Can your kitchen waste provide energy security to the country? Featuring Rahul Khera, founder Balancing Bits

Can your kitchen waste provide energy security to the country? Featuring Rahul Khera, founder Balancing Bits

We understand the chemistry of wet waste processing and the opportunities
Why is Organic Farming Better Than Conventional Farming? Reading Can your kitchen waste provide energy security to the country? Featuring Rahul Khera, founder Balancing Bits 34 minutes Next Don't underestimate your kitchen waste - with Rahul Khera, founder, Balancing Bits

The Green Shoots team dives into the management of wet waste. The fruit peels and the food leftovers that we throw away are potentially massive sources of energy and can enrich our soil too!
Learn how Rahul Khera, through his brainchild Balancing Bits is solving the large problem of wet waste recycling. This episode is the second in a  two-part series and focuses solely on the challenges, opportunities, and the surprisingly positive by-products of wet waste. You can listen to part 1 here.
What will you learn in this episode?
- Chemistry of wet waste
- How should aspiring entrepreneurs look at the sustainability space? 
- Achievements of Balancing Bits in a small time span
- and a lot more..
with Tania Saha and Kinshuk Mishra

Please listen to us, share your thoughts and don't forget to follow us on spotifyapple or google podcast

For any questions or feedback, reach out to us at


Kinshuk  0:00  

How're you guys doing today? Welcome to another episode of the greenshoots, - the sustainability podcast. We demystify sustainability one topic at a time. 


Today's topic is continuation of our discussion with Rahul Khera, founder of Balancing Bits. He had a stellar corporate career whihc he gave up because he realized that there is a large problem of wet waste management which no one was solving and mostly was greenwashed.  I'm joined today in this conversation with my partner in crime Tania. Let's learn more about how Rahul is solving the wet waste problem in Delhi and Gurgaon area and what can we learn from it? I just wanted to understand one more thing. Tell me what happens to the output of the biogas plant or output of the composter? Or where does that go. Do you have a role to play there, or you're leaving that to the society as of now. Also, in a ration perspective, I understand composting because I do composting at home so I understand what it is, but how does the biogas plan work and what kind of output can come from that and what use can this be put to, you give an example of indore using it for vehicles, but what are the uses biogas plant can have can you talk a little bit about that? Also, in terms of coverage, how many societies or how many offices or how many parks have you been able to touch and transformed with Balancing Bits? So just give us a sense of that, that will be really helpful.


Rahul  1:46  

Sure. So we will talk about composting first and then I will talk about biogas. So see, the output of composting process is natural fertilizers that can act as soil enhancer. One thing that we need to understand is that we are talking about waste management. But recently you must have heard about a campaign that Sadhguru is running - the save soil campaign. So soil is another natural resource that is depleting at a much faster pace than the nature is able to replenish it. When we do composting. We actually help in the regeneration of soil because composting is 100% natural process. Composting is done by microorganisms. There are machines which are sold in the market which say that we can make compost in 24 hours but we have to understand the very basic that composting itself is a process which can only be carried out by microorganisms, there is no machine that can do that process. Machines can only convert your waste into more manageable form, so that the composting process becomes easier faster, but the end objective can only be achieved by microorganisms and these micro organisms when they carry out these compost in this decomposition process and when they are put back to the soil, they enhances the life of the soil. As it is said that soil is alive I mean a fist full of dirt or mud you will find zillions of bacterias and helpful fungi. So that is the concept that we need to understand that composting is a natural phenomena. It should be done as naturally as possible. So home composting is something best composting that can be done because it does not require any mechanical or electrical intervention. It is a completely natural process. Even if a composting solution sector better society at a community level, try to set up a solution which is more natural composting. solution or a semi mechanized composting solution. These 24 hour composters which are being sold in the market are a complete greenwash. They are nothing but mini incinerators. They just burn your waste overnight, so that its volume and texture changes. But it does not benefit the soil in the way the composting class. So the output of the composting process is  the fertilizer that can enrich the soil and in our projects, we give all this fertilizer back to the societies or the bulk waste generator for whom we are working, which helped them to offset the chemical fertilizers that they use in the kitchen garden some of them will be distributed back to the residents who use it in their planting pots. So that way all the waste it gets generated from the society is going back to the soil of the society. So that was about composting now let's talk about the biogas as a process. So biogas is the same concept, phenomena that we have read in our textbook as gobar gas plants, right. So these are anaerobic digesters, when I say anaerobic digesters means the decomposition in these setups is happening in absence of oxygen. And what happens is when the food decays in absence of oxygen it produces Methane gas, which is really harmful for the nature, but it can be very useful if it can be tapped as energy. So in a biogas plant, when the food waste gets processed in absence of oxygen, it produces methane, then this methane, through special burners can be used to cook food in the kitchen. So I'll give you an example. I have a small biogas system that I have put in my home, this biogas system can take up to six kg of waste, and it gives me a cooking time of two hours on a single burner. So I can directly use the output of these biogas systems for cooking purposes. So that is one use. But there might not always be a scenario where you find a consumer of biogas in nearby vicinity. In that case, a biogas can also be converted into electricity, just like the way you would have seen diesel run gensets., There are gensets which can run on biogas. So the input to the genset is biogas and they convert this biogas and electricity which can be used for various purposes. The third utilization of biogas is that biogas when it got generated in its natural form, it has 50- 60% methane and remaining is carbon dioxide, nitrogen, etc. So when the other gases are scrapped or filtered out of the biogas and the methane level is brought 95%, then that is considered as bio CNG all that can also be filled into cylinder just like our LPG cylinder or png cylinders or the pipelines. So, the biogas can be filtered into more purified form, so that it can be given as a direct input in your existing gas pipelines of png or lpg. So these were the three utilizations of biogas


