Students Partner with Indian Colleges to Clean India’s Streets

June 4, 2015

Five undergraduate students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business have developed a project called Clean Cycle to help dispose of trash along India’s roadways. The project is a partnership with Manav Rachna College of Engineering in Haryana, India, and the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education (FLAME) School of Business in Pune, India.

Clean Cycle is part of a class at Haslam that uses community service projects to help teach business management in a real-world context. Haslam’s Clean Cycle team includes Wilson Waller, Katie Ruan, Manami Murphy, Jason Hinkle and Harmeet Batth, all senior business majors.

Batth, who was born in India and is the project’s field researcher, said the country’s trash problem has developed with its commercialization. “People do not claim responsibility for disposal of western packaged goods,” Batth said. “There is a lot of trash there, and it’s been building up over the last decade.”

The trash accumulates along India’s streets and in empty lots, causing a growing health concern. In October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Clean India campaign encouraging citizens to dispose of garbage appropriately and help clean up litter in their communities.

Clean Cycle contributes to Clean India by providing tricycles and safety gear to independent waste collectors who make their living on refunds from recyclable materials. Tricycles can triple a waste collector’s daily productivity, which supplements their income while reducing the public trash problem.

Haslam students worked with students from Manav Rachna and FLAME to build business plans for the independent waste collectors to expand their enterprises using the tricycles. Indian students mentor the waste collectors based on the plans and consult with Haslam students to make adjustments as the business plans are implemented.

Jason Hinkle, company director for Clean Cycle, said that the most difficult part of the project has been embracing flexibility. “Where we stared is so different from where we are now,” Hinkle said. “I’ve learned you sometimes have to deviate from a plan no mater how hard you’ve worked on it. I think that’s part of being an entrepreneur.”

The service project began in the fall of 2014 with a different set of Haslam students. Their focus was on creating awareness of India’s waste problem in the United States while participants from Manav Rachna organized community clean up days and distributed public waste bins. Clean Cycle’s entrepreneurial aspect grew out of an effort to make the project self-sustaining.

Ernie Cadotte, Fisher Professor of Innovative Learning, teaches the service learning class and brought India’s trash problem to the attention of his students after travelling there in the summer of 2014. He believes the issue is not culturally specific. “The U.S. was the same way in the 1950s when interstates first came in,” Cadotte said. “We had to educate ourselves not to litter.”

The partnerships with Manav Rachna and FLAME came from Cadotte’s connections during his travels. Students in India and at Haslam researched the Adopt-A-Highway program and anti-litter campaigns in the U.S. as well as current waste management practices in India before developing Clean Cycle.

Other projects of Cadotte’s class have included a 5K run benefitting senior citizens in Knoxville and a bike rally benefitting the Legacy Parks Foundation. This is the class’s first international project.