Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Learning About Indian Waste Management

After a several days of early-morning departures, the Bengaluru Squad departed the Indian Social Institute at 6:27 a.m. Our destination was one local waste collection facility or “State-of-the-Art Dry Waste Collection Centre” operated by Hasiru Dala, an organization focusing on improving working conditions for waste pickers and minimizing impacts of human waste.
After a several days of early-morning departures, the Bengaluru Squad departed the Indian Social Institute at 6:27 a.m. Our destination was one local waste collection facility or “State-of-the-Art Dry Waste Collection Centre” operated by Hasiru Dala, an organization focusing on improving working conditions for waste pickers and minimizing impacts of human waste.

A recent government mandate requires Indians to separate waste into wet (food scraps) and dry categories. The collected dry waste is organized into 72 material composition categories based on workers’ feeling and seeing waste characteristics. High-value plastics, metals, and coconut shells are then sold to minimize landfill impact and yield an additional profit. How are coconut shells valuable? The husks are shredded and made into traditional mattresses while meat scraps can be reformed into soaps. Both students and instructors were briefed on the facility processes, and we observed a bi-weekly dry waste collection in a neighborhood.



This venture was filled with surprises. For instance, an average Indian household generates much less waste than those in America. It appeared as though the average three-person family generates about two gallons of dry waste in three days. Also, the Indian government “controls” waste management. As a result, waste collectors are not paid on time—our guides have not been paid since August 2016, so they rely on recycled product sales. Privatization of waste collection is restricted by the Indian government and waste contractor market competition.

On the other hand, traveling through the neighborhood allowed for several heart-warming observations. Chocolate lab puppies greeted waste collectors, waste collectors positively communicated with community members, and a young child gleefully welcomed her father home from an early-morning errand.

We then returned to the waste facility and assisted with a waste audit which seeks to determine the manufacturers generating the largest product waste. Our task was to separate dry waste into four waste categories: household, food, personal, and other. Then, two groups tallied the product and manufacturer of all labelled packages from the food category.




Later in the day, our group visited a school of humanities and social sciences to hear from three activists in the field of waste management and have lunch. Each activist talked about his or her challenges and successes while improving conditions for organized workers and waste minimization. One story included the waste management of a wedding with 20,000 guests and its challenges.


Many problems have yet to be solved by future scientists/engineers and advocates of sustainability. How can we design personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety operating procedures (SOPs) to improve working conditions and safety of waste pickers? How can a country 1.4 billion people monitor and guarantee waste collection? How can sustainable material plastics be invented to replace the majority of food packaging? How can citizens of the United States minimize wasteful practices?

-Levi P.

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