Kinshuk  7:19  

around that's really, thanks a lot for explaining it in such simple terms. And while you're keeping it simple, you're also expanding the chemistry behind it. And it's really enriching. I had a vague idea about some of these things, but I did not know them in too much detail. It's amazing that you have a setup in the home that you can use straight waste to a biogas conversion. And also you explained that how biogas can be used even to increase the proportion of metahne and then use it like an LPG gas. I did not know that. Tonya is wiser, but I did not know this. So thanks a lot that really clarifies some of our very basic doubts. Now, do you use any machines in the process of composting?


Rahul  8:05  

so yes, Kinshuk, so as I said that we work with the society so we work with the urban population, their real estate is always of very high value. So in order to carry out a process of composting, we do use certain machineries, but these are small, energy efficient machines, which we just use to convert the waste into more manageable form. So there is no heat induction that we do on the waste. So once the waste is converted into more manageable form using these machines, then the second half of the process is 100% natural composting using micro organisms and around 40% of our projects are actually using no machinery at all for any kind of pre processing. We just put the waste for natural composting as is after doing the secondary segregation and we let the nature take care of it. On its own, we just provide the right conditions in terms of the temperature, in terms of the moisture, in terms of the aeration, so that the process becomes faster, there are no operational issues, and the entire process is run out naturally. So we do use some small machineries, but they are not incineration based machinery. They just help us to make the waste in more manageable form so that we can then further process the large quantities of the waste in natural form.


Tania  9:30  

And you had mentioned that Balancing Bits does not provide dry waste recovery services. Why is that? Is that a stream of waste that's already getting into recovery or processing channels?


