Cut the scrap

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - @swatis­sam­byal

The au­thors of a new book an­a­lyse the flaws in In­dia's solid waste man­age­ment prac­tices

A new book ex­poses the la­cu­nae in the way In­dia man­ages its waste and rec­om­mends changes in prac­tices and at­ti­tudes to­ward waste. ROBIN JEF­FREY and ASSA DORON, au­thors of the book, speak to SWATI SINGH SAMBYAL on the lay­ered chal­lenges of man­ag­ing solid waste

Why have you named the book Waste of a Na­tion?

You can read the ti­tle in num­ber of ways. You can say the book is about dis­carded ma­te­ri­als in In­dia. If you read the ti­tle the way peo­ple say "what a waste of ef­fort?" it seems to sug­gest "what a waste of na­tion­hood and its po­ten­tial!" The ti­tle also seems to in­clude the hu­man fac­tor, ask­ing whether those peo­ple, who deal with waste, are also de­spi­ca­ble and "waste". It is for the read­ers to think and de­cide.

Where did the idea of this book come from and where all did it take you?

In 2013, we came up with a book Cell

Phone Na­tion where we doc­u­mented grass­roots economies of re­pair and re­cy­cling around mo­bile phones.

While work­ing on the book, we re­alised that there is a hid­den econ­omy of waste re­cov­ery. High-value ma­te­ri­als like gold, sil­ver and copper are re­claimed from dis­carded elec­tron­ics by grind­ing, burn­ing, pul­veris­ing and treat­ing them chem­i­cally. While these dan­ger­ous prac­tices are ram­pant, wider ques­tions about the pol­i­tics of waste, in­clud­ing dump­ing of toxic material in Third World coun­tries and the cul­tural and so­cial di­men­sions of waste man­age­ment and pub­lic san­i­ta­tion be­gan to emerge. There was a need to un­der­stand In­dia’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with waste. From Kolkata to Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram, we vis­ited sev­eral towns and cities across 14 states to learn from those who deal with waste in dif­fer­ent ways. What do you think are the la­cu­nae in the way In­dia man­ages mu­nic­i­pal solid waste? Lo­cal gov­ern­ment bod­ies are pow­er­less—in terms of au­thor­ity and hu­man re­source. In spite of the 73rd and 74th amend­ments giv­ing con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus to ru­ral and ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies , there is a colo­nial hang­over—an at­ti­tude that lo­cal gov­ern­ments are there to re­ceive or­ders from the states and take the blame when things go wrong. That is why very few peo­ple de­vote their ca­reers to lo­cal gov­ern­ments and try to un­der­stand com­plex prob­lems of pub­lic san­i­ta­tion that lo­cal gov­ern­ments deal with. There are re­mark­able of­fi­cials in the pub­lic san­i­ta­tion sec­tor, but there aren’t enough of them, and they too work in un­re­ward­ing and dispir­it­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

How can ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies work more ef­fi­ciently?

Waste man­age­ment is an ex­pen­sive ser­vice. Many lo­cal gov­ern­ment bod­ies col­lect only a frac­tion of the taxes they are en­ti­tled to get. Those taxes are es­sen­tial for pro­vid­ing ser­vices. Ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies should have the au­thor­ity to col­lect right­ful dues from the cit­i­zens. They also need em­ploy­ees who are able to de­liver those ser­vices and eval­u­ate new tech­nolo­gies be­ing tested and mar­keted else­where. We need to in­duct work­ers into the waste man­age­ment sys­tem in ways that draw on their ex­pe­ri­ence and of­fer dig­nity and re­ward in re­turn of re­li­able ser­vice. Close li­ai­son with cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing demon­stra­tions and fol­low-ups, is needed. These are not im­pos­si­ble tasks, but In­dia needs ded­i­cated of­fi­cials and cit­i­zens to do them.

How do you per­ceive the Swachh Bharat Mis­sion?

The mis­sion has ex­posed per­sis­tent prob­lem of waste, poor san­i­ta­tion and pub­lic health. It has ap­pealed to those who want to see In­dia “green and clean”. But such a tar­get-driven cam­paign with a top-down ap­proach can be fu­tile. There is an echo of the dis­as­trous va­sec­tomy cam­paign be­tween 1975-77. We hope that those driv­ing Swachh Bharat Mis­sion can com­bine pub­lic hy­giene prac­tices with poli­cies cal­i­brated for lo­cal con­di­tions to foster wider co­op­er­a­tion. This needs em­pow­er­ing of lo­cal gov­ern­ments and draw­ing on the ex­pe­ri­ence of civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions so that lo­cal knowl­edge is in­cor­po­rated in pol­icy and prac­tice.

Which cities are do­ing com­mend­able work on waste man­age­ment?

We can­not sin­gle out in­di­vid­ual places. What we can say is that suc­cess­ful waste man­age­ment re­quires mo­ti­vated peo­ple—from tech­ni­cal ex­perts to civil so­ci­ety groups and waste pick­ers them­selves—work­ing re­lent­lessly with lo­cal gov­ern­ments to use tech­nolo­gies ap­pro­pri­ate for lo­cal cir­cum­stances. Sus­tain­ing such sys­tems and en­sur­ing they do not col­lapse when in­di­vid­u­als leave is a chal­lenge. What is your opin­ion on the adop­tion of waste-to-en­ergy tech­nol­ogy in In­dia? Is it vi­able con­sid­er­ing the low calorific value in our waste? High-com­bus­tion incin­er­a­tors are rel­a­tively safer than low com­bus­tion­based tech­nolo­gies, and they work im­pres­sively in Ja­pan and Swe­den. They need a steady sup­ply of dry and high-calo­rie waste along with reg­u­lar main­te­nance. If these re­quire­ments aren’t met, they break down, spew nasty gases and don’t gen­er­ate much elec­tric­ity. They are also very ex­pen­sive. In 2000, Sin­ga­pore set up the big­gest incinerator for more than US$500 mil­lion. It can deal with 3,000 tonnes of waste a day and gen­er­ates up to 80 megawatts of elec­tric­ity—enough to power about 80,000 US house­holds. Some large cities in In­dia can ex­plore high­com­bus­tion incin­er­a­tors, pro­vided they meet strin­gent tech­no­log­i­cal re­quire­ments. More­over, it would take three times the size of incin­er­a­tion plants in Sin­ga­pore to han­dle Delhi’s daily waste, if it is dry and high in calo­rie, which is of­ten not the case.

What is the way ahead?

Tech­nolo­gies can ease waste man­age­ment pro­cesses, but the dan­ger lies in im­pos­ing sin­gle tech­ni­cal and or­gan­i­sa­tional so­lu­tion ev­ery­where. Even some­thing as sim­ple as a ru­ral toi­let is a bit com­pli­cated: what works in Ut­tar Pradesh may not be suit­able in Tamil Nadu. Be­havioural change is also im­por­tant, along with ed­u­ca­tion and re­lent­less fol­low-ups, but crude stig­ma­tis­ing—pho­tograph­ing or blow­ing whis­tles at peo­ple defe­cat­ing in the open—is a loutish and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive way of tack­ling a prob­lem.„

Pho­tograph­ing or blow­ing whis­tles at peo­ple defe­cat­ing in the open is a loutish and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive way of tack­ling a prob­lem

WASTE OF A NA­TION: GARBAGE AND GROWTH IN IN­DIA Assa Doron and Robin Jef­frey Har­vard Univer­sity Press 416 pages | ` 799

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.