?

I admire the German sense of design and approach to resource management. I do not usually enter many competitions, since the sheer filling in of forms is not a pleasurable task. But our work over the last 10 years has taught us what an Indian city needs in terms of waste management, so I saw this as an opportunity to share our ideas with the community through this application.

Your winning idea is called “Community Composter”. What is it about?

Is a city smart if it manages its waste more efficiently? Or is it smarter and wiser if it converts waste into nutrition at source and then rewards this practice? It then encourages more and more people to do the same by way of incentives that directly create greener and healthier neighbourhoods. Our community composter is the tool to facilitate this behaviour. It had to be something that people would proudly show in their communities as a symbol of their commitment to recycling. It had to be easy to be used by the housekeeping staff who manage it daily. It also had to be modular to fit and retrofit existing flats, communities and spaces.

Your idea is to “Make waste visible and beautiful”. In what way?

We want everything around us to be beautiful. Our house is not just a house – it is a home, adorned with lovely interiors and cared for with a lot of love. But that one corner, where the dustbin stands, is the most neglected one. It is our mindset to ignore that corner. “It is waste after all, what can be done there?” This is where Daily Dump believes efforts need to be directed if we are going to even scratch the surface of the problem.

We talk about how waste is useful, even beautiful and life-giving; we make products, go to demos and share stories in which we urge our audience to challenge their perceptions of waste. We pay attention to what we say about waste, how we say it and how we make waste understandable. This matters to us, because we believe it is the key to seeing “waste” differently and will bring about the much-needed shift in our mindsets regarding waste. There is no doubt in our minds that if we continue making waste “beautiful”, we will come to a closer understanding of how to make the planet a better place daily. Perceptions and mindsets are at the core of this issue as much as technology and legislation.

What was your motivation to find a solution for sustainable waste disposal in India?

Curiosity to find a better way, I guess!

What challenges did you face in finding a solution for the waste disposal problem in Indian households?

The biggest challenge is mindset. In India we think waste is not our job, educated people do not concern themselves with this.

What made you start up your own venture, "Daily Dump", and how has it been going?

When I discovered that 60 % of the contents of my dustbin was organic and could become super compost, I began to start my company – Daily Dump. That was 10 years ago. I redesigned the dustbin experience, created our signature terracotta composter and talked and talked and talked to anybody who would listen about this new way of waste disposal. Today our “dustbins” help 29,000 proud Indians keep 30,000 kg of organic waste out of landfill every day. People think of us as a waste management company, but we believe that we help customers re-imagine the way they look, feel, think and act about waste. We make waste visible, beautiful and doable. We have infected at least 200,000 people with the idea that they can get involved in cleaning up this country.

What might the future hold for you and "Daily Dump"?

So far, we have doubled our turnover every year, nine years out of ten. The fact that we are still viable and in the growth phase is always a big mystery to me, since we are small, enjoy design, and aren’t really good at figures and business plans. If someone waved a wand and asked my team and me what we would like to do in the future, we would say that we wanted to work with and learn from other teams who are working in the area of the circular economy.