Down to Earth - - EDITOR’S PAGE - @suni­ta­nar

LAST FORT­NIGHT, I dis­cussed the need to rein­vent garbage man­age­ment in our ci­ties so that we can process waste and not “land­fill” it. This, as I wrote, re­quired house­holds and in­sti­tu­tions to seg­re­gate their waste at source so that it could be man­aged as a re­source. It also means that we need to limit how much is dumped by im­pos­ing a tax on land­fill. I want to fol­low up on this idea this fort­night.

First, this rein­ven­tion means we need to in­cor­po­rate and not negate the role of the re­cy­cling in­dus­try in waste man­age­ment. Cur­rently, it is said (data is weak how­ever) that re­cy­cling of dry waste pro­vides em­ploy­ment to about 1-2 per cent of a city’s pop­u­la­tion, of­ten the poor­est women and chil­dren. In large ci­ties, there are twothree tiers of waste buy­ers, all very well or­gan­ised and spe­cialised in spe­cific wastes. What is not recog­nised is that this trade, hap­pen­ing in the back­yards of slums and shoved aside by pol­icy, is the only thing sav­ing ci­ties from drown­ing in waste. It is also this trade which en­sures that less waste reaches land­fills.

There is a great need for of­fi­cial sup­port to this un­ap­pre­ci­ated ac­tiv­ity that saves at least 10-15 per cent in trans­porta­tion costs daily to the city, adding up to mil­lions of ru­pees a year. Over the years, civil so­ci­ety groups work­ing with in­for­mal waste col­lec­tors have worked on sev­eral poli­cies to pro­mote this busi­ness—start­ing a di­a­logue to find out the needs of this sec­tor, is­su­ing ID badges to waste pick­ers who de­sire them (through ngos or po­lice, to pre­vent ha­rass­ment), pro­vid­ing them with sort­ing and stor­age space, and doorstep pickup ser­vice for post-sort­ing re­jects to be taken away from slum houses or waste buy­ers’ yards, so that these do not end up clog­ging the storm drains.

New ven­tures are also emerg­ing to re­move the stigma at­tached to the garbage sort­ing busi­ness. In the cap­i­tal, ven­tures like Raddi Ex­press and Raddi Bazaar, and in Mum­bai Rad­di­wala have all made pa­per col­lec­tion an easy and prof­itable busi­ness.

At the macro level, it is worth map­ping, within the state or even na­tion­ally, the lo­ca­tion of ma­jor re­cy­clers of spe­cific wastes and en­cour­ag­ing the fill­ing of gaps. Poli­cies are needed to help this wastere­duc­ing and par­tially pol­lu­tion-abat­ing in­dus­try to be­come le­git­i­mate, through des­ig­nated re­cy­cling eco-parks, con­ces­sional power rates and low or no sales taxes. Cur­rently, city mas­ter plans do not even al­lo­cate space for this busi­ness. It is con­sid­ered il­le­gal, dirty and some­thing that must go away. This is what has to change.

The Ker­ala gov­ern­ment has found that the only way it can man­age its dry waste is by ac­ti­vat­ing its in­for­mal re­cy­cling in­dus­try. The state gov­ern­ment’s Su­chitwa Mis­sion for a garbage-free Ker­ala has col­lated in­for­ma­tion on this in­dus­try and put the data, in­clud­ing the rate paid for dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of waste, on its of­fi­cial web­site. Now house­holds can use this ser­vice. It has also started a com­pany to man­age its plas­tic waste and to work with re­cy­clers.

Se­condly, we also need to ac­cept that waste man­age­ment costs. But cur­rently mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties hardly charge for this ser­vice. The as­sump­tion is that the cost of waste man­age­ment is in­cluded in prop­erty tax. But as prop­erty tax is rarely com­puted for this ser­vice and in most ci­ties rarely charged, the real cost of waste man­age­ment is never re­alised. This is why mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties strug­gle to pay for this ser­vice.

Mat­ters are made worse be­cause mu­nic­i­pal ac­counts are a mess. Most ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies do not even main­tain an­nual ac­counts. This lack of fi­nances for ba­sic mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices is com­pounded by the fact that cit­i­zens do pay for waste man­age­ment— but not to the mu­nic­i­pal body. In most ci­ties, res­i­dents, par­tic­u­larly the af­flu­ent waste-gen­er­at­ing ones, have en­gaged pri­vate agen­cies to un­der­take door-to-door col­lec­tion. The house­hold pays for this ser­vice. But the agency then takes the waste and in­vari­ably dumps it in the mu­nic­i­pal se­condary col­lec­tion sta­tion. The trans­porta­tion and pro­cess­ing of the waste is then left to the al­ready de­pleted fi­nances of the lo­cal body.

It is also clear that house­holds must be made to pay for the amount of waste they gen­er­ate and pe­nalised if the waste is not seg­re­gated. It is time we ac­cepted that each house­hold and com­mer­cial es­tab­lish­ment is a waste gen­er­a­tor and so a po­ten­tial pol­luter. The prin­ci­ple of pol­luter pays must be ap­plied. Oth­er­wise our ci­ties will be­come gi­ant garbage fields.

But the real game-changer in garbage man­age­ment is nimby or not-in-my-back­yard. Poor and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties are be­gin­ning to ob­ject to the waste be­ing dumped in their back­yard. They, like us, do not want to live near a land­fill or a waste in­cin­er­a­tor that pol­lutes the en­vi­ron­ment. Now that their back­yard is not avail­able, in whose front yard will waste be dis­posed of? If it is ours, then we will need to keep it clean. Won’t we?

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