Small and mid-sized cities and towns of India are showing the way on how to manage solid waste by getting communities to segregate waste and keeping the waste streams separate. Experiences from the visits to some of these cities are shared, in particular, Suryapet and Karjat. Effective leadership in these cities and towns has found simple and sustainable solutions to the problems of solid waste management which still elude our metropolitan cities.
The earliest, and the best, success story was that of Suryapet, a city in Telangana, 136 km east of Hyderabad, with population of a little over one lakh. In 2003-2004, there was no external funding, no NGO and no Resident Welfare Associations. A single individual, SA Khadar, the Commissioner of Suryapet Municipal Corporation, demonstrated personal leadership that made a big difference. He managed all of the city’s wet and dry wastes (32 tons daily at that time) on a half-acre site within the city, earning a gross income of Rs 1 lakh per month from vermi-composting and recycling. There was no need for a landfill.
A second inspiring example of what able leadership can do can be found in Karjat, a small town in Maharashtra with a population of close to 30,000. Ramdas Kokare was appointed commissioner of the Municipal Council of Karjat in end-2017, arriving with a fine reputation for making tiny Vengurla (population of 13,000 and floating population 5,000) a dump-free town. Public expectations of him must have been high. Within two days of joining, Kokare strictly enforced Maharashtra’s ban on plastic carry bags. These are now replaced by sari-cloth bags costing Rs 6 per bag. Handcart vendors use bags made out of newspapers. What is amazing is how he persuaded Karjat residents, already enjoying doorstep waste collection, to cooperate in giving 36 kinds of waste separately on different days of the week! This is probably a global first.
Many progressive cities abroad have different bins for wet-dry-garden waste and rejects, and separate days of the month or year to collect e-waste or discarded household furniture and appliances. But Karjat is the first town where we have seen regular weekly collection of so many separate items!
There are other cities with innovative approaches to solid waste management. In Namakkal (population of 55,000) in Tamil Nadu, pushcart collection workers have been manually separating mixed waste into wet and dry, daily at the doorstep of each household, rather than attempt behavior change. Years later, Raichur (2.3 lakh population), Warangal (6.15 lakh population), and Kolar (15.3 lakh population) have redesigned their pushcarts to enable them to carry half a dozen bags on the cart so that dry waste can be sorted at source for easy sale without the need for a sorting centre. Alappuzha in Kerala was recently recognised by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for its decentralised system of waste management.
In these, and many more small towns, the secret of success is meticulous micro-planning, committed leadership at the administrative level and receptive and engaged communities. The objective is clear—a litter-free, bin-free and dump-free city.