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Involving citizens for responsible waste management

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Collaboration, building networks and creating consumer awareness – these are three key takeaways from a webinar on ‘Driving a sustainable future with responsible waste management’, organised by Clean India Journal in association with the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). Attended by municipal officials and experts from across the city and state – with one speaker even joining from the United States – the event set the ball rolling for a series of collaborations with urban local bodies for knowledge-sharing sessions related to waste management.

 Here are the various facts, figures and solutions that emerged from the presentations and discussions.

 NMMC’s initiatives

The municipal corporation has rightly identified citizen awareness and engagement as the linchpin of successful waste management. “Initiating innovative steps was key to our efforts”, said Rajesh Narvekar, Municipal Commissioner, NMMC. “We could succeed only because of the participation of Navi Mumbai’s residents.”

The NMMC has been a pioneer in setting up RRR (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) centres; 92 such centres existed already. When the ‘Meri Life, Mera Swachh Shahar’ campaign began, these centres were rebranded, and certain changes made – like establishing forward linkages.

What are these forward linkages? In the waste management context, this consists of connecting waste producers/generators with entities that can process such waste in the appropriate manner. These rebranded, re-imagined RRR centers promoted the collection of much more reusable waste than ever before.

RRR on Wheels

You can lead a horse to the water, but what if you could also bring the water to the horse?

Citizens need to be motivated to take their recyclable waste to an RRR center. A group of young entrepreneurs from Navi Mumbai – who call themselves SkrapNest – partnered with NMMC to bring these centers to each citizen.

Under this model, SkrapNest has a list of authorised recycling vendors; it also joined the NMMC in reaching out to over 1,000 housing societies. Whenever a resident has some scrap or reusable material to dispose of, s/he can upload its particulars on SkrapNest’s software; vendors will immediately quote how much they are willing to pay for it. Once the citizen chooses a vendor, the scrap is picked up and the citizen is also compensated.

“With this model, we have been able to bridge the gap between vendors and citizens. Another advantage is also that people are incentivised to segregate and store reusable waste, and also get higher value for their material”, Said Narvekar.

Recycling consumables

Reducing individual consumption is one way of reducing waste, but some things – like toothpaste, for example – are essential. Packaging of consumable products forms one of the largest components of dry waste – how can citizens be encouraged to sort it out of the waste they hand over to the municipal corporation?

“We tied up with DMart and Apna Bazar to start the Recycle Mart and Recycle Bazar initiatives respectively. After a product is used, it can be deposited at dedicated counters at an outlet of these retail chains. In return, citizens get coupons which they can redeem for concessions on their next purchase from the store. With this, we are trying to minimise the amount of dry waste that reaches municipal landfills”, explained Narvekar.

The future

According to Narvekar, other waste management efforts that need to be considered for the future of sustainable development are material substitution, battery waste and e-waste management. “The battle between citizens and waste has been a long one; the surest way to win it is by reducing waste itself”, Narvekar concluded.

House of scrap

Can a residence be built from upcycled materials? Architect Pinkish Shah, Founding Partner and Design Principal, S + PS Architects showcased such a house, already built within the NMMC’s jurisdiction.

To address safety and security concerns, the frame of the house is constructed from concrete; within this frame are inserted elements made from salvaged items.

The facade is assembled from recycled windows. Rubble already present at the site was used to build compound walls. A transparent green drum at the entrance serves as the pooja room; made from slivers of waste glass, it diffuses a beautiful green light inside. Chairs are upholstered with scrap fabric. Stone, metal scrap and many other rejected materials have found a home in this home.

“The amount of waste being generated increases every year. Architects can help transform the public’s negative perception of waste. Sustainability can even bring pleasure to clients”, stated Shah.

From waste, for waste

“Waste is a man-made concept that didn’t exist in the past. Previously, food, clothes and everything else man used, went back to nature. With progress, materials become more complex and hence, waste is generated”, said Dr Binish Desai, Founder, Eco Eclectic Tech.

He described bricks he manufactures from over 80 types of waste, principally PPE and paper waste. These waste components are mixed with binder, placed in moulds and allowed to dry naturally; after 24 hours, they are ready for use.

“These bricks are twice the size, three times stronger and half the price of conventional bricks”, claimed Desai. “They are termite-resistant, and can bring down the cost of construction by 40%. After they have outlived their use, they can be broken down and remade into bricks.”

No special skills are required to construct or maintain the toilet blocks that have been built with these bricks. With this innovation, waste and sanitation can go hand in hand.

E-waste challenges

Three million tonnes of e-waste are generated every year; only a fraction of that reaches authorised recyclers. Where does the rest go?

“There is a huge secondary market for used electronics; devices often tend to be used for much longer than was intended by the manufacturer. The informal sector also claims a bulk of e-waste”, said Siddharth Shivakumar, Regional Head – BD, Reteck Envirotech Pvt Ltd. How it is disposed of is anybody’s guess.

E-waste management

Other than large commercial parks, no waste generator produces e-waste in large volumes, all at once. This is the challenge that BK Soni, CMD, Eco Recycling Ltd has attempted to solve.

His company’s BookMyJunk app allows e-waste generators to select the electronic items they wish to get rid off from a list, and choose a date and time for free pickup of this waste.

Collection vehicles are sent to schools, colleges, homes, offices and other facilities; the drivers and attendants are equipped with collected bags; customers get a certificate of appreciation in return.

Recycling on wheels

Under this initiative, each vehicle serves three purposes:

  • Training: In collection, transporting, dismantling and refurbishment of e-waste, through courses approved by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC)
  • Shredding: Hard disks and small items like mobile phones, to reassure customers that stored data cannot be accessed by anyone else.
  • Transport: 3-4 metric tonnes of e-waste can be transported at a time.

“When it comes to battery waste, collection and segregation is most important. We have to create awareness and set up a system of subsidised reverse logistics for it to be successful”, said Soni.

A view from the States

John Shegerian, CEO & Chairman, ERI (North America’s biggest e-waste recycler) joined the webinar from California to say: “This is India’s moment – an opportunity on the world stage for the world’s fastest growing electronic vehicle mobility market to take the lead on e-waste. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, and governments, OEMs and citizens are all stakeholders. When e-waste is managed responsibly, all its elements go to smelters and back into the circular economy, with zero waste, zero emissions and zero discharge to landfills.”

Innovation, fire prevention, more technology for battery separation, thermal detection and better handling practices will all lead to better outcomes in last-mile battery recycling.

The last word

Dr Rajale, Deputy Commissioner, NMMC concluded: “We have explored various aspects of the RRR principles, and strategies to implement them at all levels, with best practices in India and the US. Let us commit to these principles, and inspire others to emulate our actions to contribute to a more sustainable future.”

 

 

 

 

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