Dumping waste has to be scientific and methodical. The science involved in handling garbage speaks volumes about a sustainable society, says Chandrasekhar Hariharan in an interview on waste management. Details by Ranjani Govind

The BCIL’s ‘Eco-pulse Survey’ conducted recently was an assessment of the throwaway culture that exposed people’s attitude and habits related to waste management.

In the 18-year stint of BCIL’s green construction business, its founder Chandrasekhar Hariharan’s green beliefs have brought in ZED (zero energy driven) category homes that the builder claims costs nothing extra for a buyer. At BCIL's Zed Homes, be it energy, water or waste or the way the quality of air is maintained with natural air-conditioning or the vegetation that is nurtured, the builder believes that carefully selected saplings and species enhance the quantum of CO2 absorbed, or oxygen or ozone generated in local home environments; materials selected for construction ensure that manufacturing energy or transporting energy is kept to the minimum.

While Bangalore has been in news for its waste management policies and tackling solid waste after new segregation methods came into force by the BBMP, how far has it really taken off, and what is it that we need to understand about energy from waste reproduction? Says Hariharan, “In every area that touches our lives in cities — be it water, energy, transportation or waste — things have changed far too dramatically in just the last 20 years. We produce staggering quantities of waste, then try to burn it, or bury it and forget it! Of course, it cannot be forgotten. It washes up in our canals and lake beds, it reappears as air pollution and as contaminated well-water or borewell water. It comes back to haunt us, some times years after. Managing waste should be our ‘dharma’. With the survey showing a meagre 27 per cent of respondents who cared for illegal dumping of waste, it's a surprise that Bangalore ranks 12 in a national survey of clean cities,” he says.

“The important thing about locally treated kitchen waste compost is that the city's land gains rich nutrient fertilizers in non-concreted spaces. That's the reason an efficient spread of such organic compost helps. This nourishes the city's tracts, improves vegetation, offsets the city's heat-island effect, and increases the city's own ability to live. Remember the city breathes and lives, just as you and I do!” says Hariharan.

And in what best way can the city tackle the 3,500 tonnes of waste generated, spending Rs. 400 crore annually? “What we can save in terms of 'disposal cost' is about 70 per cent of 3,500 tonnes a day. That's over 2,500 tonnes a day. Or nearly a million tonnes of wet waste a year.

Even with 70 per cent being kitchen waste from each home in the one kg dumped every day, no nutrition is being given back to the land that we use. About 1,500 dump trucks are employed for carting waste from lakhs of homes each day, and 25 million litres of diesel is used by these trucks every year. The BBMP's cost will fall to under Rs.100 crore on the waste management account alone, from its current levels of about Rs. 400 crore, with composting and segregation. But this will need a city-wide campaign, with participation from RWAs, ward members, corporators, the government, individuals and households ... the entire spectrum of stakeholders. This is not difficult to achieve, with a combination of regulation and assistance.”

Hariharan explains that what is centrally treated, and what is locally managed by every household is a question of the residents themselves coming together and deciding.

Similarly, the hoteliers associations will have to group together, and either by law or voluntary action, ensure localised treatment of all wastes. So should corporate and institutional cafeterias. If we collectively own responsibility for ridding ourselves of our dependence on the BBMP for clearing, managing and disposing of waste from our local precincts, that will help us secure ‘swaraj' from the government.

However the activist warns that there is a 'double whammy' of waste when we depend on central collection systems. “The opportunity to make rich compost is lost; and waste collection costs become unmanageable. In Tokyo city, every precinct has had systems for over 20 years that are governed by an administrative protocol that covers 27 different types of solid waste! It's about time we grew up, isn't it, as a city, and as her citizens.”

Brazil, Spain as examples

Every country has to have people to campaign for good habits and standards. “Many examples abound in the post-2000 era…Curitiba in Brazil, Barcelona in Spain, Singapore, Phnom Penh, New York City… In nearly every case, it was the larger-than-life, heroic effort of one individual. Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Ek Sonn Chan who transformed the water supply scenario in Phnom Penh, Jaime Lerner in Brazil's Curitiba, Miguel Sodupe, an urban planner in Barcelona, New York City's Michael Bloomberg who became Mayor at the start of this century, Lee Myung-bak who brought the miracle of a clean waterway to Seoul city,” he says.

“In nearly every case, it has been the courage of one officer who has stood by the commitment of his team, who has allowed innovation, offered autonomy to professionals within the city administration, offered them protection against threats from the outside, promoted internal reforms. They initiated a ‘culture of change' within the organisation, starting with education and motivation. Then followed a flurry of reforms!”