Waste Management is a critical link in our environmental and social value chain because it not only feeds other key sectors such as renewable energy and agriculture but also uplifts people working at the bottom of the supply chain (especially ragpickers & housekeeping staff).

Sandeep Thakur, our next pathbreaker, Assistant Manager at Dalmia Polypro (Mumbai), solves plastic waste management problems along with dry waste problems through multiple Material Recovery Facility (MRF) sites in Mumbai.

Sandeep talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his internship at BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Center) on Insecticide Biodegradation that drew his attention to waste management as a social problem that affects our environment.

For students, waste management is an emerging sector with immense growth opportunities because proper degradation of waste is necessary to prevent pollution and health related challenges!

Sandeep, can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra in a Barber family, amidst poor financial stability (my mother is illiterate & father was literate). My parents sent me & my siblings to a convent school, which was beyond their financial limits. I was a bright student but not focused on studies during school days. Later on, I started going to charity tuition classes which were free of cost. It was at that time when I started focusing on my studies and getting good grades in SSC. However, later in HSC, I got low grades as my elder brother was suffering from cancer. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation? 

As I love Biology, I did my graduation from University of Mumbai and post-graduation from The Institute of Science, Fort Mumbai in Biotechnology.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

My family’s financial instability was a turning point and during my internship, I developed an interest in this field.

Though I wanted to become a doctor specializing in cancer, due to low grades in HSC and NEET exams, I took up Biotechnology and aspired to become a scientist in the field of Genetics. I completed my BSc & MSc with good grades and did an Internship at Bhabha Atomic Research Center. 

My project at BARC was titled -“Studies On Insecticide Bio-Degradation, By A Bacterial Isolate From A Self Sustaining Compost System”

As municipal waste becomes a major problem in cities and its disposal method causes pollution, it can cause harmful effects on the human body. 

The growing population has increased the demand for food supply which in turn has increased the usage of pesticides to protect precious food sources. Therefore, proper degradation of pesticides becomes necessary. The main aim of the project was to reduce the burden of waste based on organic methods, Therefore, in this study, we have developed compost variants which degrade pesticides in 72 hours which is a novelty for this project, as we degrade pesticides using bacterial isolate.

Due to financial instability in my home, I dropped my further plans for a PhD (during that period I got a call for an interview from Annamalai University for a JRF position- due to personal reason I was unable to attend interview). 

As composts and pesticide degradation were a part of my dissertation, I went through a literature review of waste management. After my post-graduation, I got a call for an interview from a waste management company, which was managing Mumbai Dumping. This is how I started my career in Waste management (This sector has immense growth as it is an emerging sector).

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path

While doing an internship (2017-2018), I realized that waste management is a social problem that affects our environment. I did my dissertation which was in R & D. In 2018, I started my career as a Junior Compost Officer at Antony Lara Enviro Solution Private Limited. We managed 500 tons of organic waste per day at our plant. There, I led a team of 30-40 people, where I developed leadership skills. My work was related to the operation and manufacturing of compost. It was my duty to run the compost plant efficiently without any breakdown of machinery. We ran the Plant in 3 shifts (24/7). 

Our compost was purchased by RCF, KRIBHCO etc. We also sold compost to farmers at a subsidized rate. We even sold to the government garden department .

In 2019, I got a call from a Startup company, ReCircle (formerly RaddiConnect), that was working on dry waste. After multiple approaches from the CEO of that company, I accepted their offer as it was a start-up. I joined as project coordinator and led multiple projects and was promoted to Project manager, led multiple projects in different cities across India. 

Recircle (formerly Raddiconnect) is a waste management and environment based company & a startup. I started here as project coordinator for a UNDP project along with multiple projects, in different states, which was a new & challenging role. This company gave me opportunities to explore my abilities and made me a versatile as I had to build relationships in govt, private and other sectors.

While doing this job, I developed leadership skills, on-the-ground knowledge, as well as knowledge of budgeting, sales & procurement, fleet management, and supply chain of plastic and dry waste. The one thing I was not aware of was recycling. Fortunately, during that time (2022), an established plastic recycler called me for a position in an MRF (Materials recovery Facility) & I accepted the offer. That’s how I developed my skills in Environment, Sustainability & Waste Management.

How did you get your first break? 

I was a bit lucky as I directly got a call for an interview from the company, as I fulfilled all the skills that they required for the position, and they hired me with a good package.

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

There are lots of challenges in this sector, I will mention a few

Challenge 1: A major challenge is people’s mentality regarding waste in India, they want cleanliness in their homes but not in the area where they stay. They litter while traveling, litter in public places, etc.  So, creating awareness /IEC (Information, Education & communication (IEc) in the younger generation through education will develop a behavioral change in them. 

Challenge 2: Working with government bodies is a hectic job in this field, you need patience to get work done.

Challenge 3: Large volume of waste is managed by an unorganized sector, and you must be polite while you work with ragpickers, and aggregators in this field. Through your job you will be able to lift people at the bottom of (especially ragpickers & housekeeping staff) of this supply chain financially and socially.

Where do you work now? 

I work in a Plastic Recycling company, Dalmia Polypro (Mumbai) as Assistant Manager. I solve plastic waste management problems along with dry waste problems by running multiple Material Recovery Facility (MRF) sites in Mumbai. I have developed a good supply chain network across Mumbai and different cities in India

What is MRF? 

An MRF is a specialized plant that receives, separates, and produces clean recyclable materials to ensure that the commodities produced are valuable/marketable.

What are the skills required for your role?

The skills required in this field are good communication, coordination, and knowledge of plastic grades (PET, PP, LDPE, HDPE etc.) and dry waste. I developed this skill while working in a Compost plant & Startup company. I went on-the-ground several times to crack deals with Scrap Dealers, Ragpickers, Housekeeping staff, Governments & Corporates.

What’s a typical day like?

My work is 24/7, and it is a kind of social work. Waste generation never stops, so we have to ensure that the supply chain, logistics & operations work properly, and SOP is followed by our colleagues. As we deal with municipal corporations, societies, etc. we have to make sure that there are no complaints from our stakeholders. And we make sure the recyclable material is diverted from landfills and sent for recycling.

What do you love about your job?

My job is responsible for upliftment of people working in this sector, especially Ragpickers, who didn’t get a proper rate for their dry waste earlier, and even now they are cheated by Raddiwala’s, Scrap dealers, etc. As a company, we create transparency in rates for dry waste and by proper weighing of material. We provide basic rights to them, providing them bank accounts, and other central and state schemes as 80% of them are not aware of these schemes. We provide dignity to their jobs by giving them ID cards and Uniforms.

How does your work benefit society? 

My work is directly related to every individual and the environment. We make sure that waste is collected and sent for recycling, and we provide awareness regarding waste at source segregation, etc. We work in collaboration with governments and Corporates.

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

During covid, our work was under essential services, but many people in our field stopped working due to govt restrictions. At that time, we helped them to survive and provided a market rate for their dry waste. We also provided free masks, gloves, and food to them. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Students should be focused on their dreams. Their direction might change but their dreams can’t. You may work in any field but make sure you give some precious time of your life to the environment & Health. The balance of nature & health is the balance of life. 

Future Plans?

PhD & to start my own firm in the Environment & waste management sector with respect to SDGs & Net Zero Goals.