The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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January 21, 2012

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India – 21 Jan 2012 –

Here are two models for solid waste disposal in two major cities — Kolkata and Pune. Kolkata has a history of garbage lying on streets, with a brief period in the sun during the early 2000s when the garbage disappeared, to make a partial comeback in the last several years. Pune, in the last decade, has seen explosive growth, with information technology taking over the baton from engineering.

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation, now controlled by the Trinamool Congress, has promised a garbage-free city from March, courtesy a Rs 20-crore programme funded by the Asian Development Bank. Pune, on the other hand, has taken the do-it-yourself route.

A key element in the Kolkata project, it is reported, is banishing the greatest eyesore and health hazard of the city — huge piles of garbage lying along roads at vats or major collection points. In their place will come portable compactors, which will reduce the volume of the garbage to a fourth and make its transportation easier. The main bottleneck in removing the garbage on time has been the inability to manage an adequately large fleet of trucks, despite extensive outsourcing.

The corporation will also acquire movable containers which will take away the compacted garbage in covered vehicles to the massive dumping grounds, Dhapa, on the eastern fringe of the city. The compactors will be maintained by the agency which will supply them. The city will also get thousands of fibreglass garbage bins, presumably because metal ones are stolen — recycled metal fetches a price.

Pune is unlucky in the sense that its landfill areas have villages around them, unlike Dhapa, which is mostly surrounded by wetlands. So Pune, like many other Indian cities, has the familiar problem of locals protesting and blocking trucks bringing in more and more garbage to the landfills next to their habitations. Things have quickly got worse as the city and the garbage it generates have grown exponentially.

There is no immediate solution encompassing the entire city in sight. However, a pilot project has been launched in Pune’s largest ward by three entities working together — the municipal corporation; Janwani, the social wing of the local chamber of commerce; and SWaCH, a cooperative of workers who collect garbage from door to door. A company is helping with both cash and volunteers for the awareness programme. On the success of this programme hinges not just the future of Pune, but also the sustainability of hundreds of rapidly growing urban centres.

The key elements in the pilot are: getting residents to segregate solid waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable lots, having workers carry away the stuff from doorsteps without fail every day and immediately ship it out, so that the municipal garbage bins at crossroads go away.

Shipping out is made easy as the biodegradable stuff is processed within the ward itself by a biogas plant and the gas goes to produce electricity that powers street lights. The recyclable dry stuff – plastics, metals and the like – is sold off by the workers to recyclers. Each household pays Rs 1 a day for waste collection; considering each worker serves over 250 households, she can earn, inclusive of over Rs 1,000 from selling recyclables, Rs 10,000 or more a month.

Janwani uses home visits and puppet theatre to educate residents on segregating solid waste, and teaches the workers on the need to stay personally clean and do their collection on time. The workers have been supplied pushcarts, gloves and cleaning equipment.

How well is the endeavour, with many of the right elements which can make such a programme work, doing? So far so good, but there are predictable glitches. The workers complain that the householders do not carry out the segregation completely and the latter complain that the workers sometimes do not turn up at all or on time. Besides, once the programme is taken to all the wards, more biogas plants will be needed to process the wet waste.

The big difference between the two programmes is that segregation of waste is integral to the Pune programme. In most well-run cities across the world, segregation – both by households and at landfills – is the norm. Unfortunately and very surprisingly, it does not figure in the Kolkata programme at all. The latter appears to be going back in time.

Kolkata stands to miss out on a unique resource that poor countries are blessed with — enough people who will happily do a repulsive job like segregating waste for a pittance which keeps them away from destitution — to deliver something that is so socially and environmentally useful.

Kolkata’s current problem is that there is no segregation by households, and waste pickers do it at massive street corner dumps well into the day. There is one obvious solution. Start a campaign to encourage segregation by households, simultaneously clear garbage from households and city roads by, say, 9 a m and start a massive segregation site next to the Dhapa dumping grounds where there is still some space left. Managing contractors who supply trucks is not an insurmountable problem. It was done effectively earlier. Read the original