Aiming for zero garbage in India's cities

Posted: 16 February 2006

India's urban population is growing fast. It is also consuming more. And the more people have the more they seem to waste, says the Indian NGO Toxic Link. Here Chitra Balasubramanian reports from Delhi on some successful efforts to deal with the problem.

Urban India generates as much as 40 million tonnes of waste per year and the per capita waste generation is 200 - 600 gm per day. This waste is a combination of bio-degradable, recyclable, non-degradable and spare materials, like concrete used in repair work at home.

And those who have more, waste more, says Mohammad Tariq, a Programme Officer with Toxic Link. "The generation of garbage varies from community to community. However, it has been found that the quantity of solid waste generation is directly proportional to the economic status of the generator of the waste."

A look at the figures provided by Vatavaran, a Delhi-based NGO involved in waste management, is an eye-opener: Delhi alone generates nearly 7,000 tons of garbage per day (Bangalore generates 2,130 tons per day).

But in some urban communities it has been shown that waste can be used in a self-sustaining manner. It is even possible to achieve zero garbage in the residential areas of our cities, with a system that needs little outside intervention on a day-to-day basis.

Organic compost

The way is being shown by various individuals, NGOs and civic bodies. One solution increasingly being tried is conversion of bio-degradable waste to organic compost. Many projects operational in Bangalore and Pune involve housewives. Others look at recycling plastic.

Iqbal Mallik, the woman behind Vatavaran, has helped to achieve "zero garbage" in 29 Delhi colonies and at Noida in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Today, most of these schemes have been handed over to, and are managed by, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). Vatavaran directly manages only the solid waste (garbage) directly at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University's South Campus.

Mallik says that of the garbage collected, roughly 50 per cent is bio-degradable, 48 per cent can be recycled, while the remaining 2 per cent is used in land fill projects. What is biodegradable is composted and handed over to the residents as organic manure. Alternatively, it is used in the greening of the area. The recyclable waste is sold through kabadiwallas (scrap collectors). This brings in about Rs 45,000 (£600) every month, says Mallik, and is used by Vatavaran for its various activities.

Garbage collectors, apart from collecting the garbage, also segregate it if the households do not do this. At salaries ranging from Rs 75 to Rs 175 per day (£1 to £2.50) are also assured of a regular income. Further, they are given protective gloves, proper footwear and aprons to wear while sorting garbage. And this is at no additional expenditure to each household. The bonus is the organic manure and clean verdant environs.

Vegetable patch

At JNU, Vatavaran handles 3,000 kg of garbage per day, and has developed here a vegetable patch entirely from this waste. Apart from organic compost, the vegetables sown are salvaged from the garbage. Any discarded piece of vegetable with a propensity to germinate is sown.

Toxics Link is working with residential colonies and schools in Delhi. Tariq emphasises, "Toxics Link acts as a facilitator in the whole process, providing sustainable solutions on waste and related issues by generating awareness." The effort is to create a system that works with little direct intervention, and an arrangement similar to the one established by Vatavaran is followed.

The biggest plus from this is a cleaner environment, fewer overflowing and stinking bins in the area and a lower incidence of illnesses caused by unsanitary conditions. Above all, the sensitisation of the people to the issue of urban waste and its management results in their playing a more pro-active role in the whole process.

However, there is much more that needs to be done, especially in the disposal of hazardous or toxic waste from households, mainly batteries, electronic equipment and plastic bags. Mallik says, "It would be wonderful if manufacturers themselves took these back and found ways to recycle them in their factories." It's a problem tht Toxics Link is still researching.

The segregation of waste at the household or organisation level is the vital first step in achieving zero garbage cities. The process of re-use, recycle or bio-degrade has been shown to work, and is not difficult to achieve as these NGOs in tandem with the RWAs have shown. It is inexpensive, innovative solutions like these that can lead to effective urban waste management, in the Indian context.

(Source: Womens Feature Service, New Delhi)

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