Rahul  9:42  

Yes Tanya, when we started the first decentralized project that we were running for a society he was actually a turnkey project. We were also taking their dry waste. So we did set up a small Material Recovery Facility right in the middle of the waste worker colony that I visited, along with the waste collector who took the waste of our house. So we started with that but soon realized that the real problem that we are facing if you really want to contribute to solving a problem, so you could just be there in the business to have a share of the pie. Or we can be there to solve a real problem. So we realize that the real problem lies in the wet waste because at that time, there were hardly any peers that were working on decentralized solutions for wet waste. So we identified that problem, created a technical solution, for a better business model and started working in that direction. However, as I told you that our very first project was a turnkey project. When we when we developed the business plan, revenue from dry waste was also one of the revenue stream that we were considering. There were some regulations by local administration in Gurgaon. Under that what they did is that they awarded the contract of collection and processing of dry waste to one single agency throughout the city. It's not something which was in line with the SWM 2016 rules we got going, it says that the work should be done on decentralized manner, in a decentralized fashion as far as possible. So Municipal Corporation of Google awarded a contract for central processing of the waste. So it was a it was an uphill task for us to promote a decentralization concept, whereas the Municipal Corporation in itself was promoting a centralized processing concept. However, the better sense prevailed over the time through our persistent effort through some of the successful projects that we set up in the city. Municipal Corporation also realized and of course, due to the citizens pressure, the citizens here in Gurgaon are much more aware about what the right approach is and what not. So all these factors and dialogues with municipal corporation and the better sense prevailed. Municipal corporations, somewhere gave to agencies like ours who can help the wet waste generator to process the waste in a decentralized manner. But still, there was a limitation that we were not allowed to work on the dry waste. So considering all these factors, when we consciously decided that we do not want to have a situation where we lock on eith authorities and other players who have a vested interest in dry waste, and we saw that the dry waste was able to find its value chain even through unorganized sector, whatever was recyclable was going to the value chain. So when we consciously decided that we will focus our time and energy on a problem that no one was paying attention to, which was wet waste, and so we decided that we will carry on with wet waste and we'll help the dry waste vendors increase the potential of their recycling by providing them better quality of dry waste. So that was a conscious decision that we made as an organization. In future, if we get an opportunity then we would definitely like to close the loop because if we talk from a customer's perspective, they always want a turnkey solution. They do not want to deal with multiple agencies. So in future, we will see options open for these kinds of opportunities. So let's see what future has for us in this area.


Kinshuk  13:26  

And what are some of your successes in offering a cleaner solution to people, which are your examples where you were delighted by the success that you saw? Also, what are some of the failures where you were not able to make a difference? And you talk about some of that?


Rahul  13:43  

Right? So it's a we have multiple solution offerings now, under every organization. Some of them are 100% natural composting, some of them are semi mechanized composting, so I really really feel very happy when our organization or when a bulk waste generator go for 100% natural solution because the 100% natural composting solution has the lowest carbon footprint and that was the reason we came into this business. We came to this field that we wanted to create an environmental and social impact. So I really consider that more and more natural composting projects that we set up is one of the metrics that I consider as our success factor. So right now we have around two projects which are doing 100% natural composting and remaining semi mechanized composting. So that was one of the success that I consider of our organization and of our work that we are able to make people believe that natural composting is possible in a decentralized manner to solve such a big problem of waste management and not just to the people of the city, not just with the bulk waste generators. We as I told you in the last question, that we somehow also were able to influence and it's not just us all the players who are working in the wet waste area, all of our competitors through our successful product and successful projects and persistent efforts we were able to convince the local administration that this model of waste management is a durable model, is a successful model that reduces the risk that does not keep all our eggs in one basket and it is beneficial for the environment. It does not overload the municipal infrastructure. So that I believe is the is the most successful thing that we have achieved that we are able to prove that this concept is workable, and it can be replicated in many other places. So right now, under our organization, we are doing waste management for around 35 bulk waste generators. We are growing these numbers. And I hope more and more waste generators get onboard this initiative of ours. On daily basis we are processing around seven tonnes of organic waste. So that is another success that I would like to mention that on daily basis we are reducing seven tonne of kitchen waste from going to these waste worker colonies and to the landfills or the municipal infrastructure. So, we are helping the income generation of the waste workers, we are helping the hygiene and health in the city. We are providing employment to almost 14 workers through the work we are doing. We train these people from waste worker colony who were previously working as unorganized people, they were not having any kind of social security. So now we are onboarding them in our company. We train them on composting process, we provide them the ESI, we open the bank account, we bring them on how to hygienically carry out the work how to improve their standard of living. So that is another success factor that I would like to mention that we are providing employment to around 40 plus people from my players sector. And by doing all this and you're working with these 35 plus bulk waste generators. We touch lives of around 35 to 40,000 people living in the society. So by providing the end solution to the waste, we are keeping these people motivated to segregate their waste at the source. So the awareness and the motivation that we provide to these 30-40,000 people who keep on segregating their waste and to ensure them that their waste is getting processed is another success factor that we contribute. And in terms of failures, I will not say these are failures. I will just say that there were some delayed objectives because we were a young company. There's a lot which is going in this space. We started in 2018. And as I told you that as soon as we started in 2018, there was a directive from municipal corporation saying that waste needs to be managed by one single company with a centralized approach. So we had a uphill task to break that barrier. Then came covid and two years are gone gone in COVID. So within a span of four year I think we have achieved a decent amount of success and created a good enough impact. And we will just like replicate this in other cities. I will not say again a failure it is a delayed object. One thing that I envisioned when I started this company is that after doing the successful projects here in Delhi NCR, we would want to replicate them through some channel partners in other cities. So we are not able to do that as of now. We are not able to find that fine line that how we offer this solution as a package to other people so that they can carry out it as our franchisee or our channel partner. So that is the delayed objective that I regret about. But I think we are doing good and that keeps us motivated to contribute


