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Waste Management

A Road To Garbage-Free City: How Can Cities Manage Their Waste In A Sustainable Manner

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban 2.0, cities have to attain garbage-free status. How can cities manage their solid waste effectively to attain this goal and what are the challenges and best practices?

A Road To Garbage-Free City: How Can Cities Manage Their Waste In A Sustainable Manner
Swachh Bharat Mission - Urban 2.0: Nine Indian cities have got a 5-star rating under the Protocol for Star Rating of Garbage-Free Cities

New Delhi: On October 1, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the second phase of Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban with a vision to make all cities ‘Garbage Free’. The statement from PM’s office read, “The Mission will focus on source segregation of solid waste, utilising the principles of 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), scientific processing of all types of municipal solid waste and remediation of legacy dumpsites for effective solid waste management.”

In simpler terms, SBM-U 2.0 focuses on solid waste management through segregation at source and management of garbage through scientific processes, like dumpsite remediation that is removal of waste that has accumulated on dumpsites over the years. Explaining how it is done, Subhasish Parida, Programme Manager, Centre for Science and Environment said,

A dumspite basically has mixed waste – biodegradable, non-biodegradable, and hazardous. As part of remediation, we first treat organic waste so that it doesn’t lead to formation of methane gas or carbon. Bio-culture either in the form of micro-organisms solution or bacterial solution is spread above mix waste and left for 21 days. This way, biodegradable waste gets stablisied – it may become compost or a part of solid waste. After this, a city can either opt for bio-mining or bio-capping or a combination of two that’s a hybrid model. Bio-mining means to mine or remove all the waste and make that piece of land look like it used to be years ago, before dumping of waste began. Bio-capping is like giving a rain cover to someone. Essentially, we spread the waste uniformly, over the land and cover it up with a geo-textile layer, a geo-membrane and one-metre of soil so that grass can be grown on it.

Also Read: Solid Waste Management In India: The Great Garbage Challenge

For instance, Madhya Pradesh’s Indore opted for bio-mining, removed 15 lakh metric tonnes of waste and reclaimed 100 acres of land. Neighbouring Bhopal opted for a combination of bio-mining and bio-capping on 37 acres of land, said Mr Parida.

What Is A Garbage-Free City?

As per MoHUA (Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs), cities achieve “Garbage Free” status when-

– at any point of time in the day no garbage or litter is found in any public, commercial or residential locations (including storm drains and water bodies) in the city (except in litter bins or transfer stations);

– 100 per cent of waste generated is scientifically managed;

– all legacy waste has been remediated and the city is scientifically managing its municipal solid waste, plastic waste and construction and demolition waste;

– there must be a steady reduction in the waste generated by the city and visible beautification of the city to achieve a clean and aesthetically pleasing city.

How Can Cities Achieve Garbage-Free Status?

The idea of making cities garbage free was first envisioned in 2018 when the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched the ‘Protocol for Star Rating of Garbage-Free Cities’. Developed under the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U), the star rating protocol focused on holistically evaluating cities across solid waste management parameters. Later in 2021, PM Modi launched the second phase of the programme with the objective that all cities will achieve at least 3-star Garbage Free certification under SBM-U 2.0.

Also Read: Solid Waste Management In India: The Challenge Of Growing Mountains Of Garbage – Landfills

Star Rating Protocol Of Garbage Free Cities 2022

As part of the protocol developed by MoHUA, there are 24 components divided into two categories – 16 ‘important’ indicators for either 1 or 3-star and 8 ‘aspirational’ components to achieve either 5 or 7-star rating. Some of the key components of the star rating include:

1. Door-to-door collection – At least 50 per cent of households, premises, gates in the ward are covered by door-to-door collection and transportation of solid waste

2. Source segregation – At least 40 per cent of households, premises, gates in the ward have segregation at source into at least two categories – wet and dry waste – and that is maintained till processing or disposal facilities

3. Sweeping of residential, public and commercial areas, availability of twin bins or litter bins in commercial areas at every 50-100 meters and secondary storage bins (which are larger in size) are placed across the city

4. Processing by bulk waste generators – doing onsite processing of wet waste generated or getting wet waste collected and processed by private parties. Bulk waste generators are to hand over segregated dry waste to authorised waste pickers or waste collectors

5. Waste processing and capacity – Wet waste

6. Waste processing and capacity – Dry waste

7. Dumpsite remediation – to stop putting waste on a dumpsite and remove the legacy waste

8. Plastic ban

9. Availability and use of scientific landfill – the one that ensures complete control over gases developed in the landfill and leachate (water that has infiltrated through a solid and leached out) as well as limited access of vectors such as rodents and flies to the waste

10. No visible solid waste in water bodies, screening of storm water drains or nallahs

11. Geo-mapping of waste processing facilities, construction and demolition facilities, landfills, dumpsites, sewage treatment plants (STPs)/faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs)

12. Processing of sanitary and domestic hazardous waste

13. Digital monitoring of solid waste management operations

Also Read: Living In The Shadows Of Asia’s Largest Garbage Mountain, The Ghazipur Landfill

Garbage Free City Star Rating System

A city needs to have an open defecation free (ODF) status in order to apply for any star rating – 1, 3, 5 or 7. As part of the process, all urban local bodies (ULBs) are supposed to upload documents with regard to the progress they have made in the field of waste management on a government portal. Cities fulfilling the necessary conditions for Star Rating will have to carry out self-assessment and self-declaration following which they can request MoHUA for third-party verification.

