Lack of data hits waste managementt: Experts at green conclave

May 10, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 05:43 am IST - MUMBAI:

Mumbai, 12.04.2016: Smoke can be still seen coming from the Deonar dumping grounds on the day when Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi visits Deonar dumping ground to review the situation on the massive fires that broke in this place recently.  PHOTO: MUKESH TRIVEDI

Mumbai, 12.04.2016: Smoke can be still seen coming from the Deonar dumping grounds on the day when Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi visits Deonar dumping ground to review the situation on the massive fires that broke in this place recently. PHOTO: MUKESH TRIVEDI

Here’s a mix of numbers from our waste bins: India generates 75 million tonnes of trash a year, approximately 50 per cent of which can be composted while 20 per cent can be recycled. Yet, most of it is dumped in landfills. Also, three per cent of our greenhouse gases are a result of poor waste handling.

If you think these numbers are mind-boggling, it’s probably just the surface of the real rot. “We can’t be sure of even these numbers because there’s a huge paucity of data in this country. We don’t even know exactly how much waste Delhi generates,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, director, Chintan, an environmental research and action group. And if we don’t know something as local, it’s a challenge to imagine something on a larger scale, much less manage it.

Chaturvedi, along with other participants in the waste management chain, shared their experiences in a session on ‘Societal innovations and practices: Linking localised waste management to wealth creation’ at the Godrej Group’s annual Good & Green Conclave, in the city on Monday.

Poor waste management takes on monumental proportions in urban India, the world’s third-largest garbage generator. More than 45 million tonnes, or three million trucks worth, of garbage is untreated and disposed of carelessly. And in all this chaos are the wastepickers, who work across the spectrum collecting, reusing, recycling and recrafting waste.

“The work of ragpickers is hazardous and unsafe. It’s a chain, and many people who are above ragpickers are exceedingly vulnerable too. They are running illegal little factories. You just need one public interest litigation and the entire community’s livelihood is gone,” he said.

Delhi is one of the biggest places for recycling, and a lot of it is informal, she says. And much of the informal sector is vulbnerable. “Where can government, master planning, policy and waste management meet? Because it’s informal, it’s under threat of being closed down, particularly when green litigation is on the rise. What we need to think about is how do you help people like this?” The top challenge is, how do you formalise such a huge variety of players?

Chintan ran a campaign with the Union home ministry, the Delhi police and municipalities, and found a dramatic reduction in the bribes being asked by the police. “We used confrontationist ways of addressing it, like dharnas with 500 people and pointing saying he asked for a bribe. It became difficult.”

“Wastepickers are at the bottom of the pyramid,” said Jyoti Mhapsekar, president, Stree Mukti Sanagthana. Her organisation got 5,000 wastepickers together in several groups under a programme called Parisar Vikas, and started working with them in 1999. The major problems in the field, she said, was they did not have storage space or transport facilities. “And the moment waste is segregated, everyone wants a share.”

Citizens’ attitudes are also a huge hurdle: The lack of awareness, besides the ‘out of sight out of mind, not in my backyard syndrome’. “Give waste pickers the responsibility of collecting and processing waste, even if in future we don’t need them. There are vested interests in transportation of waste,” she said, adding contractors come out of the blue and cart away waste, often hiring people from outside. “Municipalities are ignoring human interest with their preference for technical solutions,” she said.

Another issue is that waste management practices are not standardised, said Sriram Narayanan, director, Indian Green Services. “Sustainability is of high importance. We work with corporations, corporates, wards, states, everybody who is involved. And then we have integration support from experts,” he said.

Another issue is that waste management practices are not standardised

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