Tania  19:11  

And one thing I'm interested in and you said you work with a lot of societies, right housing complexes, why would they sign up for your service? I mean, is it a paid service that they subscribe to? Or how does it work? How does the model of society signing up with Balancing Bits work? And why are they doing it


Rahul  19:33  

There are few societies which are progressive as compared to other societies? So if we talk about Gurgaon as a city, Gurgaon as a city is a little more progressive in terms of environmental awareness if we compare it to other cities in NCR like Delhi, Nokia, etcetera. So even before they were any guidelines from Municipal corporation in Gurgaon, there were few societies who took up this task of processing their own waste through these compost plants. So

Rahul 19:50 

Even before there were any guidelines from Municipal corporation of Gurgaon, there were few societies who took up this task of processing their own waste through these compost plants. So our first few projects started when there was no push from municipa corporation or there was no such rule from corporation. So there were some progressive socities which just wanted to do good for the environment. Having said that, there are very few such societies. There is always administrative directive which is required, the government instructions which are required. Apart from this progressive societies who think of environment, what is required is some push from the administration. So in 2018, municipal corporation of Gurgaon issued notices to all the bulk waste generators, and they defined the category of bulk waste generators as anyone, any entity, it could be residential, commercial whatever, which is generating more than 50 kg of waste was identified as a bulk waste generator and they started issuing notices to these bulk waste generators that they have to segregate their waste at the source and they have to process the wet waste or the kitchen waste on their own. It should not go to the municipal corporation. So this really helped us that, help the societies to think that okay, they need to work in this direction. And along with that municipal corporation of Gurgaon, what they said is in order to provide some handholding into these societies for whom they issued these notices. They also empanelled few technical solutions. So we are impaneled agency with municipal corporation of Gurgaon. There are few other empanelled agencies who are doing wonderful work the terms of providing wet waste solutions to bulk waste generators. So all these were empanelled, and along with the notices, the list of empanelled agencies was sent that you can take technical help from any of these agencies to set up the composting plant. So this is how then it became more prevalent. Having said that still, the percentage of bulk waste generators who have adopted these practices, it was not even 15% of the total. So it's a long way to go, there's lot more pressure and push which is required, a lot more awareness which is required to be brought in and talking about the business model. of Balancing Bits as you asked that is it a chargeable service? Of course it's a chargeable service because wet waste produces a commodity which is compost, and compost was a commodity which is being sold in the wholesale market at 2-3 rupees a kg. So it is not viable to have a business model just based upon selling of compost. So that is why we charge service fees to the society wherever we operate these composting plants. So we set up these composting plants and operate them for the Society for which we charge them a service and all the compost that gets generated give it back to the society. So we do not we are not currently earning revenue out of the compost.


Tania  23:15  

Understood understood fully agree with you when you say we you know that we need to generate a lot more awareness amongst citizens and coupled with a carrot and stick approach in terms of policy from the government to move further ahead in this road of road to sustainability and conservation. Now coming back to taking on sustainability as a business or waste management as a business do you see this as a lucrative career opportunity for young people and entrepreneurs? And what advice would you give to someone starting out in this space?


