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A Sustainable Solution To India’s Waste Crisis Might Come From South Africa

Amidst talks of sustainable development at the International and Regional Forums, South Africa has set an example when it comes to waste management.

The African country has launched various initiatives as a part of its comprehensive National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS). One such initiative is the ‘home composting research project’, which has been successfully implemented in many cities.

The city of Cape Town has embarked on an innovating home composting program for its residents. This program is aimed at diverting as much household organic waste as possible. Home and community composting kits were provided to citizens by the city administration. In total, more than 38 tons of household organic waste was recorded as being diverted from the landfill at an average of 1692 kgs per household per month. Despite being conducted at a small scale in the initial phase, the results are more than satisfactory.

India faces a huge problem with garbage management. India alone generates more than 1,00,000 metric tonnes of solid waste, a significant volume of which comes from kitchen waste every day which is higher than many countries’ total daily waste generation taken together.

As of now, waste management in urban agglomeration and metropolitan cities is being done in a haphazard manner where the garbage of the entire city is dumped into landfills without proper segregation. The situation is such that metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore are now facing an acute shortage of dumping sites and sanitary landfills. The crisis is even more serious in suburban areas and small towns where treatment plants don’t even exist.

Can Composting Be A Solution?

Advocates of the ‘Waste to Compost’ model argue that aerobic compost method can drastically change the situation. Aerobic digestion as a method for dealing with food waste has rocketed in other countries too. It is one of the most efficient and cheapest systems of dealing with biowaste. Evidence suggests that there are significant potential benefits to wide-scale composting, both environmental and social. Home and community composting may divert 25% to 70% of the kitchen waste. However, it largely depends on the participation rate of the residents and communities.

In urban agglomerations and large metropolitan cities, individual and community composting can significantly help the city administration in tackling landfills shortage problem. At village and suburban levels, waste to compost models can be utilised in a much meaningful manner. Compost generated at the larger level by community composting can be utilised by farmers as manure and fertilisers.

The idea creates an opportunity for start-ups which can establish a supply chain for the same. This will, therefore, generate employment opportunities at a rural level. In fact, it has been successful in South Africa. Cooperatives initiatives were started in Tembisa, Gauteng and New Castle with the assistance of local administration. The waste recycling sector has created significant employment opportunities.This is certainly a win-win situation for all the stakeholders of the supply chain.

As topsoil loss is a serious ecological issue, compost can help prevent soil erosion. It helps sandy soils retain water that normally runs through. It can also balance the pH levels of the soil and extend the growing season by moderating the soil. Since it encourages vegetation and reduces erosion, it can be used as a planting media in artificial wetlands.

Further, if applied at a large scale, increasing the demand for composting products will discourage plastic and other polymer industries. As solid waste management is a global issue and the demand for sustainable solutions is increasing rapidly, India can also search markets for its exports.

In short, if put into practice, ‘Waste to Compost’ model will pave the way, in one way or another, for various initiatives of the government like the National Horticulture Mission, National Action Program to Combat Desertification, Swachh Bharat Mission, Solid Waste Management, Start-Up India, Make in India and so on.

Challenges We May Face

Implementation of the model is a huge challenge in a vast country like India where implementational problems exist across-the-board. For adopting a model like this, decentralisation of next layer is essential. Local administration is supposed to play a crucial role in the entire process. Municipalities, in collaboration with product manufacturing companies and suppliers, needs to initially implement the project on an experimental basis on a cluster-based-approach.

Moreover, the project requires citizen awareness programs from the government. The Cape Town local administration, in fact, conducted mass awareness programs through educational means. The city provided free compost bins to residents as part of the pilot project.

India is committed to Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has a bearing on Waste Management. ‘Waste to Compost’ is one of the most sustainable solutions to tackle the menace of garbage crisis.

Environmentally concerned citizens and organisations are coming forward to provide a simple and effective solution. Bangalore based Shudh-Labh is one such example.However, collaboration with local administration and involvement with citizens at greater level is need of the hour.

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