Managing Waste to Improve Communities

Whitman College alumna Gauri Mirashi aims to create sustainable cities by empowering communities to live in harmony with their surroundings.

Trevor L. Jockims

December 2022

Managing Waste to Improve Communities

Gauri Mirashi (right) co-founded EcoSattva Environmental Solutions, which works on sorting and processing of solid waste, protection and increase of green cover, and restoration of water bodies. Courtesy Gauri Mirashi

“I think one of the best things I have learned from my liberal arts education with the Davis Program,” says Gauri Mirashi, “is the ability to hold multiple, sometimes conflicting, ideas in my head simultaneously.” As the co-founder and chief executive officer of EcoSattva Environmental Solutions–a women-led company working on waste management, water body restoration and green cover management–Mirashi knows something about holding multiple, competing aims and developing them into a workable vision.

As part of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, Mirashi graduated from Mahindra United World College (UWC) of India, which is one of 18 locations worldwide where students receive pre-university education. She then completed her undergraduate studies in liberal arts from Whitman College in Washington state.

The Davis United World College Scholars Program is a privately funded international scholarship program, where students who have graduated from one of the 18 UWC schools go on to study at selected U.S. colleges or universities. Once the students enroll in one of the partner U.S. institutions, the program provides financial support for their undergraduate education through institutional grants that support need-based scholarships.

The education and diversity Mirashi was exposed to during the Davis Program has had a lasting impact on her thought processes. “I work my way through the complexities…I am able to value diverse perspectives, which always adds nuance and depth to decisions and action.”

Birth of EcoSattva

Mirashi co-founded EcoSattva Environmental Solutions in 2016 with Natasha Zarine in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The company works on sorting and proper processing of solid waste, protection and increase of green cover, and restoration of water bodies. “We work to restore water bodies so they can continue to perform their functions of recharge, flood control, temperature regulation and biodiversity support,” explains Mirashi. “We enable local self governments to provide effective solid waste management, green cover management and water body management services by optimizing existing resources.” The company’s mandate includes providing collection vehicles, collection staff and processing units. Each of these essential processes also provides employment for women and works alongside nature in synergistic ways.

“In India, the Clean India Mission has led to massive investment in equipment and infrastructure for solid waste management. However, in the absence of effective systems this investment often remains under or unutilized,” says Mirashi. She shares an example from the coastal city of Alibag, where she worked on intervention. The local body had invested in a biogas plant with a capacity of processing up to 3 tons of waste per day. However, without collection systems to deliver 3 tons of organic waste every day, the plant was shut down.

It is precisely such situations that EcoSattva seeks to address. “Our model involves the integration of informal sector waste-pickers, so ubiquitous across India, into formal waste management processes,” says Mirashi. Our model aims to recover maximum possible resources from source-segregated dry waste that municipal collection systems can then deliver to recycling facilities. She hopes more people will use the process, which would help residents and city administrators understand the value of a facility to the city. Each Material Recovery Facility manages 2 tons of waste, including categories such as cloth, cardboard, paper, glass, mixed plastics, even slippers. “This center not only manages waste but also helps spread awareness about waste reduction,” Mirashi adds.

The challenges

The challenges faced by Mirashi and EcoSattva have come at different levels and in different forms. Mirashi and her team have had to come up with creative solutions to operational challenges like narrow roads that do not accommodate the collection vehicles. “We learned the basics of parking management because the narrowness of the lanes is compounded by motorcycles parked on both sides, making it impossible for the collection vehicle to pass through, says Mirashi.”

Getting stakeholders buy-in has also been a challenge, particularly during EcoSattva’s the Green Aurangabad Mission, where the focus was on taking a research-driven approach to not just planting, but sustaining green cover efforts. “The Daulatabad hillside was a particularly challenging site that needed care and protection for four years before it was able to sustain itself,” says Mirashi. “Getting stakeholders to accept grasslands also as ‘green’ has also been a challenge. Most people think of a jungle or forest when they think of green cover.”

Gender, too, has presented challenges, but it is a complication that the business has learned to face in different ways: “Gender plays out in many ways, positive and negative,” says Mirashi. “From bureaucratic officers who would sometimes look past us at male colleagues with lesser experience for answers, our limited ability to socialize across gender, and male employees inability to take direction. We are also boxed into outreach activities and specific audiences like students, entrepreneurship incubation programs, and women’s self-help groups, which are opportunities to make a difference.”

Making an impact

In the span of EcoSattva’s seven-year journey, it has generated 2,500 jobs, mostly in solid waste management. Beyond its core objective of providing clean water to communities, EcoSattva also empowers community members to take responsibility for their natural resources by getting them involved in clean-up operations. One such memorable cleaning project is the Clean Kham Movement–the restoration and cleaning of the Kham river and its tributaries, which was carried out ahead of Republic Day, on January 25 , 2022. The entire community including administrative officials and municipal workers welcomed the project on its first day as a fleet of excavators lined up to dig out waste from the river bed. Since then, the clean-up, since then, has been carried out on a weekly basis.

What’s next for EcoSattva? Mirsahi hopes to expand to other cities and explore partnerships with other organizations. But more importantly, she wants to use EcoSattva’s “experience, data and expertise to contribute to the larger pool of knowledge in the environmental sector.”

Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.


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