Picture for representation purpose only
Owing to the huge population of 1.33 billion, we generate huge quantity of waste. With increasing number of people moving to cities, the basic public services like electricity, water supply and food have gained focus. Unfortunately, waste management as a public service is still largely ignored by the Indian administration. Most of our cities lack proper infrastructure for disposal of waste.
The system that exists today, in major cities, is collection, transportation and dumping the waste either in landfills or dump-sites located in the outskirts of a city. Waste is collected from houses, by government appointed door-to-door waste collector or private collectors. They scourge for any recyclables that may fetch some money and transport the rest to landfills. While other countries are now looking for scientific and technological solutions for waste management, in India, landfill culture still persists. Some cities just do a better job at landfill management.
The heaps of wastes are piling up. In every city, there are sites where all the waste is dumped. The collectors wait for hours to dump it on these sites, and are even charged a fee to do so. This encourages them to dump it anywhere on the way, so that they don’t have to pay for it. This not only results in several mini dump sites across a city but also increases health and hygiene problems as well as spread of diseases.
The city is surrounded by mountains. However, the problem of waste management is same as anywhere else in country. Even as per the Swachh Bharat ranking, Dehradun could not find its place in the first 300 cities. To manage the city’s waste, different stakeholders are involved. Some are working in collaboration with the Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation), while others are working independently. Each one is trying different models and strategies to tackle the challenge.
Although Nagar Nigam’s collection vehicles provide services to a large part of the city, it doesn’t cover each and every corner. People in far-off areas don’t have many options to dispose their waste. To cover these areas, Nagar Nigam of Dehradun has outsourced waste collection and processing to another agency named Ramky Foundation (RF). It provides collection services to about 69 wards in Dehradun, with all the required infrastructure to cater to the waste collection demands from households. However, the company doesn’t seem to promote waste segregation. It is not embedded in the model.
RF is paid by the Nagar Nigam, for the amount of waste it brings to the dumping ground. Each truck full of waste is weighed, and is paid accordingly. If RF starts promoting segregation in Dehradun, there would be lesser waste generated by the households, which means lesser revenue for RF. So, their revenue model doesn’t allow them to promote segregation in households.
On the other hand, there is Feedback Foundation that works in ward 97 of Dehradun, Nathuwala. With the help of 15 workers, it provides waste collection service to about 4,000 households in the ward. They collect segregated waste in four different categories – recyclable, compostable, non-recyclable and e-waste. They strictly monitor the quality of waste at their segregation center, and whenever there are cases of someone dropping mixed waste in the vehicle, a staff member goes and talks to them about the importance of waste segregation.
All the waste comes to their facility, which is located in the middle of a residential colony. Here, the wet waste is taken for composting in the composting brick enclosures. Recyclable waste is segregated further into plastic, glass, cardboard, and is sold at market price, to earn some revenue. The major source of revenue remains the waste collection charges from households. The segregation facility of Feedback Foundation also breaks a stereotype attached with waste as it is located in a beautiful campus and doesn’t smell at all.
Segregation simply means separating your waste into two categories – Dry waste and Wet waste. 60% of our waste usually contains kitchen waste that can be decomposed and taken care of, by us at the household level itself. It is the wet waste or the biodegradable waste and includes cooked as well as uncooked food, fruits, vegetable peels, flowers etc. Rest 40% contains dry waste such as plastic, paper, glass, cardboard, metals, e-waste and other non-recyclables.
There are various techniques of composting. If you have garden space at home, you can go for Pit composting. In this technique, you will have to dig a pit of 2 X 2 metre square, 0.5 metre in depth. In case, you do not have an open ground, you can go for Matka composting. All you need is an earthen pot of 1 or 1.5 ft. After layering the bottom of the pot with a layer of dry leaves or coco peat, start putting your kitchen waste into it. On every 2nd or 3rd day, layer it with coco peat again. With intermittent mixing of the organic waste, the compost gets ready within 45 to 60 days.
When separated properly, both dry and wet waste generate some value. A large part of dry waste contains recyclables that can be converted into new products, if put back into appropriate recyclable channel. When these two categories are mixed, none of it remains of any use. Wet waste remains trapped in plastic bags and doesn’t biodegrade while the dirty dry waste becomes difficult to recycle. Mixing enhances the longevity of waste in the environment. Meanwhile, it spread diseases and pollutes environment.
Role Of Waste Warriors In Promoting Segregation At Household Level
Waste Warriors (WW), the organization I worked with, as an India Fellow, spreads awareness of waste management in households of Dehradun. We educate people on segregating waste. For this purpose, we organize community events to gather 30-40 people with the help of a volunteer from among them. These people generally belong to the same locality or colony, and the venue is usually one of their homes with enough space to accommodate everyone.