Explaining the verification process, Subhasish Parida, Programme Manager, Centre for Science and Environment said,

A four to five-member team visits the city without any intimidation and does a survey. Like they will visit in the morning to check door-to-door collection, interact with citizens, and take pictures from every location. If the on-ground observation matches the claims made by a city, the certificate is provided. Third-party certification will be valid for one year and the city will have to be re-assessed and re-certified every 12 months.

In case a city fails third party assessment for the applied star, it will be validated and certified for a lower star (provided the city fulfills lower star conditions).

In an official message, Durga Shanker Mishra, Secretary, MoHUA informed that in the last certification exercise for garbage-free cities in 2021, nearly 50 per cent of urban local bodies (ULBs) that is 2,238 cities participated, of which 299 cities have been certified.

Nine cities have got a 5-star rating, 143 cities rated as 3-star and 147 cities as 1-star. Moreover, for both SBM-U 2.0 and 15th Finance Commission, release of Government of India funds have been made conditional, subject to ULBs achieving at least 1-star certification, said Mr Mishra on December 23, 2021.

Also Read: Swachh Survekshan 2021 Results: Top Highlights Of The Annual Cleanliness Survey

Waste Management Lessons From 5-Star Rated Garbage Free Cities

As per the latest garbage-free cities results released on November 20, 2021, nine cities – Indore, Surat, New Delhi Municipal Council, Navi Mumbai, Ambikapur, Mysuru, Noida, Vijayawada and Patan – have been certified as 5-star cities. What makes them stand out are their efforts in source segregation, biodegradable waste management, waste processing, and adoption of innovative models.

As per the report titled, “Waste-Wise Cities: Best Practices In Municipal Solid Waste Management” by the Centre for Science and Environment and NITI Aayog, New Delhi, technological innovation by Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh has helped the city manage its waste. The report states,

Vijayawada is divided into 64 sanitary divisions and municipal wards for the purpose of solid waste management. Around 516.6 tonnes per day (TPD) of municipal solid waste is generated (excluding construction and demolition waste) of which approximately 275.5 TPD is biodegradable waste, 239.9 TPD non-biodegradable waste and 1.16 TPD is domestic hazardous waste segregated (including sanitary waste). Around 2 tonnes is floral waste from two major and 10 minor shrines in the city. The city processes 458.983 TPD of waste. This essentially means that the city manages to treat 88.8 per cent of the total waste generated.

The report further highlights the steps taken by the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC), like to optimise source segregation and efficient collection of waste, 64 wards have been divided into 1,256 micro-pockets. One primary collection vehicle has been deployed for two micro-pockets. For the management of organic waste, the city has enforced on-site treatment of organic waste in all the Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs). Furthermore, a biomethanation plant is used to process 20 tonnes of biodegradable waste to produce 125 KW of energy per day. The captive energy plant is utilised to power 100 KW stations for sewerage treatment plant motors running for four hours a day.

The city has also introduced smart semi-underground waste collection bins that trigger an alarm once they are full by means of an ultrasonic weight sensor to monitor the real-time status of the smart bins. Additionally, mechanised sweeping is done to avoid the spilling of garbage. The vehicles are fitted with GPS devices for effective monitoring through the Command Control Centre (CCC) placed in Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC).

Also Read: Swachh Survekshan 2021: How Has Indore Become India’s Cleanest City For 5th Year In A Row

For the management of plastic waste, seven plastic bottle recycling kiosks (reverse vending machine) have been put-up in partnership with private entrepreneurs. Similarly, for flower waste, the municipal corporation has tied up with a private partner to institute a system for collection, segregation and treatment of the flower wastes in making eco-products like incense sticks, seed paper, leaf and flower manure, eco-colour dyes from colour extraction (from petals) and other eco products. Another collaboration with a socio-entrepreneurship start-up has been done to collect cigarette butts for scientific management.

The focus on reduction of waste at source and decentralised management with a real-time monitoring system supported by technologies played a pivotal role in waste management in Vijayawada.

Another city that has performed exceptionally well is Surat, India’s second cleanest city in the more than 1 lakh population category. The CSE and NITI Aayog report states,

Surat has achieved 100 per cent door-to-door garbage collection and source segregation. It also has a mechanism in place for segregating domestic hazardous and plastic waste. All of the city’s waste is treated efficiently in decentralised or centralised waste processing plants. The corporation has been able to successfully remediate 25 lakh tonnes of legacy waste at the Khajod dumpsite through bio-capping – transforming a dumpsite from a wasteland to a natural environment such as a park. It involves placing a cover over contaminated material and is the traditional method for isolating dumpsite wastes and contaminants to prevent contact with the natural environment.

