Zeroing waste, Bihar to Zanzibar

Swati Singh Sambyal and Sonia Devi Henam | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

What goes where: Specially modified vehicles are used in Muzaffarpur to collect segregated waste   -  SWATI SINGH SAMBYAL

How segregation at the community level can make mountains of garbage disappear and help civic bodies cut costs

Until three years ago, Muzaffarpur was branded one of the filthiest cities in Bihar, despite spending more than ₹1.2 lakh a day to collect and dispose household waste, with municipal workers making 80-100 trips daily to a dump site located 22 km away from the city. Today, it spends just ₹50,000 a day to transfer segregated waste to the processing sites, which also help minimise the quantity of trash that ends up at landfills.

On December 15, 2016, the city launched the Swachhta Swasthya Samridhi programme for solid waste management, under a tripartite agreement between Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Muzaffarpur Municipal Corporation (MMC) and ITC’s corporate social responsibility project, Wellbeing Out of Waste Initiative.

About 70 volunteers were trained for ward mapping and sensitisation. Over the past three years they, in turn, have trained households in waste segregation, besides creating local mohalla groups for each ward to handle complaints. All residents in each ward have been added to a WhatsApp group, where they get daily information about the collection schedule and can also air their complaints, if any. The municipal workers have been trained to collect the segregated waste and receive an incentive from sale of dry waste to scrap dealers. They currently earn ₹2,000–3,000 a month, in addition to their salary from MMC.

To facilitate end-to-end collection and processing of segregated waste, the existing fleet of vehicles was modified suitably. The non-recyclable and wet waste goes to four processing centres within the city. Each of these centres has aerobic composting pits that can handle wet waste (10–15 tonnes) from 7–10 wards and a dedicated storage for non-recyclable dry waste. Every month, 5–10 tonnes of compost is sold to local farmers at ₹5 per kg. The MMC has trademarked this compost and the earnings go to it. On October 2, 2018, Bihar’s urban development and housing minister Suresh Sharma inaugurated the state’s first learning centre on decentralised waste management in Muzaffarpur. Members of various urban local bodies have since visited the centre to learn more about the model and replicate it elsewhere.

Localisation matters

Not just India, even countries in Africa are increasingly in favour of waste segregation to tackle the mounting problem of solid waste management in urban centres. As they scramble for ways to do this, and several models fail along the way, it is clear that the solution lies in decentralisation.

How? First, it cuts cost; then there is a shift away from the old method of collection and disposal, in favour of segregation, collection, processing and minimum disposal. With the active involvement of the local community and the incentives for the collection crew, there is social engineering at work too.

The Muzaffarpur municipality invested in developing the required infrastructure, including a one-time distribution of a pair of bins, procurement of tricycles with separate compartments for wet and dry waste and modifying the existing fleet. Today, it not only saves on the number of daily trips and diesel costs, but also makes revenue from the segregated waste. This is a win-win situation.

The CSE team also worked with the municipality to develop byelaws under the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, with provisions for user fees, and penalties for littering and non-compliance. The state then came up with its decentralised strategy on solid waste management. Currently, 105 urban land bodies in Bihar have adopted the Muzaffarpur model.

Resource, not garbage

Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago of Tanzania, struggles to handle the huge quantities of waste it generates as a popular tourist centre that receives half a million visitors each year. Famous for its pristine white beaches and blue waters, it disposes unsegregated waste in Kibele, a landfill in the middle of a forest.

Separate income: Shaurimoyo region in Zanzibar sells compost made from organic waste   -  SONIA DEVI HENAM


In 2017, CSE entered into an agreement with the Zanzibar Environment Management Authority (ZEMA) to implement decentralised waste management systems and push for policy change. A pilot site was chosen at Shaurimoyo, a low–middle income area comprising about 630 households. Launched in September 2017, the pilot ‘Waste Segregation for Clean Zanzibar’ started off by training 16 workers from a local co-operative to map households and sensitise them about the importance of waste segregation. Phase 1 kicked off with 200 households and the rest were covered under phase 2. Today, the whole of Shaurimoyo practises waste segregation, and the Shaurimoyo Waste Management Society — an informal group of workers hired by the local municipality — earns revenue from sale of compost, dry recyclable waste and from the vegetable garden it has cultivated at the processing site. The infrastructure support was given by CSE, ZEMA and the local municipality.

Following the pilot’s success, the urban municipality formulated the Solid Waste Management Regulations, 2019 with assistance from CSE. This will help extend the Shaurimoyo model to the rest of Zanzibar. The first decentralised pilot and regulation in the whole of East Africa, it is soon set to be emulated by mainland Tanzania.

Whether it’s in India or Africa or any other part of the world, it’s clear that the only way to combat mounting piles of garbage is by treating them as a resource, and not just waste, and something that can even be monetised with the right approach. We can no longer afford to drown our cities in garbage — it’s time to rethink, reinvent and remodel waste management.

Swati Singh Sambyal and Sonia Devi Henam research and work on waste governance and implementation at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

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Published on September 20, 2019
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