In times when urbanization and consumerism have led to unnecessary buy of consumer goods, most of which become obsolete very soon, their safe disposal is a big question for environmentalists, policy makers. For consumers too, space constraints and burden of unwanted things calls for stable ways to get rid of the waste! What next?
On part of disposal, worldwide, the herculean task of collection and management of solid waste is mostly responsibility of sanitation department or municipal authorities. These agencies are mostly attached to the state via public welfare departments, which costs enormous amount of money for the state each year to handle this waste.
Looking at this, how can the burden of solid waste management of civic authorities be reduced? Whilst in developed countries, sanitation departments are mostly fully functional with sufficient resources, the scenario in developing countries is poor. In India, for example, with a population of 1.2 billion, and where 34% of the population lives in urban areas, the burden on civic authorities is mounting by the day. “Civic authorities are struggling with insufficient resources to channelize the waste that is growing by tons every day. To combat this, these authorities are seeking help from external non-profit organizations, and also urging citizens to form self-help groups to educate others for proper disposal of solid waste.”
In this regard, Pune has set an example. The formation of a cooperative between waste pickers and itinerant waste buyers in the city is an excellent example of recognizing efforts of waste pickers for solid waste management in the city. To the extent, it involves door-to-door collection of non-ordinary waste, collectively from several apartments in housing communities, that has to be properly channelized. The initiative has turned out be a win-win for consumers in localities where such initiatives are in action. It has made way for easy disposal of electronic waste, non-recyclable material, and even hazardous waste from the doors of consumers. On part of the civic authorities, such initiatives have bridged the gap between their services and household waste-collection.
The SWaCH Story
The origin of the cooperative behind the initiative is incidental. In 1993, the tussle between waste-pickers and public, wherein the former were looked upon with distrust and carrier of diseases as they emptied municipal bins for recyclables, forced them to raise voices and assert their contribution in the city’s waste collection. Following this, the waste pickers remained the same, but with the difference of working in a cooperative – Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP).
Operating as a membership-based trade union, wherein every member pays an annual fee and an equal towards their life insurance, KKPKP today has 9000+ members, of which 80% are women from socially backward castes. Besides employment, the formation of the cooperative has helped to recognize the efforts of waste-pickers and their contribution to the environment. As the union evolved, their joint effort with Department of Adult Education of SNDT University, Pune campus resulted in a program to upskill 1,500 women waste-pickers into service-providers for door-to-door collection. As a result, this has improved their livelihoods and work conditions.
In an effort to recognize the contribution of waste pickers, the quantification of their contribution, carried out by KKPKP has made a case for granting them their due rights and dues. The study clearly establishes that recovery operations carried out by waste pickers has helped Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporations save several crores of rupees for waste handling.
Thereafter, as the program grew, in 2005, it led to the formation of the formal institution – SwaCH, which stands for solid waste management collection and handling.
Since then, there has been no looking back. The cooperative now partners with Pune Municipal Corporation and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation – the two municipal corporations of Pune – for solid waste management. Today, the cooperative collects segregated solid waste from 2000+ households in the city. For this, the cooperative offers a few programs to choose from, including a recycling trail to understand the end-to-end cycle from waste collection to sorting to channelizing for recycling.
SWaCH V- Collect Drive – A Case Described
Furthering their services, owing to their partnership with Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, SWaCH is now the recognized body for e-waste collection in the city. Housing societies, businesses, government departments, education institutes organize e-waste collection drives with SWaCH for safe disposal of e-waste. One such drive organized by an active resident of a housing society on the Western side of suburban Pune helped residents clear vast amount of non-recyclable waste and e-waste. Books, toys, electronics, clothes, shoes, and even kitchenware that was discarded was collected by SWaCH workers to be sold at nominal rates for second-hand buy. E-waste collected is channelized for dismantling and recycling in alliance with its producer responsibility organization (PRO) partner with the best available technology in India in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Ironically, besides functioning of such a cooperative, mounds of solid waste in many parts of the city continues to build. Sadly, not only the uneducated, the educated too discard solid waste improperly that results in filth all over the city. What will this require? Certainly, many more SWaCH like cooperatives.