In my last article, I spoke about promoting Public Private Partnerships through a decentralized approach for managing Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). In my present article, I want to highlight the importance of integrating the ‘informal’ waste picking sector in the formal waste management systems of the respective Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) categorized into Mahanagar Nigam (municipal corporation), Nagar Palika (municipality) and Nagar Panchayat (city council).categorized into Mahanagar Nigam (municipal corporation), Nagar Palika (municipality) and Nagar Panchayat (city council).
In the context of Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM), the informal waste management sector comprises of waste/ragpickers, sweepers and scrap dealers/itinerant buyers. Waste pickers deal with front-end waste collection from households, commercial and industrial units. They further segregate the waste as per its recyclable potential and sell it to itinerant buyers. Since majority of ULBs in developing countries are swamped with manpower, technological, financial and operational impediments, the waste picking community have occupied an indispensable role in facilitating primary collection and segregation of MSW.
In India, ULBs do not have enough resources for deploying laborers for waste collection from frontline sources like households and other institutions. Municipalities and formal service providers can neither provide collection service to all households, nor guarantee an effective recycling and sustainable treatment for disposal of wastes. Waste pickers fill this hierarchical gap and integrate themselves in the SWM process by collecting municipal solid waste and disposing it to collection points.
Through this informal setup of vertical integration, the waste picking community has rendered measurable direct and indirect service, economic and environmental benefits to the UBLs. In majority of urban centres in developing nations, till date, waste pickers collect waste without charging anything and as a result the overall cost of transportation, processing and disposal for a respective ULB is decreased. As per a 2013 study, municipal cost saving from waste picking community services in the city of Limo, Peru amounted to Euro 15.76 million per year; Cairo, Egypt amounted to Euro 14.47 million; and Pune, India amounted to Euro 2.2 million per year. These quantifiable economic benefits in terms of savings have been diverted and invested by ULBs for scientific disposal and treatment of MSW.
With regards to environmental sustainability, this sector is the invisible practitioners of eco-friendly waste collecting and disposing practices and contributes a lot of resource material to the recycling industry. Studies have shown that around 80 percent of municipal solid waste is recovered by this sector. Recyclable material segregated by the waste picking community is sent for processing at waste recycling industries, thereby diverting huge amounts of solid waste that otherwise would have ended up in landfills or unsanitary open dumping sites. This sector directly contributes to environmental sustainability and indirectly promotes usage of recycled by-products of solid waste like clean fuel, green electricity, recycled products, etc.
Quantifying the benefits of formally the integrating the waste picking sector in selected Indian cities
With reference to the successful on-going decentralized PPP case studies as mentioned in my last article, the cities of Pune, Mumbai, Pammal, Latur, Patna and Vrindavan have immensely benefitted by integrating the waste picking community into the formal waste management operations. These models shows how this community works in best interest with the public institutions, civil society and general public by providing tangible benefits to the involved stakeholders. The quantifiable service, economic and environmental benefits from the selectied case studies are presented below and have been extracted from PEARL 2015, Urban Solid Waste Management in Indian Cities.
Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and SWaCH
This model has been a pioneer in showcasing the advantages of working with the waste picking community. By formally entering into PPP mode of operation with SWaCH cooperative of waste pickers, PMC has been able to increase service coverage for door-to-door waste collection to four lakh households in Pune metropolitan area, covering 122 municipal wards out the total 144 PMC wards.
In terms of environmental benefits, PMC has been able to divert 60 metric ton (MT) of waste away from landfills every day because of effective collection and segregation of recyclable waste by SWaCH members. A 2006 study shows around 118,000 MT of material was recovered by SWaCH wastepickers annually, thereby diverting 22 per cent of the recyclables away from landfills. In monetary terms the net environmental benefit accruing from the service of this community was calculated as AED 13,273,115.12.
All in all, due to SWaCH’s wastepickers effective collection, segregation and transportation services, PMC upto this date approximately saves around Rs. 15 crores annually in waste handling and transportation costs. Indirectly this municipal saving is invested by the PMC in scientific waste processing and treatment and as a result PMC has stopped open dumping at Uruli landfill site since June 2010.