Rahul  23:53  

Definitely there's a lot of opportunity, I mean, we just do some number crunching then we are currently not even collecting 40% of our waste, only 60% of waste is getting collected in a year. So you can imagine the quantum of the waste, which offers the opportunities just for the collection and transportation and processing of the waste. When we talk about processing then only 20% of the waste in India is getting processed. So 80% of the waste is still not getting processed. So there is a big problem which is in front of us and bigger the problem, the bigger opportunity is and this I'm talking only about the municipal solid waste - the waste that gets generated from our household, let alone the waste which gets generated from the farms. So there are a lot many other streams of waste, the industry and the waste that gets generated from farms, which I'm not considering in these numbers. So waste management is a industry I think it is huge, huge potential. It is estimated that by 2025 It will be a 15 billion USD industry. And just to give you some perspective, in 2020, the telecom equipment revenue of India was only 26 billion. So comparatively, you can imagine how big a industry we're talking about the future and you need many youngsters to tackle this situation. Depending upon your interest and skill sets, the opportunities lies in every field . I mean, you can help people in waste management by setting up an NGO that can drive awareness and activities. about segregation. If you want to be a company, that is good in operations, you can get into collection and transportation of waste.  You can get into dry waste extraction, dry waste recycling or wet waste processing. So depending upon your interest and your capabilities, your educational qualification, there is so much of innovation there's so much of research that is required to be done in terms of finding new technologies to process wet waste, improvising upon the current composting and biogas technologies. So much needs to be done in terms of designing the material in such a way that the recycling becomes easier. So the opportunities are immense in this field. One suggestion that I have for anyone who's looking to start a career in sustainability is that so we term Balancing Bits as the social enterprise, although there is no legal registration in India as a social enterprise. But we like to call ourselves a social enterprise because that defines the value system that we have in place. For us, the impact is equally important as the revenues of the company. So I think one of the most important thing that anyone who's planning to start over again the sustainability these few days that you start from a mindset of a social enterprise. What happens is that in India generally there are two types of organization which are in waste management, either either NGOs or nonprofit organizations, or there are big corporate houses who are setting up these waste to energy plants and things like. I think we require Small and Medium level social enterprises in the course, to solve such a complex problem for India. The problem with NGOs is that they do wonderful work. But they are not sustainable. They are dependent upon someone else's funding all the time. The problem with the business houses is that the only thing that they focus upon is the profit, the revenues of the company. So I think we need to find a way and have more and more small and medium level social enterprises who can locally handle their waste problem. So an organization in Varanasi when handled the problems of Varanasi. So this will also help in a lot of job generation at local level and a person who belongs to the city understands the life of the city better to understand the culture of the city better,  being able to provide better solutions locally. So I think yeah, medium and small level social enterprises is the answer to the waste management.


Kinshuk  28:11  

Thanks a lot. I have been amazed by our conversation in the last 15 minutes when the whole conversation has been really enriching, in the last 10 or 15 minutes where we covered what kind of impact you're having, the lives you're touching. And then the suggestion, it absolutely is coming from a very, very honest and a very aware of these, I think you have spent so much time in the space trying to understand what is working and what is not working and hence you're able to give such a crystal clear insight and suggestion and thanks a lot for being so open and honest. It's really eye opening. A lot of people must will hear this for the first time and delivered in such a direct and honest manner. You have just blown our minds in the last 15 minutes. Coming to what you're doing is seven tonnes per day and you know, it's a young organization which had first the administrative issue and then covid hit, and still you're able to touch 35 bulk waste generators. We believe that the biggest success like you spoke about that you have given everybody a proof of concept, which makes more projects more easy to execute and more people to get convinced. And I think that's a that's a great point as well because this will push more people into thinking how their societies can help. So people who are listening to this conversation, please think about how is your housing society waste getting generated? And what kinds of solutions can you implement to take care of the entire waste generation of your society? So that will be one big takeaway from this discussion? Second, around your suggestion on what should people do if they are entering the space like you mentioned? It's a very lucrative space. And however, it has to come from a place of honesty and a place of making a difference and the distinction that you made between NGOs and big corporates and the small MSME companies grown locally understanding the local problems of the city or the town. That's such a big point. I think that will make a world of difference where well meaning people enter the space who don't think of this as a business. Of course, the profits have to be made, but there is a social cause which is driving their agenda, because at times things will be hard. And at those times you have to look at vision and mission and that will drive you forward. So that's a brilliant point. Thanks. Thanks a lot for that. Both Tanya and I learned so much with you today. It's just fantastic. One parting question Rahul. What would your advice be for people if they could do just one thing for a sustainable India? What should it be?


