Discarded Consumer Electronics products that reach their end of life, attain a new life as E-Waste, contaminating the environment (landfills, groundwater, air etc.) with their toxic materials that are harmful to humans as well as animals.

Rohan Massey, our next pathbreaker, leads the E-waste (Electronic Waste) vertical at Saahas Zero Waste, that helps global brands collect, channelize and recycle e-waste as per EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) targets set by CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board).

Rohan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about how his exposure to the concept of renewable energy and sustainability at a young age shaped his career in waste management.

For students, sustainability is the key to our future and gives you the opportunity to make an impact on our entire ecosystem and the larger planet.

Rohan, can you tell us about your background?

My name is Rohan Massey, and I was born and brought up in Chennai. After my schooling in Chennai, I completed my bachelors degree in Coimbatore. Both my parents were involved in a company related to renewable energy and I used to visit wind farms and biomass energy plants along with my father which intrigued me about the field. Post my graduation, I did my own research on renewable energy and came to know about the concept of sustainable energy which, i believed, was going to be the future. Hence, I pursued my masters in the same field. Apart from education, I play a lot of outdoor sports like football and basketball and love backpack traveling.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my graduation in Electrical Engineering from Karunya University and post graduation in Sustainable Energy and Green Technology at the University College Dublin.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

The key factor which helped me choose this career is, I basically used to travel with my father on a lot of field visits (waste management, biomass, biogas), which helped me understand the magnitude of the problem. 

This perspective at a young age, helped me choose the career. The turning point was my decision to pursue my masters in sustainability in this field. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path 

Early experiences have paved my way for my career.

I completed 2 internships in the area of renewable energy which helped me understand the field. At that time, I didn’t know anything about sustainability as that was a far more deeper subject than renewable energy. 

The first internship with Leitwind was related towards electrical and field training. It was mind blowing as that was the first time I saw a windmill up close. The humungous size of it stunned me. The internship really helped to understand the existing market, the opportunities in the renewable energy sector and the challenges, along with technical knowledge of assembly, testing and manufacturing. 

The second internship was related towards electronics, understanding design concepts, technical drawings, specifications and more of a software-based training. 

After my graduation, I started to research more about sustainability and sustainable energy, which helped me to start looking for my Master’s abroad. In 2012, there were only a handful of universities offering the course. So it took some time for me to decide and apply to the course of my choice. I didn’t really want to be idle, hence I joined Amazon.com to get some experience. 

The best decision I took in my life was choosing the course (Masters in Sustainability studies) at the University College Dublin. It opened up a new perspective for me. This field is vast and in order to be efficient, it’s better to choose a domain. I chose waste management. I completed my thesis in waste management and started working for a biodiesel manufacturing company. 

The course was fairly well designed and at the same time, pretty vast, where the students are given the liberty to explore and choose a domain. While the course had common subjects related to sustainability, it also had domain specific subjects drilling down deep into the subject. The right choice of domain makes a huge difference as one really has to think about the future and their passion if they want to take this up as a career. The content of the subjects were mostly practical, that involved taking up real world examples as assignments and involved both individual and team projects. 

I worked for almost 3 years in a biodiesel manufacturing company where we produced biodiesel from used cooking oil. My major responsibilities included daily operations, stakeholder management and quality control in the laboratory. Since it was a start-up, it helped me gain experience in all aspects of the company. 

Due to some personal reasons I made a conscious decision to return back to India. As soon as I returned, I took a break for almost 6 months and served as a volunteer in eco-villages in India and Nepal helping them develop sustainable practices and small biogas working models to help them with their daily gas requirements. 

I was keen on working only in the waste management sector. Hence, after my 6 month break, I joined Saahas Zero Waste as a project manager where we manage Dry/Wet waste through a team across India.

Currently, I lead the vertical related to E-waste which deals with discarded electrical or electronic devices. I manage the entire India operations, liaise with internal teams, handle customer issues locally and abroad, as well as manage the overall health of the department. 

I feel my initial experiences during my school and college days have brought in a perspective that helped me shape my career. 

How did you get your first break? 

My first break took a while. I completed my Masters in 2013 with no experience in the field and while staying abroad. In 2013, sustainability was still a growing field and with literally no experience, I had a difficult time finding a job. One of my classmates referred me to the first job which helped to gather ground. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: I was in a new field with no experience

Challenge 2: Wages are low as the field isn’t stabilized. Passion will take you to places. Don’t feel low, nor should you compare yourself to others.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your work in E-Waste

I currently work at Saahas Waste Management pvt Ltd. I lead the E-waste vertical in the company that includes devising sustainability initiatives, delivering holistic E-waste management solutions to global brands pan-India, performing financial analysis and maintaining a network of multiple stakeholders. 

Apart from plastics, a growing and visible problem in the world is E-waste (Electronic waste) and its management. E-waste management rules were introduced in India with EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) which is already available in most European countries. EPR is basically a policy or a approach where the manufacturers/producers are given a significant responsibility to treat post-consumer products (like used phones, laptops etc). Ever since the rules were released, all the consumer electronics brands operating in India are mandated to follow these rules in order to address the growing e-waste problem in the country. PROs (Producer Responsibility Organizations) like Saahas Waste Management work with top brands in the country to help manufacturers achieve or address EPR targets. 

We help global brands collect, channelize and recycle e-waste as per EPR targets set by CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board). We help to formalize the market and ensure data is collected and recorded at every step of the process. 

I would say, rather than skills, the passion and confidence to work in the field is more important, which will drive you as it’s a growing field and you learn something everyday. 

My typical day is spent in managing operations, reporting to the COO of the company on a regular basis, ensuring compliance and servicing clients.

This is a vast field and E-waste is just a tiny part of it. There is solid waste, plastic waste, wet waste and it goes on and on. Here, I have the opportunity to be part of an entire ecosystem and learn from every team which helps me widen my knowledge. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Even though we play a minor role, the impact of our work is high. Imagine the impact if there are multiple companies in this space. I am happy that my behaviour has changed, my perspective has further evolved. Every action that I take makes me think about refuse, reduce, reuse. Even if I could bring this change in 1 person a month I feel like I have achieved something towards the betterment of the world. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I personally built a biogas prototype at home for managing food waste generated on a daily basis. It took me only 20 days to build it, but took me almost 30 days to see the output of the entire product (Gas). It was a beautiful and a memorable moment in my life to see fruits of my own work which I took up to address the basic waste management problem at home at the same time provide sustainable energy to fuel some basic needs. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My only advice would be, if you want to try something, go ahead and try that, because only after trying you will know if that interests you. At the same time, when you are passionate about something, even if there are challenges, have patience, things will turn out better because it’s what your heart says and not your mind. 

Future Plans?

I wish to be an agriculturalist. I want to pursue farming and make a living out of the same.