Transforming Domestic and Industrial Waste into Eco-Products in India

Portrait of a GroundBreaker: Dr. Binish Desai

Dr. Binish Desai is the Founder of Eco-Eclectic Technologies, a social enterprise pioneering eco-products that turn industrial and domestic waste into assets and social solutions. Dr. Desai is a visionary innovator who started inventing eco-products at the age of 11 before founding his first company at the age of 16. Eco-Eclectic Technologies aims to create 150 eco-products by 2022 to be used in India and globally. On this week’s feature of GroundBreakers’ Portraits of a GroundBreaker Series, our discussion with Dr. Desai ranged from the unwavering support of his grandfather to his dream of seeing India become a global solutions provider for industrial waste.

What motivated you to start Eco-Eclectic Technologies?

I was 11 years old when I created my first invention. Chewing gum had gotten stuck on my pants and I tried removing it with a piece of paper. I was a very curious kid and went back home and kept trying the experiment which resulted in my first invention.

At the time we were learning about slums in school and I wanted to change how slums were being portrayed as not having proper houses to live in. My dream was the make the world’s cheapest and most affordable house and so at the age of 16 I founded my first company to make eco-friendly bricks.

I founded Eco-Eclectic Technologies in 2016 because I realized that there are many types of industrial waste around India and there were more solutions needed to the ever-growing landfill issues in India. I started Eco-Eclectic Technologies with the vision to find eco-friendly solutions towards creating social impact in rural India.

“In nature, the concept of waste does not exist. Waste is a concept created by human consumption. All waste is gold and we just have to find the right tools to start mining the waste that exists in the world.”

How is your work adapted to different cultural contexts?

In every new village we go to, we have to mend our technologies to adapt to their culture. One funny incident in setting up a toilet was when a villager asked me to fit in grass instead of tiles. When I asked why, he said that he couldn’t go to the bathroom unless his bottom was touching grass because that’s what he was used to. We have many challenges like this story because many people are used to going to the bathroom outside and not using a toilet. Every culture has their own unique challenges. In some places we could not use the color black anywhere because it was considered a bad omen. We had to make sure there was no black in anything we built. These kinds of tweaks to adapt to that particular culture or a particular community has helped us learn our own culture more than what we thought we knew.

What advice would you give to young people who want to become social entrepreneurs?

I always like to say that there is nothing useless in this world. What can be a waste to you is someone else’s asset. My name Binish means spreading light without darkness and so I feel that I am fulfilling the meaning of my name. In nature, the concept of waste does not exist. Waste is a concept created by human consumption. All waste is gold and we just have to find the right tools to start mining the waste that exists in the world.

For those starting social enterprises, make sure that the idea you are working on creates a social solution. A lot of amazing ideas just stay as ideas as they do not connect to social problems and drive the mass impact that is needed. Follow your dreams in a way that can make a difference in someone else’s life.

How are the employment schemes provided by Eco-Eclectic Technologies especially empowering for women?

We run Eco-Light Studios where we make products like lamps and clocks. This idea came through an inspiration after a specific experience. We were constructing a toilet in a village where a woman named Dina was fighting us about the work we were doing because she didn’t have the money to maintain the toilet. This gave us the idea to employ such women and we then started micro social enterprises for women like Dina to make and sell handmade eco-products.

These women make a living from crafting these lamps and clocks and we ship them all over the world. We also make sure that each lamp is unique and the women leave their handprints on the lamps. Every time one of these lamps is turned on, it illuminates the woman who made it. Each and every lamp is handmade by women so I always say that these women are not only entrepreneurs but also activists and artists.

All of the lamps are made entirely from waste, with each lamp bought reducing 7 kilograms from going into the landfill and saving 15 kilograms of carbon emissions from going into the atmosphere. With each lamp that we sell we also plant one tree.

It is more affordable for us to employ people for this work rather than relying on technology. Instead of having one big factory, we instead have micro factories spread across different villages so that each village can have their own employment source to make these handmade bricks.

Who are some of the people who have inspired you in your work? Some of your mentors?