Rahul  31:00  

So when we talk about masses when we talk about so many people, I think we have to keep it really simple. We cannot load people with too much responsibility. So I think one simple thing that every Indian can practice and should practice is to segregate your waste. Once you do that, I'm not asking you to process your own waste. I'm not asking you to do home composting, I'm not asking you to plastic recycling nothing. Just segregate your waste into at least three different categories. One is the dry waste which includes the paper, the plastic, the glass bottles, the metals, and other categories, the wet waste, which includes all the ways that were generated from the kitchen, which includes the fruit, vegetable, use the leftovers, and the third category is the domestic hazardous waste, which primarily includes the sanitary waste, any broken glass, anything that can cause harm to any other person who is processing your waste, a blade, a broken glass,, anything like that, any kind of medical gauge that has body fluids on that goes into the waste as I described. So if every Indian starts doing that trust me, without even realizing it, you are going to do a great, great service to the nation. And you are going to lay the foundation for so many entrepreneurs to manage the waste of your city in much better way that will keep your surroundings in that will improve the public health in your city that can generate so many employment and that will also enhance the energy and the food security of the country. without you being realizing if you just start segregating your waste, it will contribute to the energy security and the food security of the country as well. I will tell you how once the waste starts getting segregated into different categories, it does not remain the waste, it becomes resource. So if this huge quantity of wet waste which is getting generated from your household is being sent to citywide biogas processing unit like it is being setup in indore, you can generate alternate energy sources which are not oil or petroleum dependent. Right. So all that contributes to the energy security of the country. And whatever the fertilizers which gets generated after processing this wet waste, they become the input to your natural farming, your organic farming and we have in recent past heard and read a lot about that how the chemical farming is impacting the soil condition how it is impacting the water availability in the city. So all these things will fall in place if you just start segregating.


Kinshuk  33:49  

So there you go, please segregate your waste. That is the biggest service that you can do to yourself and to our nation. So thanks a lot Rahul. I think that's a great suggestion. And again, like the whole discussion was broken down very simply for everybody. Thanks a lot. It has been a great enriching session. I don't know how many times I've said this. But we are we're really very happy with the conversation. Thanks again for being here.


Tania  34:18  

I think you broke down the invisible part of where our waste goes very lucidly for our audience. And thank you for that. While we were aware of some bits, but then the clarity that you brought to the whole thing in such simple language has been really, really helpful. Thank you. And we hope to implement a lot of this further in our daily lives. And I'm sure our audience also


Rahul  34:58  

Thank you so much. So it was a pleasure talking to both of you, Kinshuk and Tania and I just hope that I'm able to convey the message in a simple language so that we can reach out to maximum people, as I said that it is not a single person's effort I think everyone is doing their bit. That inclusion, that understanding that every positive impact that someone is bringing to the table with the right intent should be appreciated and should be welcome. I think with that approach, we together, all of us initiatives, like greenshoots and Balancing Bits and many more like others have to work together. So there was a paradigm shift. In the group people start thinking about sustainability right now those are seen as a secondary product right? It is seen as a cookie with the coffee we have to make sure that people start identifying it as the coffee as the product and product and services are built on sustainability. Then in when our efforts will see light.. I so thank you, thank you for having me here. And it was wonderful. Talking to both of you and it is always a learning experience. To have discussions with enlightened ones and so thank you.


Kinshuk  36:06  

So after Rahul told us about these machines that claim to compose in 24 hours, I checked online and guess what there are companies. Please don't fall for these tricks. Residential societies in Gurgaon or Delhi or restaurant owners, you know what to do? Reach out to Balancing Bits, and figure out how you can compose your waste. If you have any feedback or suggestions on the next guests that you would like, do reach out to us at Have a great day.


Author - team awenest

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