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Why India Needs To Realise It Can’t Put All Waste In One Basket

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By Sunita Narain:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

We know that we have a serious garbage problem. But the problem is not about finding the right technology for waste disposal. The problem is how to integrate the technology with a system of household-level segregation so that waste does not end up in landfills, but is processed and reused. It is clear that there will be no value from waste, as energy or material, if it is not segregated. But this is where our waste management system stops short.

It is the responsibility of the urban local body to ensure segregation of waste at source as per the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Rules, 2015. This means the body must get citizens to segregate waste at the household level and then ensure that this segregated waste—wet and dry, compostable and recyclable—is collected separately and transported separately for processing.

The easier solution is to collect and dump. Or to believe that unsegregated waste can be sorted out mechanically at the processing plant itself and burnt. Officials of urban local bodies have been given to believe this is the magic bullet: collect, sort and burn. But as experience across India—and from the rest of the world—shows, if waste is not segregated then it will make poor quality fuel. This will not work.

Segregation at source should therefore be at the heart of municipalities’ solid waste management system. The only city that has truly adopted segregation is Panaji. Municipal officials have ensured a citywide system that is designed to collect household waste on different days for different waste streams. This ensures separation. It is combined with penalties for non-segregated waste and has promoted colony-level processing as well. Most importantly, for the bulk of commercial establishments such as hotels it has a bag-marking system so that any non-compliance can be caught and fined.

In Kerala’s Alappuzha segregation happens differently. Here the municipality does not collect waste because it has no place to take it to for disposal. The city’s only landfill has been sealed by villagers who live in its vicinity. This withdrawal of the municipality from waste management has meant that the people have to manage their waste, or be drowned in it. They segregate and compost what they can. The compost is used for growing vegetables and plants in their homesteads. The problem is how to handle all the non-biodegradable waste—paper, plastic, aluminum tins, etc. This is where the government has stepped in. It promotes collection through the already well-organised informal waste-recycling sector. The municipality has ended up saving a huge capital cost it would have otherwise incurred for collection and transportation.

But this is one part of the waste solution. The other is to make sure there is no place for the unsegregated waste to go. This means taking tough steps to manage landfills in cities. In fact, the MSW (draft) Rules, 2015, accept that landfills should only be used for residual waste that is “non-usable, non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, non-combustible and non-reactive”. It goes on to state that every effort will be made to recycle or reuse the rejects to achieve the desired objective of zero waste to landfill. This is an important departure from previous policies, which ended up emphasising the need for sanitary landfills.

The question is how to enforce this policy. Currently, all contracts for waste management awarded by city governments to private concessionaires have a perverse incentive to bring larger quantities of waste to the dumpsite. Under these contracts the contractor is paid against the volume of waste deposited on the site. This “tipping fee” as it is known means that the higher the volume brought the greater the financial reward. City municipalities also find that the collection, transport and dumping of waste is an easier proposition than processing it for reuse.

To change this, it is necessary to impose a landfill tax. The contracts need to be redesigned so that instead of the municipality paying for the waste brought to the landfill, the contractor should be made to pay a “tipping fee” for the waste. In this way, instead of being paid to bring waste to the landfill, the contractor or city municipality would have to pay a fee to dispose of the waste. This will provide financial viability to the waste-processing industry and also ensure that as little as possible waste reaches the landfill.

We need to turn the system of garbage management on its head. Only then will we really clean our cities—not just sweep the dirt under the carpet.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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