Skrap’s founder Divya Ravichandran On How Large-Scale Events Can Be Sustainable
The Deonar dumping ground fire might have been what propelled Divya Ravichandran into the sustainability sector, but she’d always had a connection with nature – a memory that stands out being that of her father and her annual ritual of planting trees just before the monsoons. And a journey of trial, error and perseverance, led to Divya founding Skrap – a waste management solutions firm for offices and events – in March 2017.
They’ve worked with offices and events such as marathons, music festivals, and corporate gatherings to assist them in going down the zero waste route, and their clients include the likes of Bacardi NH7 Weekender, SBI Green Marathon and Insider.in. At Skrap, they have a big team of volunteers for events, with each person being in charge of something. They’re spread across the venues, and sport green jackets which make them identifiable and let the people around them know that there is a team that’s consciously looking into waste management at the location.
From getting artistes to do announcements and share social media messages on their handles, to having the organisers putting the word out about the events being zero-waste festivals, Divya and her team at Skrap leave few stones unturned. In conversation with the dynamic game-changer, Verve delves deeper into the workings of a waste management firm, hurdles that they have overcome and how we should have a positive approach towards doing our part for the environment.
What are some of the initial hurdles and challenges you faced?
We started with events and offices, and event organisers just didn’t understand the work that I was trying to do, it was pretty much just me approaching various event organisers, some of them friends, requesting them, ‘hey can I just come and handle your trash?’ At the beginning, it was quite unstructured, it wasn’t like we’d gone in with a plan. To begin with, we were trying to figure out how events really worked, and who the various stakeholders were. We did about six-10 projects and all of them failed, miserably so, because each time we’d realise that there was another stakeholder who we should have spoken to before, and a problem could have been averted. Each of those pilot projects were such a learning experience for us…. But Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2016, Pune, really was our testing ground.
What are the initial steps that go into the planning of an event?
The one thing that people often miss is the various stakeholders involved, and how to get everybody on the same platform to understand that we’re working towards a common goal. Our key area of focus is mostly when we’re working with the organisers, because a lot of the stuff that we need in terms of the setup of the waste segregation infrastructure is in their hands. For instance, making sure that we have a two-bin waste segregation system across the board. We replace all of the single bins with the colour coded blue and green bins and make sure that the signage’s are completely customised, and that we have a waste sorting space too.
Other stakeholders, like the food vendors become very important for us, because most of the distribution is generated at the food court area, so at a festival like NH7 for example, we have about 30-40 food vendors, and so we start the conversation with them well in advance. The festivals that we work with now, we request them to include a clause in the food vendors’ contract when they’re being brought on board; so that they’re aware that this is a sustainable event. What is required on their part, for example, is that they’re not allowed to bring along any disposable plastics, and that they need to invest in eco-friendly materials which are 100 per cent compostable. We also make small requests like for them to not bring sauce sachets on board, but to bring the bulk dispenser, which helps avoid a lot of waste generation in terms of the packaging.
How does the planning for various events differ from one another?
The on-ground infrastructure typically tends to be the same at most events – people will be discarding their wastes. But for a marathon, bin placement would be in the holding area and also some of the running parts, whereas for a music festival, it will be the entire venue where you could have close to a hundred and fifty different dustbins for people. So in that sense I would say the format differs for the baseline of the waste management infrastructure.
How do you ensure that the attendees at events too do their part towards waste management?
I think that’s the biggest challenge in India, because a lot of people aren’t even familiar with segregation terms. They might have heard about dry and wet waste, but they don’t really understand what it means. Our objective is to make it as easy as possible for them to follow the waste segregation, so we have colour coded bins and clear signage’s which we try to keep down to three or four simple-to-follow icons. We also place our volunteers there, so that they can quickly separate the waste and guide folks. We feel like when there’s some kind of intervention and when somebody’s monitoring the bins, people tend to be on their best behaviour, or at least they try to make more of an effort to segregate their wastes.
What we also get the organisers to do is to make announcements at the various stages that this is a zero-waste festival, what that means and how folks can help with it. The basic message is just segregate your waste. We have artistes who make the announcements as well. For a lot of festivals, we do pre-event social media announcements, giving people a heads-up that this is a zero waste event.
In your home, you discard less than 100 grams of waste once a year. How do you ensure that your office too generates minimal waste?
In the office we have almost no disposables or plastics that we use, and we take conscious care. Our stationery for example is recycled, and we print very little. We also usually have package free snacks, are cooking food or going to restaurants – we avoid ordering in as much as possible, and of course everybody in the office segregates and composts their wastes right here. So there really isn’t much trash being generated at the office.
Do you see a shift in consciousness from when you started?
Generally the awareness around waste segregation has increased, partly because of a lot of government initiatives in local areas. I know a lot of folks in Pune now segregate their waste, and in Mumbai too a lot of residential areas have made it mandatory to segregate or compost their waste. So I think that is helping out a bit, but also the whole notion of making sustainability cool and sexy really works at festivals. We never use a doom and gloom scenario to push the agenda. It’s always, ‘this is the right thing to do’ and everyone feels like a sustainability ninja, and that’s the wave that we ride on. I personally believe the tone always has to be positive and inspiring to really encourage change. By pulling people down and giving them the end of world scenarios, it’s going to scare them for the short term into action, but then in the long term, it is not going to result in the action that we really want to see to push this forward.