Sustainable decentralised waste management

This article about the Solid and Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) model of waste management has been published on Citizen Matters, Mumbai. In two parts, it can be read on these two links:
> Let’s not waste ‘waste’: In pursuit of the ideal waste management solution
> COVID-19 lockdown: how waste segregation methods derailed in one Mumbai township

Image source: harmony1.com

The unexpected entry of Covid-19 has derailed the waste management plans of municipalities and governments all over India. The Swachh Bharat Mission has been pushed to the background and currently seems to be in hibernation. While the focus is on minimising the spread of the virus and saving lives, at this time, we cannot ignore the waste that we are continuing to generate, and increased volumes at that, attributed to Covid-19.

Mumbai generates about 11,000 tonnes of solid waste every day (estimates from Central Pollution Control Board, 2015-16), and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is formally responsible for its management.

Implementing the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016

In October 2017, the MCGM started implementing the new Solid Waste
Management Rules 2016 – segregation of waste at source, self-disposal of dry waste to recyclers and mandatory handing of wet waste (compositing, biogas, etc.) within the premises for bulk generators (above 100 kg per day). (Note: the rules were revised and amended in 2018)

Over the next few months, everyone was looking for quick fix methods to organise themselves to segregate waste and then to get rid of it. Waste management consultants and those providing waste handling solutions were in high demand. Many bulk generator societies in the city had started following the rules after investing lakhs of rupees on composting machinery and other infrastructure. Those that weren’t, were receiving warning notices and then being penalised with monetary fines, but there were many getting away.

Apart from trying to clean up the city, the objective of the new rules was to reduce the quantity of waste going to the landfills – Deonar and Kanjurmarg. The MCGM was under immense pressure to close the Deonar Dumping Ground by December 2019. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has, in fact, been pursing all municipalities to commit to deadlines to shut down their landfill sites.

Getting Mr C. Srinivasan involved

In May 2019, when Mr Praveen Pardeshi took over as Commissioner of MCGM, he realised that there was still much to do. Compliance levels and cooperation from households and societies were inadequate, municipal officers were seemingly helpless and there was no firm plan in place to be able to shut down Deonar. (MCGM subsequently got an extension.)

Mr Pardeshi decided to rope in Mr C. Srinivasan from Vellore, who is known in waste management circles for his simple and natural approach to handling what he calls “a misplaced resource and an unorganised wealth”, rather than “waste”.

Mr Srinivasan is the Apex Monitoring Committee Special Invitee to National Green Tribunal (NGT), New Delhi and a resource person from Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India, that is implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission. In 2014, he was featured in the TV show Satyamev Jayate’s waste management episode.

So in September 2019, at the instance of the Jt Commissioner and SWM in-charge Mr Ashok Khaire, Mr Srinivasan was brought to Mumbai for a 5-day programme. One day was spent in visiting and observing several waste management facilities across the city. The other 4 days were spent in doing 2 batches of training on Integrated and Sustainable, Solid and Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) Project for the officers and engineers of MCGM, at the Powai office. A few active citizens from different wards, who were working in waste management were also invited and I was one among those who attended the 2-day session.

Introduction to the workshop by Mr Ashok Khaire
Officers participate in an activity during the workshop
Ladies who attended, from different parts of Mumbai

During the session, I could sense that some people could not believe that the waste could be handled in the way that was being described. Some were skeptical about its suitability to a large urban conglomeration such as Mumbai. However, Mr Srinivasan was confident that with the SLRM Model, in about two years, Mumbai could be made Garbage free, Roadside-dustbin free, Dumping Ground free. All this by investing in creating proper awareness among the people, putting in place basic waste management infrastructure, training the sanitary workers and giving them the respect that they well deserve.

What is the SLRM Model?

Solid and Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) is a decentralised waste
management model. As per the SLRM model almost every element of “waste” can be reused in some way. So everything we call waste is actually a resource.

The model is not new. It has already been or is being implemented in many cities / localities across India (e.g. Vellore (Tamil Nadu), Ambikapur (Chattisgarh), Silchar (Assam), CRPF campus (Delhi), Mysore (Karnataka)). Ambikapur was radically changed and now figures among India’s cleanest cities. While the framework of the model remains more or less the same, it is adapted to suit the area where it is implemented.

A slide from Srinivasan’s presentation

The SLRM model ensures that residents segregate at source, in their homes, as per the municipal rules. With large volumes of “waste” generated in a township on a daily basis, there is potential to process/utilize these resources, within the township itself (at the source of generation) rather than carrying it miles away. So the waste from every household / society is taken to an SLRM centre that is situated within the township itself.

There are different types of waste produced in residential areas – organic
wet/kitchen waste, organic garden waste, inorganic dry waste, sanitary waste, biomedical waste. Each is handled at the SLRM centre based on the local conditions. When treated in a timely manner, the waste remains useful, and need not be wasted.

