Imagine your municipal commissioner waking you up at 5.30-6.00 am to attend his meeting in your locality! With a public address system, he moves from lane to lane around day-break, when citizens - with brush in mouth or rubbing sleepy eyes - listen to his discourse on waste segregation, clean surrounding and resultant health improvement. In two months time all citizens start segregating waste at source and give it to municipality’s bell carts (Ghanta Gadi). The wet waste goes to a yard for composting and manure is sold to the farmers while dry waste goes to municipal depots for further segregation and sold to recyclers. The town achieves Zero Waste within six months.

And this is no imagination but a happening in Suryapet, a town of one lakh population in Andhra Pradesh because S A Kader Saheb, its municipal commissioner took seriously the December 2003 deadline for implementation of Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM) Rules 2000.

Genesis of the Supreme Court's directive

Kader Saheb

It all started as pure voluntary action by some individuals which emerged as legal compulsion for urban local bodies. In response to the Supreme Court case by Almitra Patel, the Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM) Rules 2000 were framed with a compliance schedule. Thus, municipal bodies should have set up waste processing and disposal facilities by December 31, 2003 monitoring its performance once in six months as also improving the existing landfill sites as per the rules by December 2001 and identified future landfill sites by December 2002. So by December 2003 the system for door to door collection (DTDC) of segregated waste, composting of organic waste and reuse/recycling of non biodegradable material etc was expected to be in place in all municipalities.

But how many municipal bodies are complying with this rule and have met the deadline of December 2003? None except Suryapet. Very few municipalities have initiated process and are partially successful. This is the finding of a survey of municipal bodies’ MSWM Rules implementation status by Sanjay Gupta of Toxic Links.

Compliance Status

The implementation of MSWM Rule 2000 was studied on five parameters – door to door collection (DTDC) of waste; awareness; source segregation; composting and landfill identification. Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur, Solan, Vellore, Chennai, Nanded, Mumbai, Pune, Panjim, Hyderabad, Suryapet, Vizag, Bhadreshwar, Kalyani, Kachrapara, Trichy were the cities and towns that were visited and waste management systems were studied. Only Panjim, Nanded and Suryapet have 100 per cent door to door collection but source segregation and composting is not done 100 per cent in Panjim and Nanded.

Waste from a municipality being dumped

From this study emerged four models of waste management. One is municipality alone e.g Panjim, Suryapet who are managing themselves and have not engaged any external agency, NGOs, private contractors. In Pune, Bhadreswar, Kacharapar, Kalyani also, the municipality is managing and while they do not need any extra resources for door to door collection and segregation, they do need money, land etc for other activities like composting. Second model is public private partnership like in Vellore, Nanded, Mumbai, Jaipur, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Vizag and many more. The third type is only private agency like Chennai where a private company Onyx is given private contract for city waste management. The fourth pattern is where NGOs and community based organization are working independently. For example, an NGO Muskan Jyoti in Lucknow do not have mandate for door to door collection but they are doing it as there is no municipal service. Many efforts like Advanced Locality Management system for waste management in Mumbai are made but still are on a very small scale compared to the megapolis’ size.

Vested interests not allowing upscaling

The pertinent point is why various zero waste management efforts by municipalities, NGOs, private agencies or community groups are not getting upscaled. All efforts put together are still a drop in the ocean. “If Suryapet can do it in Andhra Pradesh, why does not AP government adopt that model? If Advanced Locality Management (ALM) model has proved to be a success in Mumbai why does not BMC adopt ALM as approach?” quips none other than the senior adviser on Solid Waste Management to Government of Maharashtra, Ajitkumar Jain. And he himself sights reasons for this predicament. More often the initiatives are personality based with some officer or some commissioner taking the initiative and then it lasts so long as that functionary lasts in the post. Then there is hostile environment as community initiatives are often not liked by the officers of the municipality or the elected representatives.

With landfill sites getting exhausted in cities like Bombay, Delhi, Chennai etc, there is actually no option but to go in for integrated waste management.
 •  Rethinking waste management
The lobby of contractors undertaking waste collection is not happy at the thought of waste reduction as more waste is the issue for them, not the zero waste. Where will their trucks go ultimately if they do not have any waste left? In Mumbai’s ALM system, there was tremendous opposition from the elected representatives as they thought if the ALMs succeed and people are able to manage their problem then who will need corporators. “If we are not able to get over some of these impediments through capacity building and sensitization drives, then some policy decisions need to be taken or legal mandate should be there to forge this change from traditional to modern system.” thinks Jain.

Is recycling ‘The Option’?

But even with the legal mandate, the municipalities are not coming forth to even begin the process of implementation of MSWM Rules. And the municipalities are notorious all over India in not complying with the court orders. E.g., municipalities like Pune and Khopoli in Maharashtra have been given deadline to treat the city waste water discharged into the rivers as these effluents pollute the river water for downstream users. But these court rulings are just overlooked! Just how the municipalities will comply with the MSWM Rules is a mute question.

Further, with landfill sites getting exhausted in cities like Bombay, Delhi, Chennai etc, there is actually no option but to go in for integrated waste management and not just DTDC and source segregation. Says T K Ramkumar of Exnora International, Chennai, “once MSWM Rules bring about recycling and composting, people will come out with more plastics because now it is getting recycled. Then there will be situation like Chennai’s private waste management company Futura Industries which recycles pet bottles has to import large volume of waste pet material from US for better utilization of the capacity. So recycling at best is the second option, first is not to produce this sort of material at all and find eco-friendly alternatives.”

Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR)

Waste management should not merely revolve around collection, transportation and disposal of waste once it is generated and even segregated. In fact the need of the hour is sustainable waste management reducing the waste and controlling the products that create undesirable waste. Propounding the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) towards these objectives, Ravi Agrawal of Toxic Links says that all over the world and in Europe EPR is fundamental to the waste policy, while India has not looked at this option. In India the product goes to the user and the user generates the waste, is the model. The municipality collects and landfills it, recycles or burns it, thus destroying the precious natural resource.

In the US and Europe, some producers have been taking back the waste for feeding back into the production cycle. But they found that instead of this, it is simply better to design product differently. Thus in EPR, the implication shifts from government and user back to producer meaning it is not what governments and user must do but what manufacturing companies should do. The implications are that EPR encourages pollution prevention; reduces resource and energy in product lifecycle and changes product designs and processes.

So recycling is not the right solution without framework of EPR, says Ravi Agrawal. Recycling is apt only when the product system combines with the waste system, not otherwise. And yet, right now we want Zero Waste somehow!