Disconnected waste stakeholders

between hands and blackspots
garbage in the land
garbage in my thoughts

Cities are ecosystems. Urban ecosystems. A community of living organisms (humans, animals, trees) in combination with nonliving components (like streets, cars, buildings) interacting as a system. Therefore, we, the “living organisms”, have to do our best to keep this ecosystem up and working.

After a couple of weeks researching and talking to several people about the waste management situation in Bangalore I started to imagine the city also as a living organism, like a tree. When the leaves of a tree falls from their branches, it reaches the ground and then becomes part of the soil. This soil is later absorbed by the roots of the tree and contains several nutrients to nurture the entire tree. Additionally, the living leaves perform photosynthesis that uses carbon dioxide (and water) to generate energy for the tree, releasing oxygen to the environment.

This is a sustainable process that keeps the tree alive. What’s happening now in Bangalore regarding waste management is utterly unsustainable. It’s comparable with the tree ceasing its photosynthesis, for that reason cutting off the recycling process of the air. Simultaneously, the tree sends its leaves elsewhere, breaking the nurturing of the soil and, consequently, damaging it’s own subsistence. Crazy right? Sounds like nonsense, but if Bangalore were a tree, that would be the case.

The slight research we did in the past two weeks indicates that there are several issues in the waste management flow in Bangalore. From lack of awareness of the consequences of poor waste management, to deficiency in communication between stakeholders of the whole process; the overall garbage situation doesn’t look good. It’s like the unsustainable tree described above, the waste of the city is mainly sent to landfills instead of being recycled or converted into compost for reuse in agriculture.

On the next sections I will get deeper into this process and, finally, present what we agreed that would be a satisfying approach to this waste issue in Bangalore.

Bangaloreans (lack of) waste consciousness?

The amount of people that are concerned about the garbage in Bangalore is overwhelming. From local initiatives to larger institutes, people are working with recycling, composting and general awareness with all ages and groups about this messy subject. Unfortunately, this is just a small part of the Bangalorean population.

This week we went to Daily Dump to get more insights in their approach to this issue. Daily Dump is a company focused in designing and building solutions around waste management. They have a huge variety of products concerning segregation and composting that ranges from books to specific tools to assist in a waste-conscious lifestyle.

 

Daily Dump

Daily Dump office and their composting and segregation products
Photo credits: Sandro Miccoli

 

One main aspect about waste in Bangalore that we should take in consideration, is the culture of dumping garbage in the streets. After talking to several locals, we discovered that this was a natural thing to do, if you were living in Bangalore decades ago, since the waste generated by houses basically comprised organic material. This garbage, also know as wet waste, would then be spread around backyards and land around the houses, and would naturally decompose, becoming part of the earth again and restarting their cycle in a completely natural process.

With the economic growth of the city, combined with intense rural-urban migration, the consumption culture also transformed. Nowadays, along with this organic waste also exists a huge diversity of the so called dry waste, like plastics, glass, metal and so on. This kind of garbage doesn’t decompose easily, so it tends to pile up all around streets and corners, which are know as blackspots.

 

Blackspot

One of the inumerous blackspots in Bangalore
Photo credits: Sandro Miccoli

After 3 weeks living in Bangalore, I regularly saw piles of garbage in corners and in the streets. Although we talked to several people that are very concerned about waste management, what we see in the the city is another picture. We found that there is a noticeable behavioural barrier that’s rooted in a big portion of the Bangaloreans way of perceiving the waste that they generate. Instead of thinking of what happens after they dump their consumed goods, they prefer to distance themselves and ignore the problem by keeping it out of their sight. However, since it’s no longer a natural cyclic process, the problem will eventually return to them, by polluting their land, rivers and air.

 

smelly

Woman displeased with the smell caused by street garbage at the Madiwala Market
Photo credits: Sandro Miccoli

Where is the waste going?

