CHF India: From Waste to Resources

CHF India: From Waste to Resources

CHF, Caterpillar and partners inaugurate new recycling facility in Bangalore promoting decentralized waste management

By Carol Garrison, Communications Writer

In the US we don’t think about trash much. We just put it in a can and haul it out the curb once a week. We do our bit by recycling and in some cases even sort our recycling by material. But once it leaves our curbside, we rarely think about it again. In a burgeoning city like Bangalore, which produces 3,000 metric tons (more than 6,600 lbs) of waste every day, trash is everywhere. In such densely packed city with neighborhoods made up of narrow, mazelike streets, it takes a small army to collect all the trash.

Nagpur landfillIn most cities in India, only 55-60% is covered by formal waste collection and disposal services. In Bangalore, those parts of the city which are covered by the city’s waste management system, garbage collection does not occur in the same sense that we are used to in the US. The concept of a whole fleet of garbage trucks rumbling down traffic-choked roads, which share equal time with cars, motorbikes, regular bikes, auto-rickshaws (small three-wheeled vehicles), people and, in some neighborhoods, cows, goats and dogs, is not feasible. As a result, garbage collection is done by hand, by individuals who walk from door-to-door to each house. In the case of Bangalore, most of these individuals are women and they are known as “waste collectors.”

Solid management is a huge issue, not just in India, but in rapidly developing cities around the world. Some cities spend up to 50% of their municipal budget just on waste management. This issue is exacerbated in a city like Bangalore, which is the hub for India’s rapidly expanding IT sector. As the city grows in size and population more resources are needed to handle all the garbage that is being created. Additionally, as incomes rise and more people move into the middle class, they tend to consume more and as a result produce more trash.

One way to help reduce the burden of all this trash by promoting decentralized waste management. For this reason, CHF is working with local partners and the municipal government of Bangalore on a “zero waste” initiative. Decentralized waste management means that waste is sorted closer to the source and less waste ultimately winds up in the landfill. Zero waste means households and businesses are encouraged to reduce the amount the trash they create by recycling as much as possible. This means organic material is composted while all reusable materials (glass, plastic, paper and metal) are recycled. It is decentralized because the sorting and recycling processes occur in their neighbors and communities where the trash is generated and not at a central landfill. The advantage of decentralized waste management is that is reduces the burden on the landfill and the budget of the municipal government. Since waste is segregated closer to the source, it also means fewer big trucks having to transport waste to the landfills which helps to reduce traffic congestion and pollution—two other big issues in Bangalore. Additionally, it encourages the segregation of waste so recycling is more efficient and it improves the living quality in many neighborhoods.

Kasa RasaAs part of this effort to promote decentralized waste management, CHF has helped to build a new waste recycling facility. The Kasa Rasa Centre opened on January 12th and was made possible through a donation from the Caterpillar Foundation. The centre is being managed by the municipal government of Bangalore and local NGO partners, Centre for Social Action at Christ University and Saahas. The land on which the facility sits was provided by the municipal government of Bangalore.

The centre will initially service 1,000 households and recycle both organic and non-organic waste. The organic waste will be composted as sold as fertilizer. The non-organic waste will be sorted by hand to segregate all recyclable materials. These recyclables are then stored for up to one week and then sold as well. By aggregating the recyclable materials, the center can negotiate better prices. The revenue generated will be used to pay the waste collectors salaries as well as sustain the overall operation of the facility. The goal is to operate the sorting facility as a fully self-sustaining enterprise without external financial support.

While the environmental impact of this initiative is important, the sorting facility has larger implications on a social and economic level for those who work there. The facility will provide improved working conditions for a class of workers who are marginalized. One of the biggest challenges that waste collectors face is harassment and various forms of discrimination. Initiatives like this help change that by integrating waste collectors into the formal waste management system and providing these workers with a sense of legitimacy. The new structure offers them a safer, cleaner and more efficient place to work.

Sorting wasteAnother key component of the program is educating households and businesses about segregating garbage for recycling. While behavior change takes time, the public awareness efforts supported by municipal policies that require segregation, are proving successful. The Kasa Rasa Centre is not only providing a new mechanism to improve waste management in a more cost effective model, but is also promoting behaviour change when it comes to recycling while providing improved working conditions to a marginalized group of people. The hope is that Kasa Rasa will be become a model for similar facilities throughout the city to make Bangalore a greener and cleaner city.