An uneasy status-quo was disrupted in Bangalore about a year ago. Till July 2012 like most other Indian cities, the IT town transported its unsegregated waste to its landfills outside the city. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike was left with no options to dump the 3000 to 4000 tons of waste the city produces every day when the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board closed the Mavillipura landfill citing environmental and public health hazards.

The Karnataka High Court, hearing a PIL asking the court to enforce the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2001 in Bangalore, instructed the BBMP to mandate segregation of waste at source, decentralise waste processing and increase citizen involvement through the formation of ward committees.

A number of false starts, frustrations, BBMP’s inability to implement court orders in total apart, the Bangalore story could hold important lessons for other cities like Chennai.

The most important is the recognition that the landfilling of waste is not an environmentally sustainable or socially just method of waste disposal. The High Court, the BBMP and a number of community groups acknowledge that people living next to landfills have a right to clean air and water and should not have to bear the environmental ill-effects produced by the city’s garbage.

The current policy discourse in Bangalore seeks to move the city away from using landfills as the main option for waste disposal. Source reduction, decentralized waste management are the new watch words.

Bangalore-based waste management advocacy groups have led calls for a shift in attitude from ‘Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)’ to Yes In My Back Yard, encouraging city communities to allocate space and resources for decentralised waste processing centres in their neighbourhoods.

A number of gated communities, layouts and apartment complexes have already put such systems in place. These communities can serve as models for similar efforts in other cities.

Another positive development has been with respect to the informal sector and their status in the city’s emerging waste management infrastructures. Waste pickers, sorters, itinerant buyers, scrap dealers and other workers in the informal sector have long provided valuable environmental and economic services to the city by diverting recyclables from landfills through their labour and enterprise. Making sure that informal sector livelihoods like waste pickers, sorters, scrap dealers, are not displaced by these new systems is another positive.

Bangalore’s road to zero waste is not without hurdles. The BBMP continues to lack the institutional capacity and resilience to implement and sustain their new vision for waste management. The cause is not helped by continued resistance from communities who do not want waste processing centres to be placed in their vicinity. The BBMP’s conservancy workers often find themselves caught between uncooperative citizens and an ill-equipped state.

However, Bangalore has built considerable momentum on the solid waste issue. To put in the words of a Bangalore-based waste management activist "there is a lot of confusion on the ground, but the media is at it, citizens are at it, the court is at it, something will surely happen."

1. From ‘Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)’ to Yes In My Back Yard

2. Source reduction, decentralised waste management are the new watch words.

3. Landfilling of waste is not an environmentally sustainable or socially just method

4. Bangalore has built considerable momentum on the solid waste issue

5. BBMP’s conservancy workers often find themselves caught between uncooperative citizens and ill-equipped state

A PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, Manisha has done research on Bangalore’s civic problems

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