Although there are several amazing initiatives to promote segregation of dry waste, some of those who segregate lose faith in their attitude, since there is, essentially, no formal initiative to collect segregated waste. The garbage collected around the city is, basically, thrown together in one truck and ultimately dumped, in the streets or in a landfill.

The waste in Bangalore that is recycled is mainly the result of the informal sectors’ efforts. The ragpickers manually segregate dry waste and search for valuable recyclable material in open dumps. They sell these goods to traders, who in their turn are connected with recycling industries. Another important informal dry waste dealers are the kabbadiwalla. They also collect and segregate waste to resell to traders, but the main difference from the ragpickers is that they gather their waste straight from households.

Essentially, the transportation of the waste mainly winds up in landfills and recycle centers. The small portion that doesn’t ends up in one of those two, become blackspots around the city. Currently, there is only one official landfill used by the trucks to dispose the city’s waste: Mandur. Mandur is a village in the outskirts of Bangalore, and has been used since the last landfill, Mavallipura, closed, in 2012. In June of this year, the state government set a four-month deadline (December 1st) for the municipality of Bangalore (BBMP) to find an alternative dump site, since the Mandur residents have been protesting because of this disastrous situation (The Times of India, 6/6/14).

Recently, the BBMP declared that they intend to reopen Mavallipura, even though the area still contains accumulated waste from the last time it was used (The Hindu, 11/09/14). However, BBMP announced that the landfill will be used purely to dump wet waste and convert it to compost. Now, some questions still remain: how will the municipality guarantee that the trucks will only take wet waste to the landfill? And what will happen with the tons of waste that are just laying there for the past 2 years? And the waste in Mandur?

 

Tragic situation at the Mandur landfill

Tragic situation at the Mandur landfill
Photo credits: Bhagya Prakash K from The Hindu

Simplified Garbage Flow

We analyzed this garbage flow in Bangalore and created a simplified model that has mainly four stages: Consumption, Collection, Transportation and Disposal. We are aware that before a product can be considered as waste it was created by a manufacturer and distributed to consumers. This step does not enter in our first analysis, considering that each industry has it’s own methods of production and distribution. The variety of types of waste is also very broad, from e-waste to several kinds of hazardous waste, and each of those have their own singularities.

 

Garbage Flow

Simplified Garbage Flow: Consumption; Collection; Transportation; Disposal

There are several stakeholders in this process: individuals to higher organizations; formal and informal sectors; and innumerous crucial participants of every single stage. We noticed that, in spite of considerable attempts of connecting these stakeholders, this group is extremely disconnected. Obviously, they are all connected because of one main component: garbage. Although they share this common element, the relationship between the different stages of waste management is inadequate.

In our research we found several projects regarding source waste segregation, that is supposed to be one of the most effective ways to achieve sustainability in waste management. However, there is no formal collection service that takes into account segregated waste, invalidating any attempt of source segregation.

The informal wastepickers take responsibility in manually segregating dry waste to, eventually, sell the most valuable items to traders and recycling industries. The Hasirudala organization works on integrating the wastepickers and other informal workers to the formal sector. However, we consider that the extent of this integration is questionable, since we heard stories of the informal sector going against some of the Hasirudala’s initiative. This is a subject that we should get deeper in to better understand the needs of the informal sector.

 

Centralized Garbage Flow

Centralized waste management

The question that we keep asking ourselves is: where should we focus on in order to cause a heavy impact in the big picture of this waste situation in Bangalore?

One option is to work at source. Segregation and composting, if done well, can cause a huge impact in later phases of the flow. However, if the next steps can’t handle the efforts made initially, maybe we should approach with another perspective. Recycling is also a great solution for excessive dry waste, but it also needs some connection between initial and later steps in the garbage system.

Along these lines, we noticed that there is a lack of communication between these stakeholders. If the individual is not immersed in this waste consciousness mindset, he or she probably won’t be aware of the consequences of poor waste management.

Therefore, we concluded that an interesting approach to this problem is to investigate the connection between the stakeholders and attempt to support the communication between each participant in the process.