My grandfather was always a huge supporter of my dreams and passions but unfortunately passed away before I started my first company. When I started working in waste, it was a taboo at the time because of the family I come from in India. I had to face a lot of criticism and lack of support, but my grandfather always told me, “If this is your dream and you want to chase it, then go for it and never stop yourself even if your own loved ones are against you.” His support has always motivated me.

My school principal gave me full freedom in terms of supporting my innovations. If I needed time to go somewhere or to innovate, she wouldn’t enforce the regular curriculum that I had to be physically present for. This helped me to spend part of the day researching for different inventions.

Another mentor of mine is a past president of India who was previously a scientist. I had the opportunity to meet him and have a conversation with him for his guidance on how I can better pursue my dream of making a difference in India. I was very new to this work and was scared of how people would react. Having a half hour conversation with him gave me a lot of support. If he thought my idea was amazing, I knew that everyone else would love my idea and that has motivated me to address gatherings of thousands of people.

What is the process of making P-blocks?

The basic ingredient that goes into the block is very simple and is the waste that comes from paper mills. Paper waste is one type of waste but there is another type of waste, the non-recycled part of paper, which goes into the landfill or is incinerated. This is a global problem and this non-recycled part is incinerated in many parts of the world but ends up in the landfill in India. This non-recycled part is the core ingredient of the P-blocks. The other ingredient is a trade secret and is a byproduct of chewing gum as one of the binders that goes into making these blocks. We mix them together and keep the mixture for five to six hours depending on the outside temperature. After this process, the mixture is ready to be molded. These bricks are handpressed and once they are molded they are naturally dried by the sun. We have one dryer that is a solar concentrator that expedites the process of natural sun drying.

It is more affordable for us to employ people for this work rather than relying on technology. Instead of having one big factory, we instead have micro factories spread across different villages so that each village can have their own employment source to make these handmade bricks.

What challenges did you face in starting Eco-Eclectic Technologies?

The first challenge that I faced was a social challenge because people were not ready to accept the fact that a 16 year old was working with waste and leaving his family’s legacy behind. In the beginning it was very hard to be accepted in the work I was doing. A second challenge was that many people were not willing to give away industrial waste when I first started working in this area. Some people wanted to take my ideas and use it for themselves.

Another challenge has been going into communities and having people understand our products. We used to directly compete with the red brick industry. Red brick production in India is highly unorganized and is not completely legal or authorized. Local brick manufacturers started opposing us going into their villages and selling cheaper products than them. They started threatening us and I got death threats.

We were able to overcome these obstacles and the associated challenges of corruption. We have gone through a lot of hardships on our way to being at the position we are today.

When I started working in waste, it was a taboo at the time because of the family I come from in India. I had to face a lot of criticism and lack of support, but my grandfather always told me, “If this is your dream and you want to chase it, then go for it and never stop yourself even if your own loved ones are against you.” His support has always motivated me.

What is your vision for Eco-Eclectic Technologies?

People in India are still not aware of the segregation of waste to a large extent and India’s policies around the segregation of waste have not been very successful. My forte is industrial waste recycling and most people are not aware of the industrial waste being generated by all of the industries here. In India approximately 43,000 industries produce 19,000 tons of solid waste every day. As a visual, that is 10,000 cars being thrown into the landfill every day. India is ranked the sixth largest producer of waste globally.

My dream is that one day India becomes a solutions provider for these different types of industrial waste to the rest of the world through various innovations. The technologies I have been developing are not just for India but for the world to explore.

Eco-Eclectic Technologies is aiming to have 150 products by 2022 as solutions to a large amount of different types of industrial waste in India. Any type of industrial waste, send it to Eco-Eclectic Technologies. We would love to work together to find a solution.

Focus Areas

  • Advancing Gender Equity
  • Agriculture
  • Environmental Impact
  • Expanding Opportunities for Youth
  • Holistic Education
  • Holistic Public Health
  • Increasing Capacities in the Informal Economy
  • Integrated Health Care
  • Livelihood Strategies and Employment Generation
  • Maternal Health
  • Modern Slavery
  • Public-Private-People Partnerships
  • Refugee Rights
  • Technology and Social Impact
  • Transportation as Upward Mobility
  • Waste Collection
  • Geography

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