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A Sustainable Solution To India’s Waste Crisis Might Come From South Africa

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Amidst talks of sustainable development at the International and Regional Forums, South Africa has set an example when it comes to waste management.

The African country has launched various initiatives as a part of its comprehensive National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS). One such initiative is the ‘home composting research project’, which has been successfully implemented in many cities.

The city of Cape Town has embarked on an innovating home composting program for its residents. This program is aimed at diverting as much household organic waste as possible. Home and community composting kits were provided to citizens by the city administration. In total, more than 38 tons of household organic waste was recorded as being diverted from the landfill at an average of 1692 kgs per household per month. Despite being conducted at a small scale in the initial phase, the results are more than satisfactory.

India faces a huge problem with garbage management. India alone generates more than 1,00,000 metric tonnes of solid waste, a significant volume of which comes from kitchen waste every day which is higher than many countries’ total daily waste generation taken together.

As of now, waste management in urban agglomeration and metropolitan cities is being done in a haphazard manner where the garbage of the entire city is dumped into landfills without proper segregation. The situation is such that metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore are now facing an acute shortage of dumping sites and sanitary landfills. The crisis is even more serious in suburban areas and small towns where treatment plants don’t even exist.

Can Composting Be A Solution?

Advocates of the ‘Waste to Compost’ model argue that aerobic compost method can drastically change the situation. Aerobic digestion as a method for dealing with food waste has rocketed in other countries too. It is one of the most efficient and cheapest systems of dealing with biowaste. Evidence suggests that there are significant potential benefits to wide-scale composting, both environmental and social. Home and community composting may divert 25% to 70% of the kitchen waste. However, it largely depends on the participation rate of the residents and communities.

In urban agglomerations and large metropolitan cities, individual and community composting can significantly help the city administration in tackling landfills shortage problem. At village and suburban levels, waste to compost models can be utilised in a much meaningful manner. Compost generated at the larger level by community composting can be utilised by farmers as manure and fertilisers.

The idea creates an opportunity for start-ups which can establish a supply chain for the same. This will, therefore, generate employment opportunities at a rural level. In fact, it has been successful in South Africa. Cooperatives initiatives were started in Tembisa, Gauteng and New Castle with the assistance of local administration. The waste recycling sector has created significant employment opportunities.This is certainly a win-win situation for all the stakeholders of the supply chain.

As topsoil loss is a serious ecological issue, compost can help prevent soil erosion. It helps sandy soils retain water that normally runs through. It can also balance the pH levels of the soil and extend the growing season by moderating the soil. Since it encourages vegetation and reduces erosion, it can be used as a planting media in artificial wetlands.

Further, if applied at a large scale, increasing the demand for composting products will discourage plastic and other polymer industries. As solid waste management is a global issue and the demand for sustainable solutions is increasing rapidly, India can also search markets for its exports.

In short, if put into practice, ‘Waste to Compost’ model will pave the way, in one way or another, for various initiatives of the government like the National Horticulture Mission, National Action Program to Combat Desertification, Swachh Bharat Mission, Solid Waste Management, Start-Up India, Make in India and so on.

Challenges We May Face

Implementation of the model is a huge challenge in a vast country like India where implementational problems exist across-the-board. For adopting a model like this, decentralisation of next layer is essential. Local administration is supposed to play a crucial role in the entire process. Municipalities, in collaboration with product manufacturing companies and suppliers, needs to initially implement the project on an experimental basis on a cluster-based-approach.

Moreover, the project requires citizen awareness programs from the government. The Cape Town local administration, in fact, conducted mass awareness programs through educational means. The city provided free compost bins to residents as part of the pilot project.

India is committed to Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has a bearing on Waste Management. ‘Waste to Compost’ is one of the most sustainable solutions to tackle the menace of garbage crisis.

Environmentally concerned citizens and organisations are coming forward to provide a simple and effective solution. Bangalore based Shudh-Labh is one such example.However, collaboration with local administration and involvement with citizens at greater level is need of the hour.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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