International Women’s Day Special Interview: Charmaine Sharma, Observing I Ecotech (OIE)

Based in Bhadohi, a town in Uttar Pradesh, Observing I Ecotech (OIE) offers proprietary technology for conversion of unsegregated waste to energy by-products including MSW, plastics, biomass, biomedical waste. OIE is a member of FICCI’s India Sanitation Coalition, a task force appointed by FICCI to promote best practices in waste management and assist the Government in proper implementation of the Swacch Bharat Mission and the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) programs.

OIE is listed on the SWACHH Portal of Urban Development Ministry of India. The company is a Business Development Associate of Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) Lucknow for sewage treatment technologies.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, SolidWasteIndia spoke to Ms. Charmaine Fernandes Sharma, Founder and Managing Partner of OIE about her waste management firm and her professional journey spanning four decades. In 2021, Ms Sharma won the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award for Sustainable Technologies 2021 from the Global Entrepreneurs Guild.

OIE’s Visakhapatnam plant

Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your company, Observing I Ecotech?

Observing I Ecotech was established in 2011 with the intention of making sustainable solutions available in the environment sector. We began with small-scale solar projects in rural areas of North India because at that time no company was ready to do small installations and the whole concept was relatively new. Our company also developed an enzyme wash solution for the carpet industry since the finished carpets are washed with harsh chemicals, with dyes in the effluent etc. This untreated wash water is released into the ground causing heightened ground water pollution. This was developed under grant funding from the Department of Science and Technology. Later, our company entered the waste conversion market and Mr Nafde, who has developed the technology in India, joined as partner.

Our technology is proprietary. We set up the first commercial level plant for the Indian Navy’s Eastern Command at Visakhapatnam. They were the first to offer us land and waste, provided we set up the plant at our own cost. No institutional funder or bank was willing to fund the project so it was finally completed on bootstrap funding. Our company and technology was subsequently featured in The Digest- Jim Lane’s Daily which is the leading bio-economy daily in the world. Now, with enhanced focus on SDGs and ESG there is a huge interest in setting up such plants. 

Q2. What is unique about your waste conversion technology?

Our technology is pyrolysis, where there is no incineration of materials and therefore no carbon emissions. Also, the plant accepts unsegregated waste, which is a huge advantage in the costs related to segregation and manual segregation is not required, which is a huge saving for ULBs. This is all considerable advantageous in achieving ESG Goals. The plant functions 24×7 and therefore waste is continuously converted without having the time to rot, release stench and other pollutants to the atmosphere and to the workers. We get liquid fuel, gas and carbon black as by-products, which is used to run our dual turbine machine. A ten-tonne plant costs 11 crores. We also provide storage tanks, gas compressor, etc.

Q3. You have a marketing background. How did you end up working in the waste sector?

I belong to a 1975 batch for MBA in Marketing which is way before it was a popular career option. I always got into new entrepreneurial ventures, launching and running a biotechnology manufacturing company, which I ran for 25 years. We were the first to manufacture the full range of Biotech research apparatus in India, generated four patents which got used at leading labs in India including BARC, TIFR, NII, TERI, etc. So building something new from the concept to commissioning has remained my focus and vision. It has always been an uphill task, I admit.

Q4. The waste industry is quite male-dominated. Women in senior management positions are rare. In your opinion, why is that?

I think this happens in a lot of technology-related fields. Fortunately, the scenario is changing. Women are being increasingly seen in senior positions in various technology-based enterprises.

Q5. Would you encourage women to think about a career in the waste industry? 

Certainly. Women have an inbuilt sense of cleanliness and tidiness, which is a big advantage. Recycling stuff and reusing materials comes more naturally to women than men. This is the primary reason why we can bring a wholistic approach to the challenge of handing waste materials and the technologies that can improve these requirements.

Q6. Is it hard to be taken seriously as a woman in this business? 

As I mentioned earlier, I was also a pioneer in the biotech apparatus business. Initially, a lot of people initially disregarded my work. Thankfully, things have changed a lot over the years and after showing that one can confidently handle any questions pertaining to technology, it is not a problem. Admittedly, it is difficult being the only woman in the room. I look forward to many more women joining the field. The waste sector is huge and has high economic viability, so I look forward to that. 

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