Mumbai, financial capital of the country and home to almost 19 million people, generates around 2.9 million (29 lacs) tonnes of waste annually. Pune, the second largest city in Maharashtra with a population of around 3.5 million people generates around half a million (5 lacs) tonnes of waste annually. That is a combined 930 truck-loads of garbage each day in just two cities of western Maharashtra. India’s cities are growing and it is estimated that by 2025 waste generation will increase by 300 percent. This is the magnitude of our waste problem that manifests itself into worsening urban health, reduced economic growth and deteriorating quality of life. Just in 2015 alone, air pollution cost Mumbai and Delhi a whopping $10.67 billion i.e. 0.71 percent of the GDP.
How do we kill this hydra? A number of technology solutions have emerged and they have been successfully tested, however the problem lies not in technology but in behaviour. Citizens do not segregate their waste and municipal governments do not treat the waste separately. If waste is segregated, dry waste can be recycled and wet waste can be processed into gas, compost, liquid fertilisation or bio mass pellets among other things. This sounds too simple but often what seems simple is the hardest to do.
Katraj ward in Pune is an excellent example of decentralised waste management that has won many accolades. Pune Municipal Corporation and local NGOs, Swachh and Janwani in the year 2011 launched the ‘Swachh Katraj, Dekhna Katraj‘ initiative, Marathi for ‘Clean Katraj, Scenic Katraj‘. Wide scale awareness campaigns were organised; street plays, short films, posters and neighbourhood meetings while the co-operative of waste pickers ensured door-to-door collection of segregated waste. Within a span of one year, over 80 percent of households were segregating their waste and a bio-gas plant was installed, gas is generated through the wet waste from the ward and street lights in locality are powered through this plant, effectively closing the waste loop. Pune Municipal Corporation saves around Rs 65,000 on transportation costs each month as majority of the waste does not go to the landfill and an additional Rs 6.5 lakh on electricity costs for street lights as they are powered through the bio-gas plant. The success of this model lies in it’s practicality; citizens were not asked to reduce their waste to unrealistic levels, rather the model focuses that waste generated in a ward should not leave that particular ward.
This is in stark contrast to centralised waste management systems in the United States and other western economies that require massive investments and are yet largely unsustainable. New York City generates a staggering 14 million tonnes of waste each year and spends around $2.3 billion disposing of it, which is more than annual revenue generation of many smaller nations including Kyrgyzstan, Rwanda and Bahamas among many others. I recently visited one such disposal site, the Sims Municipal Recycling facility, an 11-acre state of the art recycling center on the Brooklyn waterfront. The facility was built under a Public-Private Partnership agreement where the city has made substantial investments and the costs/proceeds from sale of recyclables – often exported to countries like Canada, India, and China – are shared between the city and the recycling company as per an agreed formula. Over 80 percent of waste generated in New York is non-recyclable and it all ends up in landfills transported through trucks, trains and barges as far as 600 miles. Average cost of land-filling is estimated at $60 per tonne; that translates to roughly Rs 15 crores each day. This does not take into account the ecological costs of carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles transporting the waste, probable ground water contamination and methane leakages from the landfill sites.
With a growing middle-class in the country and its aspirations, waste generation is only going to increase, we may want to emulate the economic progress of the west but emulating their waste management systems will be a big disaster. Swachh Bharat Mission has provided a huge impetus on cleanliness and now it is imperative for citizens to unite in segregating their waste. There are successful examples in our country we could learn from. Namakkal in Tamil Nadu rallied its citizens on sustainable waste management and launched a 5-bin, colour-coded, door-to-door collection system through self help groups – Green colour for organic waste, blue for inorganic waste, orange for recyclable waste, red for hazardous waste and brown for metallic waste. Bundi in Rajasthan recently launched a ‘Tokna Zaroori Hain‘ campaign that translates to ‘It is necessary to call out‘ when someone is littering or dumping their waste on the streets. The campaign aims at building a collective responsibility for ensuring cleanliness and managing waste.
Behavioural change communication alone is not enough though. It has been observed in multiple cities that segregation-at-source campaign is launched but local governments are unable to follow up. Citizens start segregating waste at source but they are mixed again during transportation and generally it all ends up in landfills. Municipal governments in India are highly understaffed and the capacities to implement sustainable waste management projects are simply non-existent. They are unable to provide market linkages to waste pickers for recyclable waste nor able to implement PPP projects with the industry. Central and State sponsored schemes need to have policy features that promote and facilitate sustainable consumption, waste to energy technology, resource recovery and cradle-to-cradle product designs by building capacities of municipal governments through adequate staffing, training and funding – the Achilles heel of sustainable waste management in India.
The author, Naim Keruwala, leads the governance department at Avantha Foundation and teaches urban economic development at the Symbiosis School of Economics as a visiting lecturer.
Tweet at Naim: @Naim_K
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