  • Organic waste is sorted into about 60 categories. The model aims to have much of the kitchen waste utilised by animals. The SLRM centre usually connects to gaushalas, piggeries, dog shelters, etc. This takes care of bulk of the organic waste leaving very little for composting. In Mumbai, gowshalas are currently not permitted within city limits. This rule which has been put in place by the MCGM itself, though not being fully enforced, will need to be revisited, keeping in mind the overall waste management of the city. Biogas is the next preferred use of organic waste.
    Certain items (such as flowers, citrous peels, egg shells, etc.) undergo
    processing at the centre itself. They are used for the manufacture of
    organic products (such as rangoli powder from flowers, cleaning agents
    from citrous peels, egg shell powder, etc.).
    Garden waste which is also organic, is composted in local parks.
  • Inorganic waste (which includes plastic, paper, glass, metal, e-waste,
    clothes, shoes, toys, utensils, etc.) undergoes secondary and tertiary
    segregation (into about 170 categories) at the SLRM centre, after which it is packed and sent out to recyclers, factories and other places where it would serve as input material or reused.
  • Sanitary waste is treated in a sanitary park (not incinerated), and serves as the base for tree plantation.
  • Medical waste is sent to medical waste handling facilities.

The model ensures that everything that can be recycled is recycled. The material is sold for the best rates in the market. Nothing goes to the landfills. It creates employment and keeps the township clean.

What is required to set up an SLRM centre and run it?

  • Space – The SLRM centre would be designed based on the space allocated. In a city like Mumbai, where space is at a premium, the centre can be designed as a multi-storied building. The centre can be spread across different sites as well.
  • Infrastructure within the SLRM centre – The building will need
    electricity/solar power and water connections. It will also need furniture,
    segregation equipment, storage containers, etc. There will be one-time set-up costs and running/consumable costs.
  • Manpower – Staff to work in the centre to carry out waste segregation and processing will have to be identified, trained and appointed. This will have to be done locally. For every 250-300 households, 4 staff would be required. The centre would work 7 days a week and could have workers in shifts for 24 hours.
  • Transportation of waste from the societies to the SLRM centre – This can be done using MCGM’s help or finding local operators.
  • Guidance and planning – The entire design of the centre’s activities would be done by Mr Srinivasan and team. They will define the processes, train staff, locate vendors, assign tasks to volunteers, etc. Once the centre is stable (which would take about 8-10 months), it will be handed over fully to local people to run.
  • Funding and costs of running the centre – As this initiative would be
    relieving MCGM of a huge burden, it is expected that it would facilitate the running of the centre. Initial expenses will need to be met by MCGM and / or a common pool fund. Many societies in the area already pay a waste collection fee which would be given here (instead of where it currently goes). There are several sponsorship / fund raising opportunities for which local businesses and large corporations can be approached. Once the SLRM centre is running and the material is sold for recycling, the incomes would meet the expenses to a large extent.
  • Administration – The SLRM centre will be handed over to a societies group (like a federation) and they will run it with the help of a self-help group or such. All societies will be a part of the federation and there will need to be a management team for administration and day to day operations.

Localised initiative

After attending the training programme, I personally felt that the SLRM Model could be suitably adapted for implementation in townships / localities in Mumbai. On request, Mr Srinivasan made a visit to our Lokhandwala Township in Kandivali East during his September 2019 trip, and he met with management committee members of several societies. The overall outlook was positive, so much so that members of the township got together to create a local SLRM Team to take the matter further.

“We will not send garbage out of the township”, is what we were committed to. The team coordinated with the MCGM officers, the Corporator and the MLA to identify possible sites to set up SLRM centres.

The Lokhandwala Township SLRM Team with Vellore Srinivasan, December 2019

Without putting any financial burden on MCGM, the team got Mr Srinivasan back to Mumbai in December 2019. This visit was used to conduct a workshop explain the project to the residents of the township to get their support.

The MCGM Asst Commissioner R South Ward Mr Sanjay Kurhade, local MLA Mr Atul Bhatkalkar, Corporator Surekha Patil and other concerned persons from MCGM, were also present and they could clarify their doubts with Mr Srinivasan. Inspection of possible sites to set up SLRM centres was also done. At the end of the 2-day visit, we had a plan ready to be presented to the ward office, and to those societies who could not participate in the workshop.

