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How proactive citizens are doing their bit to change the way India handles its trash

Source : Economic Times, 25 September 2016, New Delhi

The journey began two years ago. With broom in hand and enlisting star power from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Salman Khan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out India's biggest cleanliness drive under Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. By 2019, the campaign aspires to rid India of open defecation, improve cleanliness and find ecofriendly solutions to tackle the country's humungous waste problem.

In 2016, ahead of its second anniversary, the buzz surely has risen, although the stink hasn't waned much. According to the government, India generates 62 million tonnes (mt) of waste annually, of which just about 70% (43 mt) is collected. Also, of the total, only 19% (11.9 mt) is processed and treated and the remaining — 31 mt — is dumped into landfill sites. Remember, of the total 62 mt of waste generated, about 5.6 mt is plastic waste, 0.17 mt is biomedical waste, 7.9 mt is hazardous waste an

This waste pile is rising rapidly in a country of 1.2 billion people. By 2030, India's annual waste generation will rise from 62 mt to 165 mt. "At 26%, India's ewaste is growing very fast," says Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link, an environment NGO that focuses on toxic waste.

The country, the second largest mobile market in the world, is already the world's fifth largest creator of ewaste. It isn't that we haven't made any progress. On the regulatory front the government has taken many steps. Besides fund allocation, in April this year, after 16 years, the government notified the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, making urban local bodies responsible for waste segregation at source. This means that it must get citizens to segregate their waste, and then collect and process them separately in an ecofriendly manner. Further, the government has notified Ewaste Management Rules 2016, which will come into effect from October, in which electronic producers are for the first time covered under EPR (extended producer's responsibility).

For the first two years they will have a waste collection target of 30% under EPR and slowly it will touch 70% by the seventh year. Today, 95% of India's ewaste is handled by the informal sector in a hazardous manner. Many cities — from Bengaluru to Nagpur, Allahabad to Agra — are taking steps to better handle their municipal waste through PPP projects.

Experts like Santhosh Jayaram, partner, sustainability advisory, KPMG, suggest that the government and businesses ought to look at waste as a resource that can generate useful byproducts. Sweden is a good place to look at for some inspiration. The country, a leader in waste-to-energy conversion, uses 49% of all its household waste to generate energy. Over 2.5% of its energy needs (including transportation and aviation) comes from this sector.

True, this journey will be riddled with challenges. Amending rules is easy. Changing habits isn't. A 2006 project in Chennai funded by UNDP, to convert vegetable waste into energy, faced operational problems, rendering it unviable. Flawed government policies and poor capacity in the private sector too make things difficult. In 2010, Allahabad had bid out the city's garbage management to a private firm on a PPP basis. It flopped miserably. In renewed attempt, last year, it picked another firm — H ..

To catalyse change, a determined Modi government has launched Swachh Survekshan rankings that names and shames India's cleanest and dirtiest cities every year. But, perhaps, it's the citizens — far more than the government — who will play a critical role in making this movement a success. Conscious citizens, proactive NGOs, progressive municipal corporations and conscientious entrepreneurs across the country are doing their bit to change the way India handles its waste.

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