Moving India towards a Zero Waste model

Moving India towards a Zero Waste model
Moving India towards a Zero Waste model

The founder-member of Saahas ZeroWaste start-up gives her insights into how their business model is revolutionising waste management and recycling in India and why the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan needs a more wider focus. Indian citizens are catching on to the Saahas Zero Waste model. In cities like Bangalore there is also a good eco-system for zero waste systems. Our Municipal Corporation now has a bulk waste policy which makes it mandatory for all entities generating more than 50kg of waste to define the destination of their waste. Large entities like tech-parks and apartments are expected to compost their own waste or have a bio gas system.

There is also support from other similar organisations who provide various services. For example, multiple brands of composters are now available. These products support on-site composting from 1 kg to 5 TPD. Currently there is huge citizen resistance to large centralised waste projects which tend to work with mixed waste. These units are being shut down on account of negative health and environment impacts. Given this situation, the zero waste model becomes the best solution and Saahas ZeroWaste has the experience and expertise to execute this. Waste Management needs a business model where revenues from a service fee and revenues from waste meet the cost of all operational expenditure. Even the decentralised zero waste model needs a structure, which includes standard operating procedures and a senior professional team. It needs technology platforms for tracking and monitoring quantities and quality of waste. It also needs better infrastructure. A social enterprise with a business model is best aligned to deliver on the above. There is, however, a space for not for profits which need to constantly engage with government and create public awareness. We, therefore, have a hybrid model where NGO Saahas works with awareness and new pilot projects whereas Saahas ZeroWaste implements waste management services The need for better delivery of services is quite obvious and this is reflected in an enhanced social consciousness. However, the larger public still remains on the periphery and expects the government to solve the problem. Segregation at source is now mandatory but people participation is very poor. This applies to very highly educated circles as well. The recycling industry also needs to be supported through customers who buy recycled products. This market continues to be a niche market primarily because the prices of recycled products are slightly higher. Prices can be comparable if the market size increases. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a good movement that has caught the imagination of the public. To that extent it has helped us. However, the movement has focussed on a Clean India movement which is translated into sweeping and removal of waste. So far there is not enough said about recovery of waste and conversion of waste to resources.

There are large fractions of waste, including packaging waste and e-waste, which needs intensive support in the form of collection, storage, aggregation and dispatch to recyclers. This process is operationally intensive. While 90 per cent of waste can be recovered and recycled, in the current situation there is a focus on waste streams which bring better values. This makes up only 30 per cent of the total waste. The rest, which is as much as 70 per cent, gets dumped in a landfill or burnt. The world today is also talking about Zero Waste and converting waste to resources. Developed countries have all mandated diversion of waste to landfills. India, therefore, should focus on better technologies for recovery of waste. Some technologies are indigenous and already available in India. However, technology alone cannot solve our problems. People and technology must work in tandem with good policies We already have excellent policies to achieve a Clean India. The Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules 2016 prohibits organic and recyclable waste going to a landfill. The same rules have introduced Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), where packaging companies are expected to develop a reverse logistics system for funnelling plastic waste back to recycling. The New e-Waste Rules also have the same mandate for producers. We can achieve a Clean India only if all stakeholders take the policies seriously. We expect India Inc. to lead the way by actually implementing progressive EPR rules as also supporting the Zero Waste movement.

Wilma Rodrigues is a former journalist with a degree in Life Sciences from Bombay University and a post-graduate diploma in Journalism from KC College. As founder-member of Saahas, she leads and mentors the team working in the not-for-profit segment.

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