 

GarbageFlow-04

Interconnected waste management ambition

  

First Cisco meeting

This week we also went to Cisco’s Bangalore office to present them these initial findings and meet for the first time the Amsterdam team.

 

Cisco Bangalore Office and TelePresentation between Amsterdam and Bangalore

Cisco Bangalore Office and TelePresentation between Amsterdam and Bangalore
Photo credits: Sandro Miccoli

 

During this meeting we received valuable feedback from Cisco about our analysis and some suggestions for our next steps. The most important observation was to work hard on our problem statement. Basically, we need to use our creativity to ask the right question about this garbage situation in Bangalore.

It was also nice to see that in their office they have waste awareness posters and that they also segregate their dry waste.

 

Waste management at the Cisco Bangalore office

Waste management at the Cisco Bangalore office
Photo credits: Sandro Miccoli

References

Daily Dump, Trash Tour Trail booklet

H N Chanakya, “Towards a sustainable waste management system for Bangalore”, CST, Bangalore.

Times of India, “BBMP can dump garbage at Mandur for 4 more months”, <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bangalore/BBMP-can-dump-garbage-at-Mandur-for-4-more-months/articleshow/36119370.cms>

Ramani, V. Chitra, “BBMP sets its sights on Mavallipura”, <http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/bbmp-sets-its-sights-on-mavallipura/article6401893.ece>

The Hindu, “BBMP looks for ways to deal with city’s trash”, <http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/bbmp-looks-for-ways-to-deal-with-citys-trash/article3834645.ece>

Pushby DonBLC 123 from The Noun Project
Garbage Truck by Edward Boatman from The Noun Project
Rubbish by chiccabubble from The Noun Project
Network by Brennan Novak from The Noun Project
DNA by Zoe Austin from The Noun Project

Feminism and Me – Introductory Note on the Series

A friend of mine, Vinay, told me the other day that I might be a fake Mallu or a fake Gult, but I am a true blue Feminist. For people who work and live with me, being a feminist is one of my primary identities. Most people have come to know, perhaps a little painfully, that I don’t let things go, especially when it comes to gender, sexism, patriarchy, harassment etc.  I can be the quintessential rabid feminist, and most of the time, I am proud of it. A lot of people have asked and will continue to ask of feminists: why are we so angry? My friend, Priyanka, said it best: Because we have reason to be.

 

An often-quoted fact about feminism that gets a lot of publicity, but very little understanding is that feminism as an ideology and practice is very diverse. We can have radical feminists, liberal feminists, ecofeminists, third-world feminists – we come in all shapes and sizes, and it is difficult to say that there is one feminism, and one type of feminist. People often state it, but rarely examine the implications of it. The most obvious consequence of this form of diversity is that if we take a bunch of feminists together, and put them in a room – we will hate abortion, we don’t mind abortion, we want to ban prostitution, we think prostitution should be made legal, we think porn is exploitative, we think porn can be made for women, we hate capital punishment, we want rapists to be hung . . . and it can go on and on. We are a lot of things, and we believe in a lot of things. And one of the most common things that we believe in is that we ought to have our own opinions on what feminism means to us. For us, one of the fundamental tenets of feminist thought is – we define it, we recreate it, we make meaning of it in our own lives. All of us who identify as feminist define, learn, re-learn, understand, disagree, grapple with the overarching principles, ideologies, and the grand narratives of feminism, and we use this engagement to examine the world around us.

 

So, this series – Feminism and me – is really about my personal and professional journey of what feminism means to me. It will be my attempt to articulate why I identify with feminism, not just as an ideology, but also as a lens, as a methodology, as a tool to understand social life, social problems, and the social world. In doing so, I want to be clear that I cannot speak for feminism, or feminists in general. I can only speak of my experiences with feminist thought, action, pedagogy, and methodology. So, this series will be primarily about my experiences as a feminist in social research.