With the help of a presentation, we try to convey the points that would possibly motivate them to adopt segregation as a habit. We talk about the harmful effects of plastic waste, on the environment, humans and animals. Then we share experiences of people who are already segregating their waste – how and to what extent they do it. At the end of the discussion, we distribute large sacks in which they can collect their dry waste of at-least 10 days. These sacks are picked by us, once in 10 days.
The intent is to break the myth that segregation is hard and requires a lot of effort. It’s just the matter of one’s behaviour, when adopted, works smoothly with the daily routine.
Currently, we work in two wards of Dehradun where Nagar Nigam doesn’t provide any waste collection service and private vendors collect mixed waste. The reason behind WW providing the collection service is also to keep them motivated. There’s is no point in asking people to segregate waste if the collection vehicle mixes it anyway.
After talking to several people in these two wards, we got a range of responses. Some of them started segregating waste from the next day of talking to us, as if they were waiting for someone to support them. Others took some time to make it a habit. There were still a few who couldn’t get themselves to segregating waste. Typically, out of the 30 people who attend the community meeting, 20 would start segregation within a few days of the meeting. In our attempt to increase this ratio to 100%, we tried to know the reasons that inspire people to segregate waste so that we can improve our strategy accordingly.
Here’s one such conversation with Neelam Sharma*, a home-maker who lives in Dehradun with three of her family members:
How were you treating waste before meeting Waste Warriors?
We were segregating the waste even before. Vegetable peels, plus other kitchen waste was put in flower pots and garden. But the problem was with dry waste. We didn’t know how to best dispose it. Since there is no collection service provided by Nagar Nigam at present, we had no option but to either burn it, or wait for days before going to far-off places to throw it.
What changes do you see after the community event and dry waste collection services provided to you?
It has surely made people aware and brought consciousness in them. Even kids have understood the meaning of segregation quite well. Waste Warriors shares pictures of children taking interest in segregation, on Whatsapp group. This works as an immediate reward, which keeps them motivated to participate further in household waste segregation.
Does everyone in your locality segregate waste? If not, what do you think is the reason behind it?
No, not everyone segregates their waste. Lack of knowledge or ignorance could be the reason.
According to you, what will motivate people to start segregation?
If people are told about the immediate as well as material benefits of segregation, it will help. For example, composting the organic waste to use it as manure in their garden. It will not only be a good quality manure but will also save money, which would have otherwise been spent in buying compost from the market. They should also be told about the repercussions of negligence in waste management on future generations.
Did you face any challenges in segregating your waste on a daily basis?
Yes. Due to our limited knowledge of waste categories, it was initially a bit confusing. But since we kept doing it, things became easier. Personally, for me, it is also a fun way of learning together with kids, about various categories of waste. We look it up on internet, which sparks the curiosity in kids to know more.
After analyzing this, and several other such conversations, we have drawn the following inferences:
- Varied Perspectives And Interests
Waste means different to different people. For waste pickers, it is a resource or a way to make money in an otherwise limited job market. A large number of people who even know about the importance of waste segregation, do not segregate it for several reasons. In most of the cities including Dehradun, there is no mechanism to process the segregated waste. People are not convinced with the narrative that their segregation would lead to increased efficiency in managing the city waste. Also, we see waste as a collective problem for which individual action may not be sufficient.
- Lack Of Awareness
Lack of awareness about effective waste management practices is another major constraint. Even though people are informed about recycling and re-using, it does not necessarily translate into their participation to segregate waste that can be recycled and/or reused.
When we asked families to keep a separate bag for their dry waste, many of them resented to the idea because they will have to make an extra effort in deciding which waste to throw where. People are comfortable with just keeping a dustbin in their house and letting the waste collector empty it into the vehicle. There has to be a direct incentive that motivates them to change their habit.
- Choice And Response
It is often stated that people from lower socio-economic groups tend to have lesser regard for environmental issues because they have more pressing needs like employment and housing. On the other hand, wealthier people have more luxury to be environmental friendly. Both these groups look at the problem with a different lens. However, for now, it’s the responsibility of the privileged ones to make use of their influence and power to take action on waste management. The lesser privileged ones will only be able to act in response.
After working for a year with Waste Warriors, I can now clearly see the challenges in efficient waste management. Sufficient amount of funds and other resources are needed to be allocated for this social issue, not just by government but also by the private sector. Additionally, the basics of waste management and segregation should be included in the environmental course curriculum of schools. Efforts have to be made in all directions, so that people become informed and responsible citizens.
*Name changed to maintain confidentiality