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

Garbage Flow

The trashcan is like a magic hat; you put a bunny in it and magically, it disappears. If you are living in an major Indian city, you roughly produce between the 0.2 KG and the 0.6 KG of waste per day (India Together). Unfortunately, by performing this magic trick, the garbage you throw in this trashcan is not being shipped off to a mysterious fantasy land, but rather enters a waste chain in which it affects the environment and lives of all that are allocated to make a living out of this.

Curious how your garbage can affect the lives of people you never even met? So were we. Therefore, we investigated the waste situation in Bangalore. We found that garbage poses great complications in Bangalore and is rooted within different layers of society and accordingly poses issues in different fields. Concerned fields here consist of government, municipality, economics, public health, geography and culture. In order to better understand the issues concerning garbage, literature research was done. As we attempt to describe the current situation, please be aware of the fact that we have only scratched the surface of the problem. Here we seek to map out the landscape in which the garbage problem currently exists.

 

So where does garbage actually come from and why has this become an ever present problem? Twenty-five percent of all Indian population now lives in urban areas, due to the rural-urban migration over the last decades. Rural-urban migration is estimated to account for 40 percent of urban growth. Although this is a steep increase in a short timespan, the urban centres have not simultaneously created the capacity to deal with this growth. Naturally, the quantum of waste generated varies across urban centers, depending to some extent on the population, the degree of industrialism and consumption patterns (Venkateswaran, 1994). However, not only the amount of generated waste increases, but also the nature of the waste is changing. More plastic is produced in contrast to the decrease of organic waste. Economic growth simultaneously encourages consumption culture, which will ensure of more waste being generated. Currently, Bangalore counts approximately 8 million inhabitants, who generated about 3500 tonnes waste per day (Daily Dump).

Before understanding the different issues, we propose to first identify the basic flow of garbage. In mapping out this garbage flow, we solely focused upon the disposal of domestic waste within Bangalore. This waste is largely generated by households, markets and small businesses and is roughly composed of 60 percent organic waste, 20 percent recyclable waste, 10 percent toxic waste and 10 percent rejects (Daily Dump).

In order to collect this waste, the municipality in Bangalore collaborates with certain contractors. These collaborations between public and private bodies are called PPP’s. The contractors subsequently employ Pourakarmikas, who are responsible for picking up the city’s garbage using trucks and vans (note that the Pourakarmikas therefore are indirectly employed by the BBMP). The garbage is transported to landfills located just outside the city centers. Here the non segregated waste is thrown on huge piles. This system roughly characterizes the flow of garbage in the formal sector and is responsible for approximately 60 percent of the waste collection. Meanwhile, the informal sector is responsible for 30 percent of all domestic waste collection. These so called ragpickers search the trash for valuable recyclables and subsequently sell these to recycle businesses. Note that about 10 percent of waste ‘leaks’ to so called blackspots; sites in the city where waste is illegally dumped.

 

Issues concerning waste management

As already discussed above, waste disposal is deeply rooted in various different dimensions. Many of the issues are intertwined with each other and must therefore be evaluated as complex systems. Below I will elaborate on a majority of the associated problems concerning waste management in Bangalore.

First of all, waste is considered to pose a threat to a person’s dignity and status. Therefore, waste is not desired in the house and subsequently thrown on the street. This human tendency to ignore the consequences of behaviours we can’t see, can be described by the term distancing. This also relates to a lack of ownership, as people do not consider garbage to be their problem. But in an attempt to keep their houses clean, the garbage now piles up in front of someone elses frontdoor, namely the inhabitants of for instance Mandur or Mavallipura. These enormous landfills are located just outside Bangalore and have triggered many protests by local inhabitants.

When not done properly, landfills can cause great threats not only for the environment, but also for the health of nearby residents. Disease outbreaks around these areas are not unusual, due to all kinds of rodents and pests attracted by the garbage mountains. Ground water gets contaminated and due to lack of better commodities, the residents are forced to face the risk of health problems. Recent studies show that there has been a sudden spike in rate of cancers, kidney failures and heart diseases (ESG). Furthermore, livestock at these landfills die, as they also are exposed to contaminated water. Therefore the locals are also suffering from economic loss. However, not only the local residents are subjected to contaminated water. The Mavallipura landfills are only 2.5 kms. away from the flow of River Arkavathi, which ultimately discharges in Tippagondanahalli Reservoir. Research has shown that leachates released from Mavallipura landfills have contaminated surface and groundwater. As Tippagondanahalli reservoir functions as a major drinking water source for Bangalore, this consequently means that bangalorean citizens may possibly also be exposed to contaminated drinking water (ESG).

 

Another landfill that activists protest against is Mandur. According to BBMP commissioner M. Lakshiminarayan, Mandur landfill will close the first of December (The Hindu). Although the landfill might close, the question remains: Where will these 3500 tonnes of waste generated daily in Bangalore be shipped off to?

Given the high percentage of organic waste (60 percent) in Bangalore, segregation at the source of waste generation might provide the answer. Organic waste could be composted at individual and domestic level and the compost can be used in gardens or parks. The rest of the waste would be segregated and recyclables should be brought to scrap buyers. The BBMP is setting up Dry Waste Collection Centres in individual wards, so waste collection can be done on a more local level.

 

Although composting and segregation of waste  will reduce the amount of garbage significantly, there are some problems concerning this system. One significant problem consists of the lack of knowledge about the waste disposal problems. Education makes for more awareness, not only about how to segregate and compost, but also about the consequences of failing to do so.

Furthermore, as described above, a significant percentage of waste is collected by informal workers who sell the valuable recyclables to scrap buyers. But as the BBMP is now setting up DWCCs, their waste supply is being jeopardized and subsequently they face economic loss. Some organizations (Waste Wise, Hasirudala etc.) have tried to minimum the competitive relationship between the formal and the informal sector, by attempting to formalize the informal workers. Grounds for successful projects are based on understanding cultural differences and monitoring.

 

Evidently, when mapping out the problem landscape of the waste disposal in Bangalore it is important to understand the inter-relatedness of all areas concerning the waste disposal problems. Although the problem is rooted in a variety of dimensions, it should be considered as a holistic system, in which every part is connected to the whole cycle.

 

References

Saritha Rai, The Indian Express <http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/garden-city-garbage-city/3/>

ESG, Environment Support Trust Group

<http://www.esgindia.org/campaigns/mavallipura/press/bangalores-toxic-legacy-investigating-ma.html-0>

Chitra V. Ramani, The Hindu 03/09/14

Daily Dump, Trash Tour Trail booklet

Sandhya Venkateswaran, “Managing Waste: Ecological, Economic and Social Dimensions”

<http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/4401996?uid=3738256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21104153862971>

India Together

<http://indiatogether.org/environment/articles/wastefact.htm>