The first of a series of workshops and consultations on waste, informal workers and the future of Chennai was held at IFMR on the 11th and 12th of March involving representatives from Government, workers’ groups, civil society, and academia. The meeting started with presentations by guests from Pune, Bangalore and Mumbai on how those cities have found solutions to their solid waste management (SWM) problems, solutions that are both environmentally sustainable and include informal sector workers. While informal sector waste workers play a large role in waste management in many Indian cities, they are often forgotten in discussions about improving municipal waste management processes. These cities provide models for other cities at a time when many cities are facing waste crises – rapidly increasing amounts of waste, unreliable contractors, and active resistance from residents near existing and planned landfills.
Since these models are not widely known, we thought it would be useful to provide short summaries of each of the three presentations undertaken by representatives of SWaCH (Pune), Stree Mukti Sangathan (Mumbai) and Hasiru Dala (Bangalore), with some background. A fuller and deeper understanding of the models implemented and the complex issues and obstacles they have faced will help us to understand their overall relevance for us in Chennai.
Over 4 lakh households in Pune (of a total 10 lakh households) have their daily waste collected by SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling), a co-operative of thousands of waste-pickers in the city. SWaCH, formed in 2007, was a culmination of over 14 years of work by the KKPKP (Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat), a waste pickers’ union established in 1993.
The PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) authorized SWaCH to collect waste daily in 2008 and since then SWaCH employees, mainly comprising female former waste pickers and other urban poor have been collecting waste door-to-door and transporting it to decentralized waste management facilities provided by and paid for by the PMC. A nominal user fee of Rs. 10 to 30 per month is charged from each household.
A SWaCH employee washes her hands with water from a half-full plastic bottle while sorting trash.
The SWaCH model has the following elements
- Segregation at source by citizens into dry and wet wastes:
Individual households are required to segregate the waste they produce and a fine is levied on non-compliant households.
- Decentralized management and processing of waste:
SWaCH follows the principle that waste created in an area should not leave that area. Dry waste is collected in sorting sheds where secondary segregation is undertaken before being moved on to recyclers. Wet waste is composted. As of now some 15-18 tons of wet waste is composted daily.
- Continued access to livelihood for the city’s waste-pickers numbering in the thousands:
The entrance of private contractors into urban SWM has put thousands of waste-pickers in the country at risk of permanently losing access to recyclable waste and therefore their livelihoods. SWaCH’s intervention in this regard has been crucial in ensuring access to livelihood for Pune’s waste-pickers. About 2,300 of them are directly involved in door-to-door pick up alone. Training for these workers is provided by the KKPKP.
- Improved working conditions for waste-pickers:
The PMC provides pushcarts and protective gear such as bags, gloves and boots twice a year to its waste-picker workforce. The intervention also provides workers access to cleaner and more valuable recyclable waste.
- Fiscal and environmental sustainability:
The PMC has made an outlay of Rs. 8 crores in the period 2008-13 towards SWaCH’s management expenses. Along with other costs, such as building and maintaining decentralized waste management centres, the total costs for the PMC still fall well below what they would otherwise be spending on SWM with major savings coming in the form of vastly reduced transportation costs.
The diversion of a sizable portion of the city’s waste away from landfills also contributes to the system’s environmental sustainability.
While the above paints a deservedly positive picture of the SWaCH model, it has faced a few challenges and problems. For example, there continue to be low levels of segregation at source by citizens (the model ‘Zero-waste ward’ is an exception). Efforts to enforce segregation through refusal to collect mixed waste and levying of fines is central to the continued success of the SWaCH experiment. The fact that SWaCH does not collect waste from bulk generators is another issue. Additionally, the model has faced opposition from some. The political establishment in a city may often have stakes in the maintenance of the status quo. This has proven an obstacle to the expansion of SWaCH’s activities to serving the rest of Pune.
Stree Mukti Sangathan (SMS) is a women’s welfare group that became involved with waste management and waste picker issues because of their membership: the great majority of waste-pickers in most Indian cities, including Mumbai, are women (for instance, the membership of KKPKP, Pune’s waste-picker union is almost exclusively female). Since their involvement in the waste sector, SMS has registered and given ID cards that were subsequently validated by the local government to over 3,000 waste-pickers.
Currently, 600 women are working at over 200 locations in the city through Self Help Groups/Cooperatives providing a variety of services including: Door-to-door collection of waste and fine segregation, processing of waste, and recycling of dry waste.
- Collection of non-medical waste from hospitals.
- Collection of dry waste from malls.
- Maintenance of bio-gas plants.
- Collection of post-consumption Tetra Pak cartons for processing.
- Collection and disposal of dry waste from Special Economic Zones.
- Collection of dry waste from corporate offices and providing them with recycled paper.
- Collection of waste from school and college campuses.
As is evident, SMS’s primary focus is the integration of waste-pickers (especially women) into more formal waste management/processing in order to safeguard their livelihoods and provide them safer working conditions. They also strongly advocate the use of bio-gas plants (as developed by BARC, Mumbai) for the processing of recyclable wet waste.
