The muck stops everywhere

Heavy garbage is seen due to not clear in front of BSNL exchange, Bazaar street, Halasuru in Bengaluru on Wednesday. Photo by S K Dinesh

The muck stops everywhere

Is another big garbage crisis just around the corner? The city’s scratchy waste management system might have barely averted a potentially devastating strike by the contractors and pourakarmikas. But underneath the edgy calm lies an imperfect mechanism with a poor record of segregation, collection and disposal.

Despite a sustained, multi-pronged campaign to ensure that the wet and dry waste is segregated at source, the process remains deeply compromised. As garbage piles up on footpaths, street corners, vacant sites, graveyards and other public places, the nexus of corrupt garbage contractors, corporators and bureaucrats has ensured that the stink rises forever.

Poor segregation

But as this in-your-face reality strikes anyone who cares to keep the city clean, the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has a different take. A senior Palike official claims that about 45 to 50% of the waste is segregated at source.

BBMP contends it has installed separate bins across the city. But when the collection falters at the household and commercial unit level, is not the purpose defeated? Here’s the official’s explanation: “Even if 10 houses in a street follows the segregation method but the eleventh house fails and gives the mixed waste, the effort of the remaining ten houses goes off.”

Weak implementation

The implication is clear. Compliance of the so-called strict rules is poor because the implementation is poor, as N S Mukunda from the Citizen’s Action Forum puts it. “Levy Rs 100 to Rs 200 for not segregating the waste at source. But this will not be done because there is a hidden agenda to ensure that the system fails,” he says.

When the system fails, the mixed waste conveniently adds to the truckloads that head to the landfills. But the maths does not add up. “There would only be three trips in reality. But bills would be fabricated to show an imaginary fourth trip. The garbage contractor, corporator and BBMP personnel are all part of this. It needs a lot of courage to break this nexus as all parties are neck deep into this,” elaborates Mukunda.

Inefficient collection

On the ground, the sheer inefficiency of the house-to-house collection system shocks. Here’s how it works: The small rickshaw carriers collect both segregated and mixed waste from houses and dumps them at a vacant slot. This could be an isolated corner or stretch of a road, a vacant site or even the footpath. The bigger trucks collect them, but leave behind almost 10-20% of the muck. Over days, this piles up raising a stink.

The solution, as Mukunda explains, is to segregate and process the wet waste at the ward level itself. This would drastically reduce the volume of garbage to be transported to long distances. The tricky question is this: Why would the truckers be interested in reducing the volume?

Multiple solutions

If BBMP is ready to take a break from its perennial landfill-hunting expedition and think beyond waste-to-energy projects, there is a way, says Savitha Hiremath, a Solid Waste Management and composting enthusiast. “The Palike can nail the wet waste composting task in three shots,” says the blogger and a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT).

First, boost home composting. “Follow the Allepey model by subsidising it by 90 per cent. Exploit all the eco-innovations and popularise this initiative. Secondly, make bulk generators (BGs) to strictly follow the law by processing all their wet waste and garden rejects in situ, and penalise them if they refuse to fall in line,” Hiremath explains.

Setting up ward-level composting units should be the third step. “Anything that doesn’t get processed in individual homes and BGs like apartments, schools, offices, commercial establishments, etc., should reach this unit. Indore has set up 1,000 community composting units to prevent this precious green ‘waste’ from reaching landfills.”

Citizen initiatives

Many citizen groups have shown the way even if the scale is small. One such is the Citizens of Koramangala, a core committee of residents from five blocks. Explains the panel member, Padmashree Balaram, “We have taken up the task of not only keeping the streets clean but also to manage waste responsibly. We are now in the process of decentralising our waste management.”

But they are now faced with a few challenges. “The autos which are supposed to pick only domestic waste also pick unsegregated waste from restaurants and PGs . This not only delays the waste pick up, it also sometimes creates mixed waste. We are pressuring the health department to levy strict penalties on restaurants etc for being irresponsible in disposal of their waste.”

Trained waste-pickers

Another citizen's initiative, Hasiru Dala had trained waste-pickers to operate the Dry Waste Collection Centre (DWCC) conceptualised by SWMRT. As Nalini Shekar from the Dala points out, this was the city recognising wastepickers as a keen stakeholder in the dry waste management.

Bengaluru had become the first city in India to sign MoUs with wastepickers to operate such a public utility service. “While this is an amazing demonstration of acknowledging and integrating informal workers into solid waste management of the city, it is disappointing that the ecosystem required for wastepickers to succeed is non-existent in BBMP,” she laments.

For the last 10 months, payments are pending for the door-to-door collection. The DWCCs remain extremely poor in infrastructure. “In some cases, water logging inside DWCCs has rendered the waste to have no recycling value. Now is the time to take action and support these wastepicker operators of DWCC or never!”

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