A tiny town in West Bengal is turning waste into piles of wealth
A 163-year-old municipality administering a small town in West Bengal has shown the world how to manage solid waste in an eco-friendly way, potentially giving urban planners and administrators the key to tackling one of the biggest civic problems.
The initiatives of Uttarpara-Kotrung municipality helped the Kolkata Solid Waste Management Improvement Project win a global award, defeating nearest contenders Auckland and Milan in urban solid waste management category in the C40 Mayors’ Summit held in Mexico City on December 1.
Uttarpara, a 10.9 sq km small city with a population of 1.9 lakh, is one of India’s 415 cities with a population of 1 lakh or more. It also boasts of Asia’s oldest free public library.
The recognition should provide the entire country a reason to rejoice.
With rapid urbanisation, the country is faced with a massive waste management challenge. Over 377 million urban people -- 31% of the population -- live in 7,935 towns and cities and generate 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum. Only 43 million tonne is collected, 11.9 million is treated and 31 million tonne is dumped in landfill sites.
“Waste generation is estimated to reach 165 million tonne per year by 2030,” according to union environment minister Prakash Javadekar.
In April, Javadekar said the revised solid waste management rules mandate all local bodies with a population of one million or more to set up waste processing facilities within two years. The revised rules also ask municipal authorities to channelise the waste to wealth by recovery, reuse and recycle and to integrate rag pickers and waste dealers in the formal system.
A close look at the way the Uttarpara-Kotrung project reveals that the minister may well showcase it as a model, as his grand plan for solid waste management resembles this model closely.
A ride down the streets of Uttarpara – often flanked by palatial 19th and 20th century houses – reveal roadsides and market places that are mostly free of garbage, a common sight in most urban centres. Municipal workers collect bio-degradable and non-degradable solid waste stored in designated bins at households, carry them in vans having separate chambers and dump them separately at the transfer centre.
At this centre, the non-degradable waste is temporarily stored before being compressed in compactor machines and dumped at the sanitary landfill. Here rag pickers who scour vats in the town are seen collecting things for selling to waste dealers. They are provided masks, gloves, gumboots and uniform by the municipality and are required to wear them while sifting through the garbage.
As dumping by the roads stopped, civic authorities engaged more than two dozen rag-pickers at the transfer site. While collecting things, they further segregate whatever bio-degradable waste had remained in the non-degradable lot.
“We are really happy with the new system. We live a cleaner life. Civic authorities are also considering employing us on contractual basis,” said Kapil Bhuniya, a rag-picker.
The bio-degradable waste goes to the adjacent compost plant. The municipality sells the bio-manure produced at the plant from its counter and through marketing agents.
The municipality collects 12-14 tonnes of waste every day and produces 3-4 tonne manure daily. They, however, have the capacity of producing up to 10 tonnes of manure per day.
Uttarpara municipality also collects waste from the sewerage system with suction cum jetting machines. “We have a plan to cover all drains across the town,” said civic chief Dilip Yadav who received the award in Mexico City.
According to the website of the C40 group, prior to the project, waste was piled up to 15 meters (50 ft) high at dumping sites, polluting land, water and air in Uttarpara-Kotrung.
“Poor sewage management and waste dumping in the Ganga River had resulted in the extinction of several hundred aquatic animals and insects, damaging biodiversity… Adoption and promotion of the ‘3R’ principles (reduce, reuse, recycle) has had positive environmental effects, drastically reducing indiscriminate waste dumping in the city,” the website wrote.
Though the project’s name includes Kolkata, it actually covers six municipalities in Hooghly district – Baidyabati, Champdani, Rishra, Serampore, Konnagar and Uttarpara-Kotrung. However, only the last named managed to complete the cycle – from segregation at source to production and sale of bio manure. Segregation at source has also started Konnagar and Baidyabati as well but production of bio-manure is having trial run, as the civic bodies are awaiting quality test report from Jadavpur University.
The Rs 170-crore project involving six civic bodies was funded by Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) but the funding tenure is scheduled to end in 2017, from when the state government will have to take up funding.
“Even though there is the scope for recovering a portion of the expenses through sales of bio-manure, such projects will always require financial assistance unless residents are charged for the service,” a senior official at the state municipal affairs department said.
While Javadekar had also proposed charging user fees, none of the municipalities covered under this project is likely to charge any fee.