You know how they say it at the Gym – “No pain. No gain.” The same almost applies everywhere. Think of a city. For a city to grow or flourish in one way, it suffers some other way.
Bangalore, India used to be known as the ‘Garden city’ in the 90s. It used to be a great place with huge parks, big roads and amazing weather. It’s still one of the best cities to live in the country. But things have changed. In the last two decades, the growth of information technology and services brought a sort of economic boom to the city of Bangalore which led to a sudden surge of the population because of migrant workforce in the city. But this also had its side effects on the city. The expansion of the city couldn’t be planned very well and happened without proper provisioning for infrastructure & public services. As a result, the city’s problems like traffic on the streets, foaming lakes and garbage started getting bigger.
Now, let’s focus on Garbage or just Waste.
But do you know what happens to the trash once you put it in the bin?
It’s one complicated system that handles trash all the way from households to recycling or landfills. Let’s look at it step by step.
In some parts of Bangalore, the Pourakarmikas(municipal waste workers) employed by BBMP do door to door collection on a daily basis. In others, the same process is outsourced to contractors. The ratio is roughly 30:70.
It’s been made mandatory by the BBMP to segregate waste at the household level into dry and wet waste. But the adoption is very low. In some localities, the pourakarmikas don’t pick the waste unless it’s segregated.
The pourakarmikas use a waste collection autorickshaw(one per 1000 households) or a handcart(one per 200 households) and bring all of these waste to a collection point or in some neighbourhoods, a processing centre. The collection point is where the garbage is loaded from smaller rickshaws and handcarts to bigger trucks and compactors. They also sweep/collect waste from streets and public bins.
The pourakarmikas don’t have much safety equipment or protective gear throughout the whole process. Some organisations have worked to improve the working conditions of the pourakarmikas but it’s a huge task. A study on purakarmikas shows some light on who actually these people are. 90% of them are SC, ST or backward castes, 38% are illiterate(another 32% who dropped out of primary school) and 50% are women.
The govt set up 14 waste processing centres in and around the city starting in 2012. Some of these were based on a PPP model and some based on a micro-entrepreneurship model. In addition to segregation and recycling, some of them even had biogas plants(Eg: Jayanagar).
This was a great initiative but not really self-sustainable. Some of these centres have been shut. Now some of them have started to work again.
But there’s a bigger, unorganised sector working in this space that helps recover much more from the waste generated. This involves ragpickers, local scrap dealers, agents and recycling companies. The flow of trash, in this case, is roughly a) Recyclable trash is picked up from streets/landfills by landfills and from households and industries by scrap dealers who then sell this to recycling companies with the help of agents. The ragpickers are mostly migrant labour and their living and working conditions are much worse. They are mostly organised on the outer parts of the city with a huge number of them near Hebbal. The scarp dealers and smaller recyclers are around Jolly Mohalla and Nayandanahalli.
Most of this work in the night. Hundreds of trucks and compactors from the city head towards landfills where they wait in a queue to dump all the trash. Some landfills are owned & operated by the government and some by PPP. Some have waste-energy incinerators and grade separators that separate composted food and organic stuff from the landfill waste. The landfills have had some terrible effects on soil, farmlands and water sources around them. This has historically led to a lot of opposition by neighbouring villages resulting in the closure of some landfills and creation of newer ones.
However, there’s some waste handled outside of this system. For eg, some food waste from restaurants is sent to piggeries and medical waste is separately collected from hospitals and incinerated by specific industrial incinerators etc.
Now that we know there’s a system in place and how it works, let’s look at what’s making it fail and what’s helping it work.
Some neighbourhoods and households don’t have access to a collection system at their doorstep. These guys tend to dump their garbage at the collection points. This makes the collection points super dirty throughout the day. In some localities, people and even garbage contractors tend to dump it on empty plots or roads that don’t have any houses or shops etc and sometimes on unused pavements next to large school/industrial plots. These are a bigger mess. Most of it is burnt just to make space of new trash.
Many organisations have been working on cleanup drives and awareness. But ‘The Ugly Indian’ and the Rising movement (Bangalore Rising, Whitefield Rising etc) kind of brought people together and work on such problems with some interesting approaches. For eg, the maroon and white painted walls after cleanups. This is everywhere an is somehow connected to this movement. Here’s an interesting TED talk from the Ugly Indian.
Organisations working on Waste
There are some organisations promoting composting and helping to make with simple solutions for composting or recycling. Eg: DailyDump(Composting), Citizengage(technology for waste collection), Saahas(Consulting, Waste Solutions), Hasirudala(Pourakarmikas), 2bin1bag(awareness) etc. But there is just so much more of the city to reach.
The IISc also organises a yearly hackathon called ReImagine Waste focusing on building tech-based solutions for the waste problem.
The Karnataka Govt and BBMP have taken some additional measures to tackle this. There have been projects and policies like decentralised processing centre, mandating composting for residential/commercial complex and apartments(large-scale producers), mandating source segregation, ban on plastics below 40 microns etc. But the effectiveness of all these is very low.
For eg, only 45% of the waste is segregated. There are fines specified for those who don’t segregate their waste. But it just doesn’t work!
Consumption, Awareness & Motivation
No matter how much waste management is done, the bigger problem is unchecked consumption. Just to give an example, the food-tech industry has contributed to more and more plastic etc packaging material in the trash. One, there’s more plastic to process and two, it’s hard to segregate containers and plastic bags with leftovers in them. A lot of this can be reduced but the ad campaigns and flashy discounts attract the consumers better than the idea of a sustainable lifestyle.
If you go on the streets and talk to people, you’ll notice most of them are educated, aware of the situation but not just motivated enough to do something about the problem. But with all these efforts by individuals, organisations and the government, there’s just hope that someday the situation might get better.