The Bangalore case is perhaps the most relevant for the Chennai context. In October 2012, Bangalore was plunged into a crisis situation due to the closure of the Mavellipura landfill. The Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP) closed the landfill because of sustained protests from local villagers over the hazards it posed to their lives and well being, a situation mirrored around the Kodungaiyur dump in Chennai today. This caused garbage to pile up on the streets, lying uncollected for days. Coincidentally, around the same time, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the High Court of Karnataka asking for the implementation of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000.
This stark situation, which also presented an opportunity, spurred multiple actors and groups to action including the SWMRT (Solid Waste Management Round Table) – a coming together of non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, environmental entrepreneurs, and individual volunteers who function as waste management facilitators in the city. SWMRT continues to engage with the BBMP to strategize and implement a long-term solution.
The new SWM policy, which has been given effect through directives issued by the Corporation Commissioner, separated waste generators in the city into ‘Bulk’ and ‘Others.’ Both categories are bound by the following:
- Segregation at source.
- Segregation into six different categories, which was subsequently been scaled down to three categories: dry, wet, and sanitary, for individual households.
- Segregated decentralized processing.
- Penalties for non-compliance.
In addition, bulk generators were made responsible for their own waste management. Bulk generators include hotels, restaurants, residential apartment complexes of 10 units and above, and any other institutions generating more than 100 kgs of wet waste daily. These bulk generators account for about 40% of Bangalore’s daily waste output. As of now, wet waste is collected on a daily basis and dry waste on a weekly basis in Bangalore.
Some of the groups and NGOs involved in the conceptualization and implementation of this strategy have held as a priority the integration of waste pickers and other informal workers into these new systems. In partnership with the BBMP, Hasiru Dala, a year-old waste-picker co-operative and member organisation of SWMRT, has handed out ID cards signed by the Corporation Commissioner to over 7,000 waste pickers. The city and NGOs realized that the new policy would result in the absence of garbage in neighbourhoods and in landfills, and waste pickers who made their livelihood in these areas would have to be accommodated elsewhere. Hasiru Dala has adopted multiple strategies to pursue informal sector inclusion. As in the case of SMS, Mumbai, Hasiru Dala approaches commercial and other establishments to place waste-pickers on their premises to manage their solid waste. Hasiru Dala also assists in placing waste-pickers and other informal sector workers in the new decentralised waste management spaces called ‘dry waste collection centres’ that are being created as part of Bangalore’s new SWM strategy.
DWCC at Freedom Park fronted by newly installed murals depicting waste management processes.
These dry waste collection centres (DWCCs) are essential to Bangalore’s attempt to truly enable decentralized waste management and employ waste workers. It is planned to have a DWCC in every ward. The BBMP will provide the land and physical infrastructure while groups from the informal sector, NGOs, or RWAs will come in as operating partners. Currently 51 of the intended 198 DWCC’s have already been constructed and 9 are being operated and managed by Hasiru Dala with waste-pickers and scrap dealers. These DWCC’s are particularly important for handling low value waste like laminates (for ex. Kurkure, chips, and biscuit packets) and Tetra-Pak wastes that are not suitable for recycling and make up an increasingly significant portion of the municipal waste.
Groups in Bangalore are also trying to use the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to fund some of these efforts. Corporations that use laminates and Tetra pak packaging will be tapped to sponsor DWCCs for a 3-year period as part of their commitment to EPR. The informal waste sector has traditionally ignored such wastes because they were unprofitable. Wet waste is to be handled either in-house in the case of bulk generators or in community composting facilities. As in Pune, outside of certain high performance zones, the percentage of households that segregate is still lagging. An electronic fine levying system is set to be in place shortly.
Relevance for Chennai
One can see that concrete steps have been taken in other cities that generate waste in amounts comparable to or even greater than Chennai to evolve and implement new, sustainable and more inclusive strategies for SWM, strategies that move beyond the no-longer-tenable Collect-Transfer-Dispose system. Crucially, these strategies acknowledge and incorporate the immense contribution made by the informal waste sector: in Bangalore they divert 600-800 MT of waste a day to recyclers out of a total of 3500-4000 tons, accounting for about 20% of the city’s daily waste.
All these models are still relatively new, especially Bangalore’s, and their long-term success is not yet certain. However they have some important lessons for Chennai: they all divert waste away from overflowing landfills and towards recyclers, they insist on segregation at source, and they integrate the informal waste sector to ensure their continued access to livelihood. While simple replication will not be possible, it is important for Chennai, its government, and its citizens, to be aware of the options and alternatives available as its own SWM crisis approaches. Such an awareness and understanding can help form a process of debate and dialogue among all the stakeholders over the way ahead and what solutions may fit best in a Chennai context.
External Links: http://swachcoop.com/, http://swmrt.com/
Our preliminary research in Chennai found that contractors employed by private waste contractors make less money than many informal sector waste workers.
The multi-layered nature of laminates which fuse plastic and metal elements makes them problematic to recycle and their low monetary value means that the recycling industry is not interested in undertaking their recycling.
Written by Harsha Anantharaman, researcher at Transparent Chennai.