I want to be ‘Mr Waste of India’, says Paresh Parekh
So confident is Paresh Parekh, founder of a waste management company, of his ambitious plans that he has it written in bold in a visitors’ book: “I will be India’s first billionaire in the business of waste in 10 years!”
“And, I will create one million jobs and clean up India”, he told Business Line. “This is not a boast. But the huge potential I see makes me believe in it.” He wants to be the “Mr Waste of India.”
A chance meeting with technology wizard Sam Pitroda in Belgium drove this young Gujarati businessman from Belgium to return to his roots and set up his unique waste management business in Vadodara in 2008. But he had already established his credentials in Europe where he bought restaurants he had worked as a waiter at weekends while still a student! And he was already into other businesses as well: diamond trading, Bollywood films…
Born in Morbi (Gujarat) in 1973 into a business family, educated at Vadodara and London, he earned a Masters in Infosystems and an MBA in Brussels, Belgium, in 2002. There, he became the first Indian to bring Bollywood to Belgium by importing films, renting theatres, delivering tickets and creating a niche market of his own among the Asians who loved those films. “I even categorised seats for diamond merchant Gujaratis settled in Antwerp and sold these for high premia.”
Parekh learnt as much from his mistakes as efforts. “It was all part of my learning process.” With the phenomenal reach and contacts he developed, he became a ‘one-point-connectivity’ in Belgium for Indians, in particular, and Asians, in general. His knowledge of the Dutch language helped him in becoming a most-sought-after man there.
A turning point came when he, a strict vegetarian, bought the non-vegetarian restaurant he worked at on weekends as a waiter to earn early bucks. “I told the Dutch owner that although I wanted to buy the restaurant, I had no money at all to pay him. The property was rented and the restaurant had goodwill. As part of the deal, I convinced him to receive daily instalments! In all, I paid him €200,000 in two years.” Soon, he bought another restaurant. For this unique deal, “I made the chefs my unofficial partners to sustain this business. A local Indian chef used to cook my vegetarian meals in my own non-vegetarian restaurant.”
Parekh used to help a friend clear garbage from his grocery shop which gave him the idea of waste disposal. “Unlike in India, we had to pay for waste disposal from our shops or offices in Europe.” He studied the waste collection, disposal and recycling at municipal bodies there and how some of those in business used to export this waste. “I shipped my first consignment of waste in 1999. Some Indians realised the potential in this business. So I decided not to just trade the waste but to have my own recycling facility.”
Inspired by pitroda
For this, he needed funds. He set up a company in the UK and returned to Brussels for two years. “At a function in Brussels, Pitroda spotted me, discovered I was a fellow Gujarati and very soon I was showing him around the Belgian capital in my car. When he found what I did, he advised me to set up the waste business in India,” he says
This led to the foundation of the business brand, www.pastiwala.com, in January 2010, owned by his company, Sort India Enviro Solutions Ltd, which now has five verticals. A new vertical to deal with biomedical waste will soon be launched. He says the real value addition is done at the very bottom of the pyramid where waste collectors’ work begins. The middlemen above them are mere financiers who charge 10 per cent interest on a daily basis. Thus garbage collectors are the backbone of this business.
“We have, therefore, directly contacted them and removed the middlemen. We advertised on the local radios about the services and rates we offer. My drivers, wearing company uniform and carrying identity card also collect this waste, weigh it on electronic scale like professionals and observe total transparency. Waste collectors, too, come to us directly.” The company, which has created about 500 direct and indirect jobs, now owns 25 big trucks and 35 other vehicles. It has warehouses and five recycling facilities.
In Vadodara alone, the company has a customer base of 4.88 lakh (including individuals and industries) where it collects waste at their doorsteps. Parekh has empowered the waste collectors in a unique manner. “I introduced nearly 125 waste collectors to the banks, got their accounts opened there with ATM cards given to them and stood guarantee for them. We deposit their payments directly in their accounts as part of our effort at socio-economic inclusion.”
Asked how he cuts through the tender process for volumes. “I never fill any tender as I have open rates to collect waste. It is the companies that directly contact me to pick waste.”
This is how his company collects 2,500 tonnes of waste every month. Its recycled products are then resold to those who need them. For instance, recycled paper is sold to paper-making firms.