What does the Municipal Corporation Shimla in Himachal Pradesh or Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation in Tamil Nadu have in common with Matale Municipal Council in Sri Lanka or Tansen Municipality Office in Nepal?

Plenty. All of them, along with some other cities of South Asia, have completed the roll-out of Project SUNYA, which encourages city municipalities to introduce the concept of zero waste by adopting the ‘3R’ principle — reduce, reuse and recycle — in their jurisdictions.

With the aim to upscale, these pilots showcase how cities in the South Asian region can reduce their waste by different sustainable methods instead of allowing the whole lot to end up in landfills. The principle involved, and which exists informally in some economies including India, is based on the concept of waste being turned into a resource by reusing or recycling it.

Project SUNYA was undertaken by ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability. This is a global network of over 1,750 local and regional governments who sign up as members and commit themselves to sustainable urban development. The project involving seven municipalities in five countries was supported by the European Commission and implemented at the grassroot by the South Asian arm of ICLEI.

So, what did it involve? On the ground, it meant studying the challenges being faced by the local municipalities and addressing their issues one by one. In Coimbatore, for instance, the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC), which is responsible for collecting around 750 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) every day, faced the problem of mixed waste being collected and then taken lock, stock and barrel to a centralised composting plant in Vellalore.

In the process, valuable recyclables were being lost and on days the processing plant was shut for maintenance or administrative issues, the waste would pile up, posing an immense threat to the environment. So, the best solution was to introduce decentralised waste management by promoting segregation at the source and waste processing at the ward level.


Coimbatore promotes segregation at source and processing at ward level


Ward number 23 was selected for the experiment, which had a middle and upper-class educated populace. The strategy adopted included decentralised composting facility and sorting of dry recyclables to be later sold. If successful, the model could be replicated across the city. And success did happen — today, door-to-door segregation of waste is taking place in more than 2,000 households and 750 commercial establishments.

Under SUNYA, the Municipal Corporation of Shimla undertook a similar programme as it was segregating only 15 per cent of its waste despite a by-law in place. Kachi Ghati with 200 residential and commercial units was chosen for the pilot and two waste collectors were deployed. Simultaneously, there were meetings, discussions and a focussed awareness drive among the stakeholders. This, along with placing bins, proved to be fruitful.

The area became the first ever to achieve 100 per cent segregation and collection of waste. It proved that big budgets are not always needed, a low-cost participatory approach can work well if there is dedication and community involvement.

Sustainable urban growth

Waste is only one of the issues that ICLEI tackles along with local governments. Emani Kumar, Executive Director ICLEI, South Asia, and Deputy Secretary General, ICLEI Global, explains the role it has been playing in the region, including India.

“We have been working with local governments for the past 13 years to drive sustainable urban development. We engage and work alongside cities, sub-national and national governments to promote climate-resilient urban development through a variety of interventions. Our most recent initiatives include projects on urban freight mobility and child-friendly urban infrastructure; facilitating climate knowledge brokering and access to climate finance; preparing people’s biodiversity registers; mapping landscape-level degradation; enabling governance mechanisms that allow for rural and urban stakeholders to jointly manage shared natural resources and building the capacity of local governments through our various tools on climate resilience strategies.”

A basket of solutions

Senior Project Coordinator, Bedoshruti Sadhukhan, outlines how ICLEI conducts a baseline assessment first and then selects from a basket of solutions what best suits a certain city, taking into account its terrain, population and environment, among other parameters. “We receive funding for pilots and the municipality budgets take care of some aspects. We implement, monitor and follow up, but our win is when the municipality also puts in the money.”

ICLEI’s work in India spans 50 to 60 local municipalities, some of whom have become their members. To aid them, it has evolved a wide variety of climate-mitigation strategies. For instance, in Rajkot, the fourth largest city in Gujarat, it has carried out a number of energy-based initiatives. At the city’s Aji water treatment plant, which consumes 100,000 KWh units of electricity every month, it has helped install a 145kWp grid connected solar PV system that can generate 580 units of electricity per day. This takes care of 18 per cent of the total power consumption in the plant and has the potential to reduce 174 tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions per year.

Under its Urban-LED project in Rajkot, ICLEI has also piloted the replacement of 291 existing HPSV (high pressure sodium vapour) lights with LED (light emitting diode) lights on pre-selected roads, 20 kWp SPV installation on a municipal school, and a 100KLD decentralised waste water treatment plant. These projects together have saved 106,629 kWh of electricity, translating into reduced emissions of 100 tCO2e per year.


ICLEI has carried out a number of energy-based initiatives in Rajkot


ICLEI has been working on air quality and sustainable mobility for the cities as well. For instance, Siliguri, located strategically at the Himalayan foothills in North Bengal and connected to the North-East, has high vehicular traffic and congested public transport comprising minidors and auto rickshaws. This has resulted in a massive air pollution issue. However, the city did not have adequate air monitoring infrastructure for better mobility planning.

To achieve this, four sensor-based ambient air quality monitoring stations were set up under the Capacity Building for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient City Development (CapaCITIES) project. The information collated from the monitoring stations is used to make knowledgeable decisions about traffic planning, and thus reduce the GHG emissions. More importantly, the data can be interpreted to assess pollution levels, and their impact on the health of citizens, to take corrective measures.

Putting ‘e’ into mobility

To promote sustainable mobility in many cities, ICLEI has piloted the introduction of e-rickshaws. In Udaipur, which is an important tourist destination in Rajasthan, the CapaCITIES project deployed 18 e-rickshaws of different battery types.


e-rickshaws help reduce carbon footprint in Udaipur


Their functioning was monitored for over three months to gauge performance and financial indicators. The assessment has provided a base for the city to scale up the low-carbon Intermediate Public Transport (IPT) system.

The replacement of 10 per cent of the existing IPT fleet with e-rickshaws will reduce carbon emission by over 2,258 tonnes per year. “There are many challenges concerning urban transport. Unfortunately, as a country, we often only focus on buses,” says Ashish Rao Ghorpade, Deputy Director at ICLEI South Asia Secretariat, who works on urban infrastructure and feels e-rickshaws can be a good option and are losing out due to a lack of policy regarding their use.

On the whole, the global network has adopted an integrated approach to sustainable development and has broken them down into five strategic pathways to be followed when trying to transform a city and help it turn green. These are low emission development, nature-based development, circular development, resilient development and equitable, people-centred development.

“Moreover, we facilitate peer learning, city-to-city exchanges and support development and implementation of demonstration projects to strengthen the capacity and technical know-how of cities that we work with,” explains Emani Kumar of ICLEI.