Smartbin handles food waste in homes

Shayak Majumder
New Delhi

Smartbin, as the name suggests, is a smart kitchen wastebin which converts everyday food waste into organic fertilisers  or compost. From the outside, it may look like any ordinary garbage bin. But its crafty design and mechanism make it an effective domestic compost-producing device.

Contrary to other composting practices, the Smartbin produces high-yielding chemical-free fertiliser in a fast, clean, odour-free manner. It is designed and distributed by Bengaluru-based Greentechlife, run by innovator and avid gardener Arijit Mitra.

Mitra, who started Greentechlife on 15 August, 2009, had no experience of composting or gardening. “I come from a background of BPOs and marketing,” says Mitra. He worked in Delhi and Mumbai, before shifting to Bengaluru in 2007.

“I was getting fed up with the life I was leading. I wanted to do something that pleased my soul,” says Mitra.  Then he came across the acclaimed BBC documentary, Home, on YouTube. “The documentary showed how the human race is threatening the ecological balance on Earth,” says Mitra. “I realised that if I don’t do anything about it from my side, my son, who is four years old, might not have a safe Earth to grow on.”

Mitra started researching food crops grown all over the world. He found out that food is consumed by someone who is sitting far from where the crops are produced. “I wanted to reduce this distance. If we grow our own food, it would help take the pressure off the soil in the farmlands. And hence I came up with Greentechlife, which provides organic farming solutions. Smartbin is our bestselling product so far.”

According to Mitra, food waste accounts for 60 per cent of household waste. Smartbin allows customers to keep that away from landfills easily. It doesn’t use dustbin liners or garbage bags, therefore decreasing the amount of plastic going into landfills.

“Even though Smartbins are very effective in converting your daily food garbage into productive compost and have proven worthy in keeping waste away from landfills, it must be noted that Smartbin was not initially designed to be a waste management solution,” points out Mitra.

Smart Garden came first

Smartbin was initially developed to provide a solution to Mitra’s first creation – Smart Garden. “Greentechlife’s first offering, the Smart Garden, was a specially designed terrace garden. It is a modular organic terrace garden that helps a gardener grow food without using pesticides,” says Mitra.

The various Smart Garden modules were priced between Rs 20,680 and Rs 67,800. “Even after availing of a module of such a high price, I discovered that the customers run a high maintenance cost, buying good compost to use in the garden which comes at around Rs 120 for a one-kg packet,” says Mitra. “This bothered me. I didn’t want my customers to spend so much after buying a Smart Garden.”

Mitra started researching on effective and cheap ways of producing compost in the home. “I studied a lot of composting methods, I spoke to experts from all over the world on Skype,” says Mitra. “Finally, after one-and-a-half years of designing one prototype after another, I came up with the Smartbin.”

He was inspired by the Japanese method of fermenting. “In Japan, they ferment their food waste and turn it into compost. The Smartbin works in a similar manner,” says Mitra.

The Smartbin was launched on 26 January, 2013, as a supplement to Smart Gardens, but it soon gathered popularity as a standalone device that yields high-quality compost which can be used in any organic garden.

A Smartbin start-up kit is priced at Rs 1,695 and includes two 20-litre Smartbins, two lids, two strainers, two taps and fittings and three packs of Bio Bloom microbes.

Using a Smartbin is easy. “It is to be used like a kitchen bin, where you put in all your food waste,” says Mitra. “The only difference is, after you put in the waste, you press it down using any plate or bowl, to remove air gaps from in between.” After the waste is pressed down, the user has to sprinkle a teaspoon of Bio Bloom microbes, which stops the food from rotting and converts it into a sort of pickle.

Bio Bloom from bran

The Bio Bloom microbes are also provided by Greentechlife. The three packets of Bio Bloom would last a family of four for three to four months. “The Bio Bloom is developed from the bran which is produced after rice or wheat is polished. The bran, in itself, is a good source of microbes,” says Mitra.

When the bin is full, it is kept aside for around four weeks to finish pickling. During this period, the second bin can be used to keep storing food waste. The pickle in the first bin is to be layered with dry compost, sealed and left for composting. Says Mitra, “The first time, you would have to buy the dry compost from any gardening store but afterwards you can easily use the compost you had prepared earlier in your Smartbin.”

“After four weeks of composting, you will have amazing compost, which acts as a great planting media,” says Mitra. The tap on the bins can be used to collect liquid waste, which is termed Smart Brew by Mitra. “The Smart Brew is an excellent growth stimulator. We have come across cases where customers have said that Smart Brew results in more lush and greener vegetation,” says Mitra. “We have also received feedback which says that Smart Brew has magically caused a plant to flower for the first time after five years.”

“Smart Brew is also effective in unclogging drain pipes and sewage lines,” says Mitra.

Mitra has sold around 500 Smartbins so far. More than his sales, he takes pride in his after-sales services. Greentechlife boasts of free lifetime support and assistance, and delivers. Mitra has created a Facebook community for Smartbin users. If you are a Smartbin user, you can post any query any time to the community. Mitra takes out time every day to answer all the posted queries.

“Most of our customers are first-time composters. They don’t have much idea of composting or organic farming and take to it out of pure passion. So I would get queries from someone who has used it for a few days, as well as from someone who has been using it for a few months,” says Mitra.

Mitra’s BPO background has made him a smart marketer. “Instead of driving sales by forcing my product on people, I would rather sell a few Smartbins and help those customers successfully grow food on their own,” he says.

Mitra relies on word of mouth and Facebook ads as his marketing strategies. “Initially, I would only be able to sell 10 bins in a month. But now, I am happy to say that I get at least three calls every day from customers who are looking for distributorship or bulk order.”

He has a small team of five employees that runs Greentechlife. He trains and instructs the employees personally. “While big corporates tell their employees that the customer is God, I tell my employees, Don’t treat a customer as God, but as a human being,” says Mitra. “This ensures that you are genuinely out there to help the customer and not trying to get a sale out of him.”

“So far, I have invested Rs 60 lakh in all my products, research and development. Frankly, I am nowhere near making any profit. I am still borrowing money from here and there. But, I am happy doing what I do. My family supports me. What else can I ask for?” says Mitra.

Greentechlife is going through a major expansion phase. “Our warehouse in Bengaluru is almost ready. I have appointed a senior customer care executive, who answers around 40 calls a day. If the calls exceed 50 per day, I will appoint one more executive,” says Mitra.

He is looking at developing a working strategy which would enable his employees to work from home. “I realise that each employee wastes valuable time and money commuting to and from office. I want to save that time and money by encouraging them to work from home,” says Mitra. “I know coming up with such a working module will be hard and something never done before. But, I like to do things which are out of the box and this is my next challenge.”