This is the second of two blog posts on waste management in India, kindly provided by Cath Wilson, WasteAid Associate.
I recently wrote a blog for WasteAid UK documenting my trip in January to southern India and, in particular, the experiences I had there with regard to litter and waste.
Now, and with encouragement from WasteAid, it seems prudent to write about what is already happening in India to combat these problems. My own experience, whilst valuable, was limited by the time I spent in this huge country and by the places I visited. In order to present a balanced and informed view I’ve been taking a look online at current initiatives in India and discovering just how relevant these are to the community-focused approach that WasteAid is advocating and delivering overseas.
On 2nd October 2014 the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan – the Clean India Mission. This ambitious five year programme aims to engage directly with all Indian citizens, urging them to go out and clean up their own streets and neighbourhoods, with the ultimate goal of having a clean country in which to celebrate the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October 2019.
To date the campaign has had a degree of success – ‘stars with brooms’ (entrepreneurs, popular athletes and film stars) continue to appear on the streets and an estimated three million local government officials, students and school children have taken part.
A number of significant problems have yet to be overcome however if the mission is to meet its aspirations. With overflowing landfill sites and limited collection and recycling infrastructure – most Indian cities don’t have a modern centralised system of waste collection and disposal for every household, never mind recycling facilities – something more immediate and sustainable needs to be done with the waste collected.
Whilst new technologies and legislative support at government level are desirable, traditional caste occupations in India – waste collectors, rag-pickers and cleaners – need to be supported alongside the development of ‘official’ systems and services. Such occupations are seen by many Indians as supporting a legitimate right to work and a traditional lifestyle, the removal of which could lead to mass unemployment and social upheaval.
This is central to the Clean India mission, which adopts a large-scale participation, grassroots approach intended, over time, to fundamentally change attitudes to waste, inform the population of the dangers of the current situation and provide ways to combat it. Other community empowerment schemes which promote localised recycling of wastes will clearly boost the wider aims of the national campaign and help further support impoverished communities with no access to centralised waste services.
Clean India is backed by a number of NGOs operating in India – notably ‘The Ugly Indian’ – a network of self-motivated, anonymous volunteers who undertake a range of activities including clean ups and the provision and servicing of bins; and ‘Waste Warriors’, who provide waste collections, management consultancy, events waste management and other related projects in various parts of India.
Another incredible initiative well-worthy of mention has been deemed ‘The World’s Largest Beach Clean Up’. Afroz Shah, a young lawyer and environmentalist who moved to an apartment near Versova Beach in Mumbai in 2015, was appalled by the state of this 2.5km stretch of beach near the city’s slums. He started doing regular beach cleans with the help of an elderly neighbour; however it quickly became apparent that more manpower was needed to undertake such a mammoth task. He began knocking on doors in his community and explaining the harm caused by marine pollution; eventually he inspired more than 1000 local volunteers from all walks of life to get involved.
By May 2017 regular beach cleans, or ‘dates with the ocean’ as they were known, had resulted in the removal of a mind-boggling 5.3 million kilograms of rubbish, predominantly plastics. It also gained Afroz Shah the UN’s ‘Champion of the Earth’ award. Ongoing work has included the planting of 500 coconut trees on the beach to create a lagoon that will provide local produce and attract tourism, whilst future efforts will be focused on the coastline’s mangrove forests and further grassroots clean-up activities in other parts of India.
I’m sure there are many more such examples of inspirational schemes elsewhere in India and across the world. For now I’ll finish with a link to a list of seven lessons learned from the Versova Beach project – all of which are undoubtedly as applicable in the UK as they have been in Mumbai.