Compost revival sprouts a new industry

Sensemaking / Compost revival sprouts a new industry

A rise in food waste composting is rejuvenating traditional earthen pot craft across India.

01 May 2013

Take two problems facing modern India: the mounting volumes of food waste and the decline of traditional crafts. Put them together, and create one big, sustainable business opportunity. That's the thinking employed by Poonam Bir Kasturi and her mischievously named venture, 'Daily Dump'.

It began when she started using matka, simple traditional earthen pots, to convert her kitchen waste to compost, rather than simply throwing it out, as is the usual way in urban India. Family and friends were impressed, so she started exploring how to finesse designs to make composting as simple and effective as possible. She worked directly with artisan potters to develop the three-tier design, and soon her pots were selling across India, thanks in part to some slick marketing using the latest in social media. A witty website uses cartoons to dispel people's typical objections to composting ("It'll take too much time...", "My kitchen will smell..."). Enough have been persuaded that sales have now reached 12,000, with pots sourced from Shillong in the north to Pondicherry in the south.

Clones have been set up in the US, Brazil and Malaysia

Interest from overseas, including America, led Kasturi to consider exporting – "but the whole idea is to encourage local employment for potters". So instead she set up a so-called 'clone licence': effectively a franchising system. In return for a licence fee, the clone company gets detailed drawings and technical support, and is able to manufacture and sell the composters locally as certified 'Daily Dump' products. So far, clones have been set up in the US, Chile, Brazil and Malaysia. The core company remains small – just six full-time staff and half a dozen consultants – but many more are involved in clone businesses or as potters.

Kasturi's particularly proud of her part in reviving the prospects for the country's potters, who have been hit hard by the transition from clay to plastic for items such as disposable drinking cups. Providing an expanding market for their work is vital to ensure the sector's survival, Kasturi explains, otherwise "the children of potters do not want to become potters themselves". And if the tradition dies, then there will be no alternative to greater use of plastics.

She's now planning to build a 'production-cum-tourism' space for potters in Palamaner, Andhra Pradesh – conveniently placed on the Bangalore-Chennai highway. "Most importantly, this will be owned and run by the potters themselves."

Sapna Gopal is a Hyderabad-based journalist specialising in energy and environmental issues.

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