Waste is inevitable; there is no avoiding it. Carrying out normal daily tasks and activities often results in the creation of waste products that, if not properly managed, can constitute a great nuisance both to us as individuals and also to our environment. This is why proper waste management is an important aspect of society that must be encouraged. There is literally a breath of fresh air across societies today, with more individuals venturing into waste management private services. Assam-based Partha Pratim Pathak is a household name in India for biomedical waste management and disposal. He is the founder of Fresh Air Waste Management Private Services Pvt. Limited.

For Partha, waste management is the responsibility of every member of society that’s concerned about eco-friendliness and the part they have to play in achieving it. He describes his journey in setting up the first Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF) in Northeast India as taxing; stressing that a venture of this magnitude had not been previously seen in the region. Financing was the biggest challenge for him when he started out. The reason is simple; most investors and banks were a bit skeptical in investing in his new and unconventional start up.

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Taking us through the initial start of his journey, Partha says, “In the sixth semester, my environmental engineering project was to study the system of waste management of a hospital and the sewerage system of a municipal market, which I enjoyed doing and that gave me the basic idea of starting this business. In the year 2000, I had to leave my well-paying job in a Mumbai-based multinational company and return to my home town due to unavoidable family reasons. Life became difficult all of a sudden. During that period, my maternal uncle Dr. Nirode Chandra Das, living in the United States, inspired me to venture into waste management as an entrepreneur. So, with the knowledge I procured during college, few years of work experience, inspiration from my uncle, and most importantly my desperation to do something of my own gave me the boost to create Fresh Air in 2003.”

After his launch, Partha began spreading the gospel of efficient biomedical waste disposal and management. He describes his venture as “a centralised facility or industry where biomedical waste from health care facilities (HCF) are treated and disposed as per the guidelines laid down by the biomedical waste management regulatory. The HCFs have to handover their wastes to the CBWTF operator who also provides specialised bio medical waste collection vehicles and transport to the CBWTF for final treatment and disposal. The whole operation is monitored by the regulatory authorities through online monitoring facilities in real time. The HCF has to make payment to the CBWTF operator for the said service”.

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Talking about his first break, Partha recalls, “I was going to set up the first CBWTF of Northeast India which meant that the idea was completely new for this region. I was desperately looking for a financer and few clients who were complete unaware of this concept. Banks were bit tied up with their conservative protocols for which getting finance to support an unconventional business was almost impossible. But luckily it was NEDFI (North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd) that financed the main machinery. On the other hand, clients were not easy to convince as Guwahati had lots of wet land even behind the premises of the hospitals, where biomedical waste could be easily disposed. At that point of time, a news was making the rounds of a maternity hospital from where biomedical waste was stolen by stray dogs and crows and left those in nearby commercial area. I grabbed the opportunity and offered my service to the hospital where the biomedical waste generated by them would be collected and disposed in a common incinerator. My first priority is to provide them excellent service by timely collection of biomedical waste and proper disposal. My hard work eventually started paying off and more clients came forward to avail my services.”

India biomedical waste disposal and management market is expected to reach $ 39 million by 2024. In Northeast India region, there is a recent growing concern that the steady increase in the production of biomedical waste in the country as a result of the rise in the number of patients admitted into hospitals might eventually lead to environmental degradation. The CBWTF – charged with the responsibility of preventing the ticking time bomb – are widely underfunded and are in no position to effect proper change.

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So is there a green gap in Northeast India? To which Partha admits, “Yes definitely. A CBWTF requires minimum 5000 beds within the 150 km defined area which can generate about Rs 15 lakh monthly subscription charge, including minimum 10% of profit from the HCF to make its operation sustainable. However, in the region except Guwahati and nearby areas, we don’t have such territory where 5000 beds are available within 150 km radius. On the other hand, an entrepreneur will require at least Rs 3 to 4 crore capital to start such CBWTF as per current guidelines. To get the break even, the CBWTF operator will require more margin than the above mentioned 10% which is not possible as the HCF will have to pay high subscription charge. In other part of India, for e.g. Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Orissa, the scenario is different with better subscription rates, improved awareness, willingness of HCF, and more importantly you get much more number of HCFs thereby more number of beds in a smaller area with mostly plain terrain resulting less cost of transportation and more profit for which entrepreneurs are coming forward to take up such projects.”

Partha, however, reveals that some strategies can prevent the eventual destruction of the environment as a result of widespread, saturated biomedical waste.

“There are central schemes under the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change (MOEFCC) where the government provides 50% of necessary funding for the CBWTFs but till today, in spite of calling for expression of interest (EOI) by the Pollution Control Board in Assam, not a single CBWTF has come up. This tells the story of the complexity of implementation of such projects. Therefore, I personally feel that, especially for the Northeast region, government should construct CBWFTs of its own like they do for civil hospitals and let them operate like credible private players in public-private partnership (PPP) mode. Also, the government may consider taking expertise from organisations like us which have been in this sector for over 18 years,” he notes.

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In Guwahati, Assam, the coronavirus pandemic has led to an even more increase in the number of patients in Guwahati hospitals. Biomedical waste produced and disposed as a result has been more than they could handle, leading to the dumping of these non-biodegradable waste on lands like in the case of Chandrapur dumpyard. Speaking on this prevailing situation, Partha says “Regarding the Chandrapur dumpyard, if the government decides to give up the place then it will become the duty of the citizens of Guwahati, political parties, even protesting organisations to help the government find a feasible alternative site for waste disposal. We do not want our city to be dirty and so, a waste disposal site is necessary.”

“The government also has to ensure that in the new disposal site, proper technology and expertise are deployed to treat and dispose the municipal solid waste and not allowed to be dumped on land indiscriminately. Periodically, the government should also encourage NGOs and individuals to put their effort into decentralized waste management systems in small localities or societies,” he adds.

For the future projects through his venture, Partha says Fresh Air has already started its venture for waste plastic recycling for which it has begun construction for a plastic recycling facility with initial capacity of 15 TPD (and intended to increase to up to 50 TPD).

“Apart from that, I am always committed to providing my expertise in setting up CBWTFs in different parts of the North East India region, for which we have been in touch with the Tezpur Hospital Association to start the CBWTF for Sonitpur district very soon. Fresh Air also provides training and knowledge regarding waste management through its CBWTF for which students from Assam Engineering College, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati University and other institutions have been doing their projects every year,” he says.

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