The vision of a Nepali entrepreneur behind his textile recycling business
58-year-old Ram Bahadur Gurung is a former aide-de-camp of Nepal's late King Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. While accompanying the King on a State visit to China in the 1990s, he was exposed for the first time to cloth-recycling technology.
As he retired seven years ago, Ram Bahadur Gurung invested USD 12 000 to purchase such a machine from India and set up a cloth-recycling factory. The SME, named Trishuli Kapas Prasodhan Udhyog, was established in his hometown of Trishuli in the district of Nuwakot. The company developed successfully into an SME that employed 16 persons. Operating for 20 hours per day, Mr. Gurung's factory processed 8 000 KG of textiles monthly, and his tailors could earn up to USD 50 per day.
However as the 2015 earthquake hit the area, his house and factory were turned into debris. The frequent lethal aftershocks urged him to move to a safer location. He relocated to the municipality of Ilam, in the Eastern Development Region of Nepal. After recovering from the shock caused by the earthquake, Mr. Gurung's entrepreneurial spirit came back and prompted him to open a new textile-recycling factory.
Through a USD 15 000 loan from the Nepal Army Welfare Fund, he built the necessary infrastructure, leased land and purchased the machinery. Despite lengthy governmental procedures and unreliable power supply, he managed to re-open Trishuli Kapas Udhyog in Ilam in May 2016.
"The process of recycling starts from the collection of unwanted clothes", he explains. Trishuli Kapas Udhyog is the first cloth-recycling SME established in Ilam. Prior to it, locals used to dispose of their textile waste in hazardous ways such as burning or burying. Now, they start appreciating the health benefits of this alternative practice and rejoice over the possibility of selling their cloth waste and receive money or recycled products in return.
Mr. Gurung charges USD 10 for each batch of 12 KG of clothes brought by locals to recycle, and pays on average USD 0.07 per KG of textile waste collected from the market, depending on the quality of clothes. He collects about 3 000 KG of unwanted clothes per month. Most locals turn to him to have their textile waste recycled, rather than to sell it or to buy raw textile waste, he explains.
After the collection, his employees segregate the waste to avoid metals, leather and buttons. The materials they reject are disposed into the waste-collecting tractor operated by the municipality with support facilitated by the SWITCH-Asia project PPP for 4Gs. The textiles that can be recycled are processed through a shredding machine that turns them into wadding, which can be used to manufacture cushions, blankets, mattresses and pillows, according to customers' demands. The company's recycling machine can process up to 200 KG of textiles per day, clarifies Mr. Gurung. "My objective behind recycling old clothes is to provide environment friendly affordable bedding, quilt and other products even to people with compromised economic conditions", he smiles with pride.
On average he sells 60-70 mattresses, 10 blankets, 20-25 pillows and 25-30 cushions per month.
Compared to his previous company in Trishuli, Mr Gurung's factory in Ilam is facing several challenges. Competing SMEs now operate in the area, his workforce is reduced to seven female and two male employees, and his income is down to half of what he earned at his previous SME.
Despite these challenges, Mr. Gurung remains determined to strengthen his business and contribute to sustainable waste management in the municipality. "I could live at ease from my pension but it is not just money and ease. Passion is all it takes to be an entrepreneur", he highlights.
Trishuli Prasodhan Udhyog is one of the companies that benefit of the support activities provided by the SWITCH-Asia project PPP for 4Gs in Ilam. The project started interacting with the SME as the factory was at its last stage of establishment. As it strives to create a sustainable solid waste management in Ilam through a public private partnership (PPP), the SWITCH-Asia project mobilizes SMEs that are operating in or interested in the recycling sector to strengthen waste management practices.
Through exposure visits, business and financial planning support, market linkages, improvements to the working environment and occupational health and safety (OHS), the SWITCH-Asia project builds the capacity of these SMEs to develop sustainably and become a sound counterpart to public waste management efforts.
Financial constraints were making it difficult for Mr. Gurung to provide OHS awareness and equipment to his staff. "I am happy to receive equipment support from the project because excessive dust inside the factory was unbearable for my employees. The bare hand use of machines resulted in injuries, particles irritated their eyes and their dresses were sometimes torn while operating the machine", he explains. With the help of the project, he is now planning to install an exhaust fan in the company.
His current workforce consists of four employees charged with cutting, two machine operators and three sewers. On average, per month, a machine operator earns NPR 10 000 - 12 000 (EUR 89 - 107) and a sewer makes between NPR 20 000 (EUR 188) and NPR 25 000 (EUR 222). Cutting is being paid at NPR 2 (EUR 0.02) per KG. The factory's staff can cut up to 300 KG per person per day, explains Mr. Gurung.
"I always wanted to stay in Nepal and generate employment opportunities for locals", says Ram Bahadur Gurung. Now, with the support of the project, he feels further motivated to pursue his entrepreneurial idea, despite his financial difficulties, and to contribute to sustainable waste management in Nepal.
Written by: Chadani Pandey, Winrock International (PPP for 4Gs), Silvia Sartori (SWITCH-Asia Network Facility).