India Interior

Meet the man who didn’t walk away from waste

Ninglun Hanghal | Updated on May 17, 2019

(clockwise from bottom left) Waste collected and processed in the factory emerges as the final product; (right) Itombi Sadokpam   -  Ninglun Hanghal

Sadokpam’s company makes flower pots, water bottles and water pipes from waste, and supplies them across Imphal and to other towns in Manipur.

Trash dumps moved Itombi Sadokpam of Manipur to action. Here’s how

As a young student, Itombi Sadokpam often travelled by train. What caught his eye during these trips, and left an indelible impression, were the huge waste dumps across vast areas in India’s cities and towns. His home town, Imphal, and other cities in Manipur too were staggering under the weight of waste everywhere, thanks to rapid urbanisation.

And so it was that, after completing his Bachelors in Computer Applications at Dehradun, Sadokpam came back home to Imphal and started a silent revolution — that of turning waste into usable commodities.

Sadokpam began his journey informally in 2000, literally picking up waste dumped in every corner of Imphal city. “I was constantly ridiculed,” he recalls.

Sadokpam started off as a “waste collector” sending it out to recycling agencies outside the State. His motto was ‘Reduce, Recycle, Reuse’. Initially, he didn’t even have a machine and he did the waste collection, segregation and processing all by himself. He started off with a modest capital of a few lakhs and had four workers.

Sadokpam, who is now 37, learned the technical know-how along the way. He emphasises that his learning was mainly through hands-on involvement. With no technical training or formal education in waste management or recycling, he visited waste recycling plants to observe, study and replicate. “I participated in numerous technical exhibitions and networked with people, which helped me a lot,” he says. There is very little understanding and awareness about waste recycling in Manipur, and that was why he had to do everything, initially, like a “one-man army,” he says.

As his work gained momentum, Sadokpam registered his firm — SJ Plastic Agency — in 2009. The agency today employs 40 people at the recycling site, besides many others indirectly, such as marketing partners and suppliers/collectors and segregators. Sadokpam works on any plastic waste, including carry bags and water bottles. His firm pays ₹5-15 for 10-15 kg of plastic waste — depending on the quality, such as thickness, and condition. His agency then segregates it by quality and colour after which comes the cutting and processing.

The company’s final products are flower pots, water bottles and water pipes, which are supplied across Imphal city and other towns in Manipur. According to Sadokpam, his USP (unique selling proposition) is ‘good quality and reasonable price’. A popular drinking water supplier in Manipur, brand Likla, uses recycled bottles supplied by Sadokpam’s company.

Now, Sadokpam has a plastic waste recycling plant on his 2-hectare piece of land in Sangaiprou, Imphal. His annual turnover is about ₹1 crore. “I have also started a new recycling plant in Bishnupur to recycle plastic waste and for manufacturing water pipes and septic tanks,” he says.

The city of Imphal alone generates about 72 tonnes of waste per day (2011 estimate). The largest chunk is organic waste, about 70 per cent, followed by plastic waste (around 11 per cent), followed by paper waste. These wastes are mostly dumped in open spaces, access ways, riverside/waterways and the road side.

The State government has effected legislation towards waste management — the Imphal Municipal Council (Cleanliness and Sanitation) By-Laws, 2011. In 2018, the State notified an immediate and complete ban on the use of plastic carry-bags of more than 50 microns in thickness.

Reduce the litter

However, Sadokpam says it is impossible to “stop plastic use. From the moment we wake up in the morning, we use plastic... for instance, we pick up the toothbrush first, right?” he asks. “So plastic is an integral part of human lives now.” Therefore he advocates reducing the use of plastic while finding alternative ways to re-use plastic waste. The campaign to reduce plastic must call for people to first stop generating plastic waste, before moving on to putting an end to the use of plastic. The State government recently came up with the idea of using plastic waste for road construction. This, says Sadokpam, is very creative and innovative for, besides the re-use of plastic waste, this would help in development of roads — which are in very bad shape in Manipur. Plastic covers used to pack chips, eatables or tobacco, for instance, are thick and tough, and not easy to recycle. They are therefore ideal for use in road-building, he says. Currently, Sadokpam’s limited resources do not allow him to recycle such tough plastics; therefore he exports it outside of the State, mainly to Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi. “Recycling and reuse of such waste will go a long way towards waste management,” says Sadokpam, and stresses the role of the State. “Recycling some kinds of plastic waste requires a huge investment – that is why the State government’s involvement is crucial,” he sums up.

The writer is a Manipur-based journalist

Published on May 17, 2019

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