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Stree Mukti Sangathan (SMS)
Mumbai is among the top two waste producing cities in India. MCMG pragmatically recognized the burgeoning waste management challenges and took a positive decision to enter into a PPP mode of operation with SMS, an NGO which has a registered cooperative of more than 3000 waste pickers. From this intervention, MCMG has benefited a lot in terms of providing better services and implementing sustainable mode of operation.
The waste collection services have reached out to more than 10,000 households and several institutions in the Mumbai city. In term of environmental sustainability, due to efficient collection and segregation process by the waste collectors around 200-300 MT of waste per day away is diverted from landfill. SMS has also trained their registered women waste pickers to operate the Nisarguna Biogas plants developed by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre who are currently operating and maintaining eight Nisarguna Plants in Mumbai.
Patna Municipal Corporation (PtMC) and Nidan Swachhdhara Private Limited (NSPL)
Another model involving the waste picking community in the formal PPP model was introduced in the city of Patna in 2002. PtMC entered into a formal working arrangement with NSPL, an NGO which has formally mobilized the waste piking community. With regards to service coverage, the waste pickers of NSDL have been able to cover around 63,000 households in Patna city till date. In terms of environment sustainability, as a result of NSDL’s wastepickers effective waste collection and processing services, nearly 43 MT of waste is diverted away from the landfills. Looking at the financial advantages of this model, PtMC has renewed the MoU with NSPL from time to time.
Pammal Municipal Corporation (PaMC) and Exnora Green Pammal (EGP)
This is another successful PPP model involving a public institution, an NGO and informal waste picking sector. EGP has employed a number of waste pickers for door-to-door waste collection and segregation. In terms of service benefits, on an average, waste collectors of EGP have collected 994 MT of waste in Pammal every month. They have segregated around 11, 934 MT of waste in the year April 2012 to March 2013 from the 16 wards. For prompting environmental sustainability, out of total 383 MT of organic waste collected by EGP’s wastepickers, 115 tons of this waste was utilized for biogas production and 268 tons was utilized for vermicomposting process.
Vrindavan Municipal Corporation (VMC) and Friends of Vrindavan (FoV) operating
Under this PPP model FoV has created a community owned entity of waste pickers and have trained and employed these people as Safai Mitras in the door-to-door collection process.In terms of service benefits, the FoV’s wastepickers cover around 6000 households for door-to-door waste collection services. In terms of environmental benefits, the waste pickers collect about 9-10 metric tons (25% of the total waste generated in the city) from Varanasi city.Due to efficient waste collection and segregation by waste pickers, FoV has also established five composting units that convert organic solid waste to manure and is sold in the market.
With regards to the role of informal sector in the waste management process, thousands of people in India, mostly women, depend on waste picking and recycling materials from waste for their livelihoods. It has become increasingly evident that incorporating existing waste picking community into the operations of formal MSWM can bring significant service, economic and environmental benefits as delineated in the previously presented case studies.
But still there is a huge institutional and policy gap to improve their livelihoods, working conditions and efficiency in recycling. Even the recent Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 has failed to put much light on this subject matter. The rules acknowledge the efforts of the informal sector in the waste management process but they do not provide concrete guidelines to formally integrate them into the waste management pyramid. As a result, in the case of India, it has been seen that the lead in this front has been taken by local/national non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations sometimes with external support from international donor agencies, rather than by the public authorities.
As a policy recommendation, it must be made mandatory for every ULB to enter into formal agreements with the waste picking community. Since this sector is prominently immobilised, civil society can play a pivotal role in mobilising this community into a registered cooperative or by employing them. The efforts of the civil society should be widely recognised and highly incentivised in this regards. Through this integration approach it will be easy for public institutions to integrate the waste pickers into the formal operations. On the policy front, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change should draft and pass a separate policy for the informal sector. This policy should lay a detailed road map for the public institutions to incorporate mechanisms for integrating the informal sector in the waste management process.