Involve citizens, NGOs in solving the garbage problem

Involve citizens, NGOs in solving the garbage problem

All cities and towns struggle to cope with garbage. India is no exception to this phenomenon. Modern life’s activities generate huge amounts of garbage. City governments collect and move the garbage to landfills on the outskirts. As cities expand, the garbage landfills are moved further and further. Garbage has hence to be transported to greater distances. Precious land is lost to garbage dumps. In this generally dismal scenario it is gratifying to see that some cities abroad are not only able to handle the problem quite well, but also create wealth out of garbage.

As the garbage they generate is overwhelming, Indian cities could learn from the experience of these cities who have successfully cracked the garbage problem. Malmo in Sweden is one such city. Here’s how they do it: 

Thousands of households in Malmo sort out food waste. The food waste collected is used to produce biogas for vehicle fuel and heating homes. The ‘Turning Torso’, one of Malmo’s apartment complexes, symbolises the city’s attention to the eco-cycle. Each of the 147 apartments has a garbage disposal unit, which decomposes food and disposes it to a central tank. This organic sludge is used to generate biogas, which in turn is used for home heating. The project was initiated as far back as in 1959. Today a large proportion of the city is connected to one of Sweden’s largest district heating networks. Much of Malmo’s heat energy (65 per cent) is provided by ‘waste’ sources. Malmo’s entire bus fleet is engineered to run on gaseous energy. The gas is a mix of natural gas and biogas, and sometimes hydrogen too!

Recycling is Malmo’s strength. All Malmo residents separate waste and help recycling it. To help them, the municipal housing company, MKB, has constructed weatherproof complexes for waste separation in apartments managed by MKB. Each complex has differently coloured containers visibly labelled to recycle glass, newspapers, cardboard, metal, soft and hard plastic and batteries, and other remaining waste. 

Some cities set rules for curbside garbage collection. Vancouver is one such city. Green cans and yard trimmings must be at the curb not earlier than 5 am and not later than 7:30 am the morning of collection. Collection routes can change without notice and pick-up can occur any time after 7:30 am. Using bungee cords/straps, ropes or string to tie lids onto cans is prohibited and will result in garbage or yard trimmings not being collected.

Waste as energy

What happens to Malmo’s waste? Ninety eight percent of waste is collected in Malmo. Only about 2 per cent goes to landfills. The waste they generate is used to heat their homes and offices and pave the streets with ash from burnt trash. Malmo’s kitchen and food waste is converted into biogas, which is used to run the city’s entire fleet of buses.

About 65 per cent of the city’s heating energy comes from waste incinerators. The city has a district heat grid encompassing it. Waste incinerators also contribute 10 per cent of their electricity needs. All this does not come without effort. The city administration, its citizens, NGOs and private companies participate in managing and using waste.
Apart from such joint effort, positive and negative incentives are critical elements in the process. Thus, in some cities, citizens receive tax breaks for separating domestic waste and placing it in the right location for disposal. Slum dwellers receive bus passes or milk sachets for such conduct.

Can Indian cities learn to manage waste as these do? Yes, and why not? India generates about 55 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and 38 billion litres of sewerage annually. The energy potential from this waste is 1700 mw. Another 1300 mw could be generated from industrial waste. The possibilities are immense, but first look at how others manage waste.

The rules framed by the Vancouver city are indicative of the discipline needed to successfully manage waste. The first requirement would be discipline on the part of citizens. This could be brought about first, by creating awareness, through as many ways of communicating with city residents as possible. City administrators, NGOs, private waste recycling companies – all must be involved. Next, the city administration could lay down rules with aspects of positive and negative reinforcement.

Every house and apartment block should have a mandatory compost pit. The organic fertiliser should be collected, compensating the homeowners either with cash payment or reduction in property taxes. Similarly, in all residential localities where biogas power plants are viable, these should be set up. Public power utilities could actively promote this. The power should be supplied to the local residential area free of cost or at very low cost or pumped into the grid and the residents suitably compensated.

Public or private biogas power utilities could collect kitchen and food waste from hotels and restaurants and large power plants set up to feed the power into the state grid. These commercial establishments too should have incentives for such a programme to succeed. All buses could be converted to run on mixtures of biogas and CNG. Transport companies could get involved in waste management.

It is necessary to manage waste before it overwhelms cities and towns, rivers and water bodies. The earlier the problem is addressed through concerted joint efforts, the better it would be.

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