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FEATURE: Towards sustainable waste management – Experience from Udaipur, India

Waste management is linked to climate change: poor solid waste management can drive up greenhouse gas emissions such as methane; while poor waste disposal practices can clog waterways, which worsens flooding during periods of intense rain (which now occur more often, in some places, due to climate change). These are just some of the reasons why ICLEI is helping Indian municipalities to manage waste better. – together with creating cleaner, healthier, more liveable cities. Ritu Thakur reports.

Municipal solid waste in India has continued to be a severe problem because of the enormous quantum being generated every day. It raises environment, public health and aesthetic concerns. Even though only 31% of Indian population resides in urban areas, this population generates a gigantic 1.45 lakhs metric tonnes per day of solid waste (CPCB, 2014-15). Of the total produced, approximately 80% is collected, while only 22% is processed or treated.

Metro cities like Delhi generate 9,000 – 10,000 tonnes per day of waste, of which 80% is collected, and only 23% is treated. Greater Mumbai generates 7,000-8,000 tonnes per day of waste.

This huge quantum of waste highlights the urgency to adopt and practice sustainable solid waste management. There is a growing recognition that the key to efficient waste management is:

  • proper segregation of waste at source, and
  • ensuring that waste is subject to (in order of priority): reduction of waste, and maximum recycling and resource recovery from the material that is thrown away.

ICLEI South Asia has been supporting cities in India to initiate and implement sustainable waste management practices. Presently, with the support of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, ICLEI South Asia is assisting four Indian cities (Siliguri, Coimbatore, Rajkot and Udaipur) to develop and implement sustainable solid waste action plans under the project ‘Capacity Building for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient City Development (CapaCITIES)’.

The cities are being supported to implement zero waste strategies at ward level. This involves several steps to recover resources for recycling, including:

  • initiating segregation at source,
  • door to door collection and transport of segregated waste,
  • promoting decentralised waste processing and
  • thus, reduced volume for disposal.

Measuring what people throw away was a revelation

We began by quantifying the amount of waste that is being produced in the city and found that Udaipur was generating 165 tonnes per day of waste. Then, we characterised the waste: understanding the composition of waste plays a pivotal role in deciding the processing technology and, yet, very few cities actually do it. Our study revealed that organic matter makes up as much as 50-60%, indicating the possibility of treating the waste either through composting or biomethanation.

With the objective to support the city in its larger purpose of sustainable waste management, with focus on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal, ICLEI South Asia initiated segregation practices in two wards on a pilot scale.

Public education is the key to changing behaviours

Extensive awareness generation and information, education and communication activities were conducted for a year in these wards to raise citizens’ awareness of waste segregation practices and its benefit to themselves, the city and the environment. A set of two dustbins (green and blue) were also provided to residential and commercial entities. With sustained awareness generation and communication in the community, 80 percent of responsible waste disposal was achieved in two wards.

Influenced by the results, Udaipur Municipal Corporation initiated segregation practices in the remaining wards. Experts from the country and internationally were brought in to recommend and design the best plausible options for waste processing and disposal for the cities. Presently, a decentralised biomethanation plant that will utilise 2 tonnes per day is under construction in the city. (Ed: biomethanation is the formation of methane by microbes known as methanogens and can be used to break down waste to methane for controlled energy production.)

Community sensitisation, intensive awareness generation of stakeholders, capacity building of municipal staff was conducted to ensure sustainability of activities.

A need for regular data collection and analysis

During the entire activity, the project team realised that lack of waste inventory poses one of the major challenges. Data on waste generation is not based on actual measurement, rather it is based on rule-of-thumb estimates and varies between 0.2kg per capita per day to 0.5 kg per capita per day. The cities still depend on analysis that was conducted 15 years ago for waste characterisation; however lifestyle changes have since changed the composition of the waste. Hence, there is a need to conduct analysis at least once every 2 or 3 years. There is a need to ensure that there is proper structured flow of data on waste collection and processing to various stakeholders, to inform decision-making.

Reluctance to pay user charges and Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome are some of the challenges that can be overcome by continuous communication and generating public awareness.

A paradigm shift in how waste is viewed

There has been a paradigm shift in the approach towards waste management. Earlier, more emphasis was on scientific processes of waste disposal but the new Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 have put considerable focus on recycling. Waste management is perhaps best described as social engineering because its success depends a lot on community engagement and behavioural change. Segregation is the key, it increases recycling potential and the quality of end products, and reduces the amount of waste that needs to be disposed in the first place.

Awareness generation programmes, community engagement, better Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) implementation, availability of alternatives at nominal costs and change in people’s mindsets are some of the determining factors for ensuring sustainable waste management practices.

Image credit : Udaipur, Andrej Wotek

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