For a sustainable Delhi, it's time to recycle and reuse

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 06, 2015 16:21 IST

These days, the subway and public buses in New York are littered with ads promoting B.Y.O. It not an invitation to a party or an unlicensed restaurant asking the guests to ‘Bring Your Own Booze’, but it does refer to a bottle, and also a mug and a bag.

Selling at one penny per gallon, New York’s tap water is about 1,000 times less expensive than bottled water. It makes sense to bring your own bottle and fill and refill from the tap, the city sanitation department is telling its citizens.

The department collects more than three million tonnes of waste annually, including 10 billion single-use bags, 315,000 tonnes of paper for recycling, and about 800 million bottles of water. Through its B.Y.O campaign, launched in May, 2015, the city authorities are promoting living “a less disposable life”, engaging citizens to meet the target of zero landfill waste and 90% waste reduction by 2030.

The United States is the world’s consumption leader and we can’t beat New York or any American megacity in the resources they devour and trash. But for Delhi that lives on limited means, our national capital has quite an appetite and, surprisingly, no plans to control it.

Today, Delhi and its suburbs pack in 21 million people. We get 75,000 migrants every year. At 2.41 lakh (2014-15), the annual per capita income is the second highest in the country. So is consumption that has already overshot supply.

With more people buying power-guzzling appliances, there has been an almost 200% increase in power demand in the last ten years although Delhi’s own supply has remained constant. While the demand for water expected to increase 10% in two years, there is no scope for procuring any additional water in the near future. Delhi generates 10,000 tonnes of garbage every day and by 2021, it is likely to increase to 15,000 tonnes per day. Besides organic waste, we are generating huge amounts of plastic, paper, tin, metal, foam etc. used in packaging of food, household and personal items we buy every day. Landfills are packed to capacity and officials claim there is no space to dump the muck dug out of drains as part of desilting this year. Imagine the mayhem at the next big downpour.

Yet, the government has hardly thought of setting reduction targets.

Last week though, we heard the Delhi Jal Board talk about policy initiatives to bring the city’s water consumption down by 10 litres per person in the next 10 years. The government would soon set up a bureau of water efficiency to rate and promote sale of star-rated bathroom and kitchen-fittings that save the precious resource.

It is also planning to install a dual-pipe network to supply drinking and semi-treated water separately in all future constructions. With a similar road map, Singapore brought down its per capita domestic water consumption from 165 to 151 litre per day since 2003. Now, we need similar policies for other critical sectors.

In Delhi, garbage management is a huge challenge. Thanks to our rag-pickers who segregate and sell recyclables from our community bins and mounting garbage sites, almost a fourth of capital’s plastic and other waste gets recycled. But except for this informal intervention, Delhi has almost no mechanism to segregate waste. Just as it has no mechanism to reduce waste generation.

All gung-ho about the Swachh Bharat campaign, it is time the Centre and the state push for implementation of laws that make recycling mandatory for residents. It is the only way we can reduce the trash we send to the landfills.

It also make economic sense as only 15% of Rs 1,350 crore that the three corporations allocate for garbage management is spent on disposal of waste. The rest goes into collection and transportation. There is 6,000 tonnes of wet waste, which is great for composting and can be treated and can be treated locally. But it is all piled up at the landfills. The ragpickers and recyclers informally do what is essentially the job of citizens and the municipal staff. Yet, when it comes to integrating them into the system, authorities drag their feet. To beat the waste-and-want dynamics, we need to recycle and reuse. These ideas are no longer environmental fads. These are real solutions, perhaps the only solutions that can keep our mega city going.

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