The first and foremost step to ensuring waste management is an effective collection of waste and for that, Surat has 551 vehicles. Each vehicle has a driver and two Safai Mitras who ensure people give only segregated waste. The waste is collected in three bins – biodegradable, non-biodegradable and sanitary waste. Special Vehicles are deployed to collect e-waste and valuable plastic waste separately. Other waste items like paper and cardboard (approximately 6,727 tonnes per year) are sold to paper mills near Baroda, weekly. Glass, metal and rubber (approximately 2,955 tonnes per year) are sold to recyclers near Ahmedabad, every month. About 15,000 people are indirectly employed from the informal sectors to transform waste material into usable products.

Also Read: Single-Use Plastic Ban In India Explained: What Will Be The Challenges And What Should We Expect?

Waste Management: What Are The Challenges Other Indian cities Are Facing To Achieve Even 1-Star

New Delhi Municipal Council has got 5-star garbage-free city rating but other civic bodies within Delhi – East Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC), South DMC and North DMC – are far from the 5-star rating. Important to note, after the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 2022 came into force on May 22, 2022, all the 3 municipal corporations of Delhi – North DMC, South DMC and East DMC have merged into one entity. According to the experts, one of the main reasons behind Delhi’s garbage problem is a lack of waste segregation at the source, something that is mandatory by law.

Since waste is not segregated at source, the processing of waste becomes difficult because the normal waste like paper or plastic which could have been recycled has now come in contact with hazardous waste and is contaminated. So, ultimately, all kinds of waste make their way to the landfill or Waste-To-Energy plant. Another issue is that the waste being generated every day is more than the waste processed on a daily basis. That’s the reason that in Delhi specifically, there are mountains of garbage, said Mr Parida.

But why are MCDs not able to enforce source segregation? A Senior Officer from South MCD shared the three key challenges they face in ensuring segregated door-to-door waste collection. They said,

Citizens being waste generators are supposed to practise source segregation, mandated under Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules 2016 and SWM bye-laws 2018. However, the lack of willingness of people is an issue. SDMC, now MCD, has carried out various IEC (Information, Education and Communication) programmes and currently, source segregation varies from 20 per cent to 80-90 per cent in various wards. The second challenge is the last mile connectivity. Slums and old settlements in Delhi have narrow lanes, making it difficult for the collection van to navigate through the area. To overcome this, we have deployed auto tippers and tricycle rickshaws. The third challenge is the commercial areas – mandis and markets where there is poor segregation.

Also Read: Opinion: Our Spaces, Our Future, How A Youth Leader Is Trying To Segregate Waste And Unite Communities

In the national capital Delhi, some pockets are practising complete waste management at source. For instance, in 2016, after the Solid Waste Management Rules came into action, all Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs) were directed by the National Green Tribunal to manage waste locally. In Rohini Sector-9, Oriental Apartments started the process but within a year, they discontinued the segregation and treatment. Giving the reason, O.P. Talwar, Secretary of the residential society said,

We realised that we were one of the very few societies in the area to follow the NGT order. We were spending Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 35,000 per month on the collection, segregation and treatment of waste. It felt like a recurring expenditure without any returns. The compost generated from biodegradable waste was used in the two parks within the society. Sometimes, few households would purchase the compost from us at a cost of Rs. 20/kg. But, still, the entire process felt like a huge financial burden. We along with some other housing societies have filed an RTI seeking information on if and how many societies have been penalised for not abiding by the NGT order. Because only we and few others seem to get a notice from the government.

Delhi is not the only city struggling with the effective implementation of SWM Rules 2016. Dr Lata Ghanshamnani, Ophthalmologist and co-founder of NGO RNisarg Foundation is a resident of Thane. She said that even if she segregates waste, the waste collector collects all kinds of waste together which makes all the effort null and void.

Why are municipal corporations failing to collect segregated waste? Don’t we have enough resources? Sourabh Manuja, a Delhi-based waste management specialist said,

Appropriate waste collection needs timely collection, segregated collection, appropriate route planning, capacities and skills of staff members as well as appropriate monitoring and linkages. It is a matter of ownership, and performance-based monitoring which can fill these voids and enhance our system efficiencies. Digitisation here has a big role to play.


When asked why Indian cities are unable to enforce SWM Rules 2016, Dr Lata Ghanshamnani who has been working in the waste management sector for the last 10 years said that there is a lack of coordination between all stakeholders. She added,

We need to be strict like ‘no pick-up if no segregation. Also, provide separate collection facilities for different kinds of waste and separate end destination solutions. The time has come to reduce our waste. Fixing is not the solution anymore.

Chitra Mukherjee, Consultant, Waste and Sustainable Livelihood believes that instead of focusing on garbage-free cities, we should aspire to be zero-waste communities. She said,

The pace at which we are generating waste is much higher than the pace at which we are managing our waste. The more the waste, the more you have to manage the waste. Do we want our cities to look pretty and clean or are we thinking about how efficiently we manage our waste? Zero-waste communities will mean communities taking care of their waste – whether it’s through composting locally or selling the recyclables to scrap dealers.

Also Read: India’s Plastic Waste Generation More Than Doubled In 5 Years: Centre

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.


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