Swachch Bharat: Walking the talk

Swachch Bharat: Walking the talk

Collectively across the country, we the citizens of urban India generate an estimated 1.3 lakh tonnes of municipal solid waste everyday.

This waste comes from bulk waste generators (apartment complexes, tech parks, malls, schools etc) as well as individual homes and small establishments.

 If our country has to be cleaned, then managing our waste is far more critical than sweeping our streets. Putting rubbish into bins is surely a good practice but this waste will also need a destination. Burning or dumping are definitely not options for a clean India.

How then are should we manage our waste? A city like Bengaluru is currently aggressively implementing a progressive policy that makes it
mandatory for all bulk waste generators to manage their own waste and become part of a zero waste community (ZWC).

The city generates 4,000 tonnes everyday of which bulk generators alone generate around 1,600 tonnes. Through onsite management by bulk generators, a huge volume is taken out of the scope of work of the municipal corporation who can then concentrate efforts to collect and manage waste generated from individual houses and other small establishments.

Managing waste on site today is possible. Segregation at source is standardised and
can be rolled out through posters and different bins. All organic/wet waste can now be composted. There are a range of composters and bio gas solutions available to manage organic waste ranging from 1 kg to 1 tonne of waste per day.

Technology has also supported the natural process. Shredders and mechanical composters require just 1,000 sq feet to process waste from 1,000 households. The buy back arrangements for compost and even bio gas add to the viability of the process.

On the other hand, dry/recyclable waste including all paper, plastic metal and glass can be managed through a secondary sorting system after which different fractions go to different recyclers. Here again a spectrum of services have mushroomed with various business models that support collection and recycling of more 90 per cent of different types of dry waste.

While Bengaluru has pioneered the ZWC concept, other cities are also slowly joining the movement. The onsite model for bulk waste generators is
being expanded to include neighbourhood waste management centres where wet and dry waste from an entire ward is channelled to these centres for processing.
There is enough evidence to demonstrate that managing waste through onsite or neighbourhood   community centres does not compromise on our health or hygiene.

Instead, it recovers resources and contributes significantly to a cleaner environment. This system also enhances livelihood options. Above all it, supports the participation and involvement of the citizen. Waste now becomes a joint responsibility with the city municipal corporation only acting as an anchor rather than the sole custodian.

What then are the reasons for the zero waste movement not gaining the momentum it deserves? To a large extent, policies are in place so the government has done the first part of its job. It is over to the citizen who is called upon to abide
and take seriously the implementation of policies even in the face of weak enforcement systems. It would help tremendously if there were sufficient first movers to set a trend for others to follow.  

Corporate sector

The large corporate sector with its qualified workforce could be a good contender. The sector which also understands self regulation and compliance to rules also generates large volumes of waste. A mid sized tech park in Bengaluru, for example, houses around 20,000 employees that collectively generate around 5 tonnes of waste every day. It is unfortunate but now clear that this sector has failed to show true leadership when it comes to waste management.

 It is seen that across the corporate world in India, there is no top management involvement to ensure that internal policies with respect to waste management are in line with the regulations and policies of the government. Primarily, management of waste in companies is relegated to facilities and housekeeping. The mandate of this department is to keep the premises ‘clean’.

The budget allocated is only towards disposal of rubbish with no provision towards any other aspect of management. In such a situation the facility manager has no option but to adopt the mindset of a middle class household – the focus is only on waste disposal as in getting rid of the rubbish rather than recovering resources through a waste management system.

Clearly, it is going to take more than a slogan to clean our country. But the campaign has brought attention to a problem that has been ignored for too long. The way out is for each citizen to accept the role and responsibilities that are required to make the new systems work. The government is not the sole custodian of waste. Each of us as citizens contributes  to waste. It is imperative that we do what it takes to ensure that waste is not just swept out from our streets and into a landfill but brought  back into our homes through processing and recycling.

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