Time to hear some­one talk trash

DUMP­ING GROUND About 4-6% of GHG emissions in In­dia hap­pen due to poor waste man­age­ment sys­tems. Ex­perts are needed to help cities clean up their act

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Aye­sha Ban­er­jee

The In­dian Ocean tsunami in 2004 de­stroyed count­less lives, homes and prop­er­ties. Dr. San­jay K Gupta, a wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and solid waste man­age­ment spe­cial­ist found him­self in a dev­as­tated vil­lage some days later to plan to­gether with the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to utilise the waste left be­hind by the killer surge. They man­aged to, amaz­ingly, re­cy­cle any­where be­tween 70-85% of the waste.

In­volve­ment of the Pan­chayat or by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties was cru­cial in this case and they bore most of the costs, says Gupta, who now works in Switzerland at St Gallen with Skat, the Swiss Re­source Cen­tre and Con­sul­tan­cies for De­vel­op­ment. He handles the port­fo­lio of waste san­i­ta­tion and waste man­age­ment.

Cost of in­ac­tion is much higher than the cost of ac­tion. The Su­rat plague al­legedly hap­pened due to mis­man­age­ment of waste ser­vices. From the point of just ex­ports, losses amounted to $420 mil­lion in 1994 for the city. About 52 peo­ple lost their lives and close to a quar­ter of the city’s cit­i­zens fled the area for fear of be­ing quar­an­tined. The Bom­bay ur­ban flood in 2005 again hap­pened due to clog­ging of drains with waste (and for other rea­sons). Losses amounted to 1,100 peo­ple dead and cost $80 mil­lion in busi­ness. “Though all of it can­not be blamed on waste man­age­ment, but bad waste man­age­ment ag­gra­vated the prob­lem to an un­man­age­able level,” says Gupta, whose strengths are net­work man­age­ment, mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion and so­cial im­pact as­sess­ment.

He has all the facts at his fin­ger­tips. In­dia pro­duces more than 42 mil­lion tonnes of waste per year but has few qual­ity en­ter­prises pro­vid­ing good waste man­age­ment ser­vices. No In­dian city has man­aged to put ef­fec­tive waste man­age­ment sys­tems in place as per the law. Not one city can claim hav­ing even 30% of its waste re­cy­cled even though there are nearly 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple en­gaged in re­cy­cling re­cov­ery. In fact, most re­cy­cling is due to them and not mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

About 4-6% of GHG emissions in the coun­try hap­pen due to poor waste man­age­ment prac­tices, so it’s also a cli­mate change con­tribut­ing fac­tor. De­spite the smart cities ini­tia­tive, not one In­dian city makes it to even rank 100 when it comes to the clean­est cities of the world.

From Tin­sukia in As­sam, Gupta has been in­volved in clean­ing cam­paigns since his un­der­grad­u­ate days. While study­ing for a PhD in pol­icy re­search in So­cial Sciences at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Uni­ver­sity, his fo­cus shifted to house­hold waste, re­cy­cling and com­posit­ing. An NGO then of­fered him a re­search project, the first com­pre­hen­sive study on the re­cy­cling value chain in Delhi. Other projects fol­lowed and his ca­reer path was chalked out.

Au­thor of sev­eral in­ter­na­tion­ally pub­lished pa­pers on waste is­sues, Gupta has also con­trib­uted for publi­ca­tions such as Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals and Solid Waste Man­age­ment; Sta­tus of Solid Waste in World Cities, the lat­ter win­ning the best book on the sub­ject award from In­ter­na­tional Solid Waste As­so­ci­a­tion, Vi­enna, Aus­tria in 2010.

What gives him much joy is that he has worked with mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in In­dia such as Suryapet, Eluru and Waran­gal in im­prov­ing their col­lec­tion and re­cy­cling sys­tems, and all have at some point or the other won both state and na­tional awards in the en­vi­ron­men­tal san­i­ta­tion cat­e­gory.

San­jay Gupta (third from right) talk­ing to a group of waste pick­ers and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials in Tay­tay, Manila, Philip­pines.

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