MLA Atul Bhatkalkar speaks
Asst Commissioner MCGM R South Ward Sanjay Kurhade speaks

The Lokhandwala Township SLRM plan

End objective

To make Lokhandwala Township GARBAGE FREE, ROADSIDE-DUSTBIN
FREE, DUMPING SITE FREE
* Approximately 80 societies (including 25+ bulk generators)
* About 10,000 flats plus 500+ shops/commercial establishments

Status of the waste generated (as on December 2019)

  • Household waste generated per day (approx)
    – Organic (wet/kitchen) waste = 6,000 kg
    – Inorganic (dry) waste = 1,500 kg
    – Sanitary waste = 1,500 kg
    ~ 1 kg per household per day
  • Organic kitchen waste handling
    Bulk generators – composted within premises or outsourced for
    composting
    Small generators – collected by MCGM
  • Inorganic waste (paper, plastic, metal, glass, etc.) handling
    Sold by workers in each society / Collected by MCGM
  • Sanitary waste handling
    Collected by MCGM
  • In addition, other waste generated – handled in different ways, mostly
    unorganised and random, and includes…
    Garden waste, E-waste, Medical waste (syringes, medicines, etc.),
    Sharps (broken glass, blades, etc.), Miscellaneous waste such as shoes,
    clothes, toys, furniture, etc.
    Specialised waste such as hair from barber shops, cut pieces from tailor
    shops, coconuts from tender coconut, etc.

How can we meet the end objective?

The solution should…

  • Support the proper and scientific disposal of waste
  • Be simple to implement, not require high technology
  • Utilise the labour force from the neighbourhood
  • Add dignity to the work of waste management
  • Be environmentally sustainable
  • Be cost efficient and financially self-sustaining

The solution

  • Don’t spend money on waste. Make money from waste. – WITHIN OUR
    LOCALITY ITSELF
  • Integrated and Sustainable Solid and Liquid Resource Management (SLRM), with the help of Mr C. Srinivasan, Vellore
  • Every society will collect segregated waste door-to-door
  • Societies that are handling the organic wet / kitchen waste within the
    premises may continue to do so
  • Segregated waste will be transported to the SLRM centres where
    secondary and tertiary segregation will be carried out
  • The waste will be handled as per the SLRM model
  • Shops and commercial establishments will be handled slightly differently, based on the nature of activity
  • Current waste collectors (raddiwalas) and rag pickers operating in the
    area will be integrated into the system, in a way that their livelihood is
    not lost, but in fact improved

Savings / advantages for societies

  • No dependence on MCGM to collect the waste
  • No need to hold on to any waste within the premises – SLRM centre will be an essential service working with no holidays
  • Societies that have already invested in composting infrastructure and wish to continue, can opt to continue to do so
  • Societies doing composting / hiring agencies for this purpose and wishing to discontinue will save on these expenses or incur reduced expenses
  • All societies, including those currently exempted from managing organic waste themselves will have the satisfaction of knowing that their waste (including sanitary waste) is being treated properly and not ending up in landfills
  • Property tax rebates are being given to societies for proper waste
    management, which can be extended to them through the SLRM model

Long term benefits

  • Environmental protection – No waste will go out of the township to the
    landfills, the township will be clean, minimising disease and illness
  • Job creation – 150-200 jobs will be generated at the SLRM centre, employing the youth, women and differently-abled people from the vicinity, thereby creating a meaningful engagement between residents, authorities and everyone who gets touched by this project
  • Economic growth – The township will earn from its own waste
  • This will be a replicable model for Mumbai

Where we stand today

  • The identified locations were inspected by the MCGM engineer who was to give his inputs for the Asst Commissioner of R-South Ward to put forth a proposal to MCGM main office
  • The SLRM Team met with the management of a couple of gowshalas where organic cattle-edible waste can be sent; further exploration and MCGM involvement is required
  • Many societies in the township have come on board and have expressed their support to the project

What needs to be done

  • Step 1 – Finalising the location, Setting up the Project Design (size of building, staff required, etc.), Government approvals and funding
  • Step 2 – Finalising the infrastructure, Awareness generation and training,
    Piloting the model with limited number of societies
  • Step 3 – Formal launch (pre-Covid, this was aimed for 5th June 2020 World Environment Day), Working on further expansion

Specific things that are required from MCGM

  • Finalisation of dedicated spaces which will house the SLRM centres
    Setting up a multi-storied building structure / repairing an existing building identified
  • Hand-holding support for the first 6-12 months
  • The MCGM needs to involve themselves whole-heartedly to make the project a success, recognising that this is primarily their project, supported by local residents

In Conclusion

This initiative is envisaged as a joint project of MCGM and residents of the
township, and would be unique model as it would be the first known Multi-Storied SLRM centre in the world. It will eventually be a flagship project, both from an Environmental as well as a Social perspective.

After Covid-19 struck and lockdown was imposed, many of the bulk generators were unable to handle their organic waste as they had been doing earlier (like on-site composting). They have been handing this over to the MCGM garbage truck and the garbage is dumped in landfills. Recyclers have also not been able to collect the inorganic waste, so in their absence, MCGM has been collecting most of this waste from even bulk generators. Some societies have stopped segregating, and handing over mixed waste.

With no sight of the end of Covid-19 as yet, and with the volume of waste mounting every day (thanks to face masks, gloves, PPEs and other disposables) it is high time that this SLRM waste management project is brought back on the radar. Also, it is really worthwhile for MCGM to give this model more attention for the whole of Mumbai city. It is a long term sustainable solution that is zero polluting unlike waste-to-energy plants that have been proposed.

Photos taken by members of the SLRM team

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