BES ’89, Environment and Resource Studies
President, Recyclable Materials Marketing
Resource management took on a whole new meaning for Atul Nanda during a second-year field studies trip to India. Interviewing New Delhi city workers and rag-pickers in open-air dumps gave Nanda a new perspective on recycling, a deeper appreciation of different cultures and a sincere desire to make a difference.
After graduation, Nanda helped establish Toronto’s first recycling program. Later, he went to work marketing recyclable materials in the private sector. When the company he worked for was sold Nanda seized the opportunity to start his own venture, Recyclable Materials Marketing. Now in its 15th year, REMM is one of the top five firms in the market, leveraging a solid reputation of strong strategic relationships and value-added service.
Nanda now gives back to the country that inspired so much him as a student, supporting Child Haven, a Canadian based charity that cares for destitute children in India, Nepal, Tibet and Bangladesh.
Following his father’s footsteps, Atul Nanda always knew he would study the environment, but it was a field trip to India that would ultimately shape his career.
Founder and president of Recyclable Materials Marketing, Nanda remembers his early exposure to environmentalism with humour. “We probably looked like martians in the late ’70s because we had solar panels on our house!” he jokes. His father, a PhD in botany and ecology wrote environmental textbooks for Ontario high schools and built a fully “green” house in the early 80’s. “It was ahead of its time,” says Atul, complete with all of the requirements now recognized by organizations like LEED. But in the end, a lack of business acumen would keep the venture from succeeding. This fact, Nanda later reflects, ultimately inspired him to supplement his own environmental studies at Waterloo with business courses at Wilfred Laurier. With a nod to Waterloo’s Environment and Business program, Atul says “I wanted to learn more about the environment, but to combine the environment and business together seemed cutting edge. I thought there was a huge opportunity. Lucky for me, there was.”
During his second year in ERS, Atul signed up for a four-month Field Studies trip to India and decided to interview city workers in New Delhi for a paper on waste management. “They were so excited about their two new collection trucks” he says. But when he finally located one, it was parked at the end of a lane with the two workers asleep in the cab. “I banged on the window and they both jumped up!” he laughs. When asked what they were doing, they exclaimed “What we’re supposed to do!”, and went on to explain the unwritten rules that governed garbage collection in the city: afternoon pick-ups were always deferred to allow others to scavenge through the trash and salvage what they could. Atul then followed the trucks to open-air dumps where he met with colonies of rag-pickers. “There was a hierarchy of who gets to go in first to capture what they thought was the most recoverable.” Atul remembers, “It made me wake up and grow up in a hurry.”
Returning to Canada with a new appreciation of different priorities, cultures and ideological differences, Atul finished his studies at Waterloo and took a job with the City of Toronto, helping to establish their first recycling program. He later entered the private sector, marketing curbside collected recyclable materials sorted and baled at recycling facilities across North America. When the company was sold and Nanda’s marketing function decentralized, he seized the opportunity to start his own venture, Recyclable Materials Marketing (ReMM). “I could have gone to work for another company,” he says, “but if you’re not willing to take a chance, you can’t succeed.”
Since then, REMM has grown in carefully planned steps, developing relationships and strategic partnerships along the way. A leader in the full-service recycled materials market, Nanda considers REMM a “value-added partner” saving some clients millions of dollars. “You have to listen to your customers, what they want, what they need.” A lesson, he says, he learned at Waterloo.
Moving forward, Atul’s next venture is Recyclebank Canada, a program that rewards consumers for their recycling. Currently operating in hundreds of communities across the US and UK, Recyclebank uses RFID tags to track household recycling and a points-system to reward users. In some areas recycling rates have increased by as much as 300%. Nanda, the acting president of Recyclebank Canada, looks forward to launching the program here in Canada in 2012.