Garbage crisis: If there's a will, solutions are not afar

Garbage crisis: If there's a will, solutions are not afar

As the stench from Bangalore’s garbage stink bomb rises, grabbing headlines in print media and finding its dubious place on national television, it has attracted attention of the highest authorities, rather belatedly.

It is a self-inflicted problem of prolonged apathy and misplaced priorities, perhaps. Sadly, those responsible for civic services seem bereft of ideas. Their only solution appears to be to dump the waste farther and farther away.

What is amazing is that over 16 cities in India have been on the right path to tackle solid waste for several years. It was intriguing to learn that those responsible for the service here have been going to foreign countries, in search of solutions. Authorities here seem unaware that the Supreme Court set up a committee to recommend solutions to the solid waste handling problem, in response to a PIL, in the aftermath of the 1994 Surat plague. Based on the committee’s recommendations, the Government of India notified the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000 under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The rules mandate door-to-door collection of waste by the municipalities.

Nagpur is a pioneer in following these rules. Realising its limitations, the Nagpur municipality handed over the task to a non-profit organisation – the Centre for Development Communication (CDC). This NGO initiated the project named, ‘Swachta Doot Project.’ The project has five components, namely, daily door-to-door garbage collection, waste segregation, garbage lifting and transportation, employment generation and awareness building.

Instead of rag pickers and private contract workers rummaging through mounds of garbage, CDC has well-paid ‘swachta doots’ trained, outfitted and motivated to collect garbage door-to-door. They are trained in handling the waste in a proper and hygienic manner, to be polite and helpful in behaviour towards local residents and disciplined and committed to their work. They wear coloured uniforms for easy recognition by residents. Their neat appearance leads to community acceptance of them and their work.

 The garbage collected door-to-door is directly transported and unloaded into containers at transfer stations. Several types of vehicles are used for entering narrow lanes or wider main roads. The vehicles are covered, in compliance with the SWM rules. The residents segregate the waste at collection points. It is segregated into four categories - Recyclable - glass, paper, plastic, Organic – food-leftovers, garden waste, Toxic - tin, batteries and reusable plastic bottles and Polythene bags. CDC has educated the community about waste characteristics and the dangers of indiscriminate waste dumping, as also the need and advantage of collecting the waste in a segregated manner.

Scientific disposal

By 2005, the NGO had generated employment for 6,000 people. They employ the educated as supervisors and managers. In addition waste detectors ensure that SWM rules are not violated. CDC has extended its work to well over a dozen cities, including Delhi, Ahmedabad, Surat, and Udaipur. Their daily collection and scientific disposal of waste is over 1,500 tons and cover more than 10 lakh households. CDC and the municipality work in close cooperation. Finance is not a constraint, as many institutions come forward to provide the money.

Many cities in India are miles ahead of ‘high-tech’ Bangalore when it comes to such mundane matters as waste management. Hanjer is a waste recycling company that has operations in two-dozen Indian cities. The company’s website has useful information.
Hanjer’s website claims that they have the technology to handle mixed waste and make the recycling process odorless through fully closed plants. The residual waste left in landfills after recycling and renewable energy uses is minimal.

These do not have any leachate formation. Hence, ground water and other forms of contamination are eliminated. Their technology enables production of green fuel (RDF) from MSW. This is made from municipal waste, which is dried, crushed, screened and packed into brick forms for use as a substitute for fossil fuels. A 15 mw plant with this fuel is under construction in Surat.

Hanjer is not the only company . The Nagpur directory is a resource that provides information on a large number of other commercial organisations involved in various areas of waste handling and management. Apart from solid waste management, useful information on organisations in hazardous waste disposal, waste food dispensers, sink waste dispensers, laboratory waste testing and incinerators is available in these pages.
Bangalore’s penchant for, and expertise in, IT and high-tech solutions should make the GIS based solid waste management information system, which the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) developed for the Nagpur municipality, especially attractive.

The fascination for technological fixes should not blind us to the need for organisation and management for the success of any project. While, technology has its uses, one must understand its limitations. Technology cannot succeed without ground-level organisation and systems. The process of door-to-door collection, segregation at source and incentivising public to follow the rules is most important. Ignorance of these essentials is the reason why there has been no improvement. It is also necessary to appreciate the need for involving the existing contractors and their employees, so that they do not lose their livelihoods. Public-spirited individuals and NGOs should come forward to jointly tackle the problem for effective long-term solutions. 

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