Saraplast has found a convenient solution to India's sanitation problem
May 13 2013, 12:49 | By Entrepreneur
By Shonali Advani
The 2011 Census reveals that a little more than half of the country's total households-53.1 percent-have no access to toilets. There have been some notable names in India working in this sector, like Sulabh Shauchalaya; and there have been others too, lesser known but making a quiet impact in sanitation facilities. Last year, Pune-based social enterprise Saraplast Pvt Ltd. provided over 200,000 people access to toilets in India-o which 130,000 were first-time toilet users, and 50,000 were women and young girls. The company which manufactures, cleans and services portable toilets under the brand 3S Shramik, is the pioneering effort of Rajeev Kher, 38.
Kher wanted to import portable toilets from the West but no company was willing to give him free samples to showcase it to municipalities and government departments-he base Kher wanted to target. Only Thal, a German company now bought over by European firm Satellite Industries, responded to Kher's calls, offering two samples that kickstarted his business.
3S today offers Indian and Western-style toilets (including urinals) made from polyethylene or high quality plastic engineered for a life-span of ten years. These 4×4 feet toilets are 100 percent recyclable, and UV protected.
The toilets are designed on a water saving model with a foot operated pump that uses only 300 milliliters of water per flush, and does not need external supply of water or drainage. "Last year, we recycled 147 million liters of waste water," says Kher.
For those in need
3S also refurbishes and maintains existing toilets in slums. Kher says that at first he faced substantial opposition from local authorities in these projects but over time he managed to convince people about its benefits. The Department for International Development (DFID) also gave them some assistance for research and market survey in cities 3S intended to scale up with slums. "We got pointers with this strategic study to see how we could progress here," he says. The firm charges slum dwellers Rs. 30-Rs. 50 per family, per month. "DFID researched and helped us establish price points depending on the type of slum and per capita income therein," he says, adding that he is consciously aiming to reach difficult places. Though the projects are a prime focus area, they are not yet generating revenue. Kher says he is trying to raise funds for it.
Urvashi Prasad, Program Officer, Health Initiative, Dell Foundation says, "Public toilets set up by the government are not enough. We need facilities at the community level, but maintenance is the biggest challenge which we thought Shramik could do as their quality of service is high." The partnership helped Kher get wider recognition too-he was invited by former US President Bill Clinton for the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2010.
"We realized that not everyone was buying these toilets. 3S was doing well on the service front but Saraplast sold very few numbers," he recalls. So he merged both entities in 2008 into one parent company and all sanitation services continued to be sold under the 3S brand.
In October 2009, Aavishkar Venture Management Services invested '2.92 crore when revenues were only Rs. 4 crore. By FY11, sales touched Rs. 7 crore.
"They are still trying to establish a commercially viable model for slums. Once frozen, slums will offer the largest potential market," says Noshir Colah, Operations Partner, Aavishkar. Colah says a majority of the revenues are generated from Pune. He feels geographical expansion at least in the construction sector would be wiser for Saraplast.
"Power plants and oil refineries can be potential verticals. But quite correctly, the management is focusing on going deeper into only a few verticals," he says.
Room for More
Product Price of Toilet: Rs. 5,000- Rs. 75,000
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