Liquidation of solid wastes

Management of solid wastes is a corollary of triumphing civilisation. But how does one recycle or reuse increasing solid wastes in radically expanding cities ?

By Christine
Published: Friday 15 December 1995

-- THERE is a world-wide philosophy of solid waste management based on the principles of waste minimisation and recovery or recycling. These values are creating a basis for joint ventures that will bring together representatives of government, communities, private firms, institutes and international agencies, to address the crises of increasing refuse in the context of inadequate infrastructure.

Municipal solid waste management is gaining momentum. The initiative is taken by community-based organisations and large NGOS, and their general interest can be labelled as 'community-based environmental management'. Government departments, private sector firms and international agencies are providing funds, expertise and support for education and dissemination of knowledge.

Understanding of the practices and policies for recovery and recycling in Asian cities is moving into a new phase. @pecific research and local projects in these cities now encompass attempts to understand city-wide patterns of recovery and recycling, surveys of household and community attitudes and behaviours and projects for the welfare and advancement of waste-pickers.
The initiatives It is encouraging to see that after small and scattered beginnings in the past two decades, some research projects have potential enough to assist policy formulation and rapid community action for solid waste management. There are two main types of research work being undertaken. One is the independent scholarly work - the goals of which are to analyse aspects of recovery as part of economic, social and environmental systems. This helps to build an overall view of the waste reuse and recycling of the cities.

The second, is applied research designed to improve interventions in environmental management or social welfare. This may provide the background information for the projects to be undertaken. Also included in applied research is the work on designing particular techniques for recycling which require social analysis.

A lot of work has been done in Bangalore, Bandung, Jakarta, Hanoi, Karachi, Pune, Hyderabad and Surabaya. There is now an overview of the networks for recovery, trading, and recycling of materials. Pilot surveys of households, waste workers and entrepreneurs have been done. Specific studies of categories of "actors" such as waste pickers or itinerant waste buyers are complete. The thrust areas distinguished are as follows:

Do householders, shopkeepers and office employees practice source separation ofwastes for trading?

Do they practice reuse or back-yard composting?

What materials are set aside and in what quantities?

To whom do they sell?

How satisfied are they with opportunities for trading wastes or what problems do they encounter?

How willing would they be to work in organised rec or recycling schemes or in assisting the transformation of waste pickers into becoming collectors of clean material?

The results of the pilot research work suggest that household separation is active in Asian cities, but is threaned by general urban and societal changes like rising income that decrease the incentives for the sale of certain material and the squeezing out of neighbourhood waste-buying shops. Even international trade developments such as the import of high quality waste materials for recycling is a major impeding factor.

The current projects for waste recycle take place alongside the 'traditional' behaviours of separation and trading. Some of the projects to encourage separation are geared to capturing household organic wastes in a pure state for composting vermicomposting, with the aim of reducing the burden of lection and disposal for the municipality. Some have evolved from work with street children and very poor families who have resorted to waste picking.

The new initiatives enhance 'informal' systems aad in some they run parallel to or aim to replace them. For instance NGOS may ask schools to separate materials and to sell them to designated buyers, thus attempting to bypass the existing practices of cleaners and caretakers controlling the sale of the materials.

The initiatives concerned with the workers in waste recycle systems mainly aim to improve the status, earnings and work ing conditions of traditional workers like waste pickers. There are a surprising number of different types of social organisa tions involved in some way with waste separation or waste picking in cities of India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Strengths and weaknesses
if it is difficult to obtain information about research work on the many local initiatives related to the recovery and recycling of urban wastes, to come across failed projects in order to examine them is more tough. The failures simply disappear and lessons which could be learnt are rarely passed on to persons contemplating similar interventions.

It is important to note that there is no systematic evaluation of any of the research or the projects. Both research and projects suffer from lack of continuity, as do so many community based projects. The researchers or development planners who conceive of the project and see it through the initial phases may move on to other work. The local institutions Or NGos cannot continue the project work or are diverted by more urgent calls. In addition, there are usually no clear and established routes by which the results can influence municipal policies and attitudes for solid waste management.

The role of waste-pickers
Waste-picking is a practice which greatly attributes to resource recovery in poor countries. The pilot research on waste recovery in Asian cities suggests that more materials, of better quality, are brought to recycling through source separation (the left-over resources do not become discarded wastes but are kept separate for sale) than through waste picking (recovery that is accomplished by people picking out the materials from mixed municipal wastes). Yet, much more attention has been given to the activity of waste picking.

Persons interested in the welfare of pickers have sometimes argued that pickers should be 'integrated' into solid waste management systems. The artument for integration of pickers is interpreted as entailing the institutionalisation of picking through the registration of waste pickers with the city authorities to guarantee them access to wastes.

Casual, manual recovery of materials from mixed municipal garbage cannot be made truly healthy and socially acceptable. The provision of gloves and boots and access to sanitary facilities will nc+eliminate health risks unless all the equipment and infrastructure is kept in good order. Thus, provision of these facilities would need to be backed up with a great deal of education and monitoring. People who are seen to pick out wastes from contaminated accumulations have always been socially stigmatised. it is unlikely that the public will readily accept pickers as doing ecologically and economically valuable work, even if there are persuasive campaigns.

In cities with large numbers of poor people, to prevent waste picking can be a daunting task. Under these circumstances, it should be recognised that picking from open piles on city streets is preferable (in terms of health risks) to either picking from containers or to dump picking.

There is sometimes a misunderstanding about projects to assist waste pickers. The projects that have shown real potential to substantially improve the health and the earnings of waste pickers are not those that institutionalise picking. Rather, in such projects, pickers are assisted in getting access to clean wastes (for instance, from offices), or to work at transfer stalions or compost plants where they can use tools and have accesss to washing facilities. The principle of picking 11 close to source" is followed, when pickers are organised to collect wastes "at the door" and they immediately sort the materials into organics and inorganics.

Waste picking is a phenomenon that arises from the conjunction of absolute poverty with free or almost free resources. For every picker who is assisted to move into the higher ranks in waste recycle, there are likely to be other new rural arrivals who wish to take up the picking work. This phenomenon has long been observed in projects for street children in developing countries. Picking is likely to decline only in societies where better work for unskilled people is readily available.

Social agencies both governmental and NGOS should continue to assist waste pickers in every possible way. In solid waste management planning, however, the attention currently being given to waste picking is likely to shift to understanding on how to promote source separation.

Why pickers ?
It is thus very important to be clear about waste pickers as stakeholders in waste recycling, where the intention is to recommend that picking be institutionalised or where the ultimate goal is to reduce picking as a vehicle of resource recovery and enhance source separation. If the pickers' work is transformed to the handling of clean wastes, they should not then be referred to as 'pickers'.

Since there are now many initiatives to address the work of pickers, it is important that the survey on attitudes include questions on whether the public and the municipal officials are ready to accept new roles for former waste pickers. Opposition to pickers as a category of workers based on the assumption that they tend to be thieves and undesirables may even prompt community efforts in source separation.

The emergence of a world-wide philosophy of solid waste management based on the four R's of reduce, reuse, recover, and recycle, is providing an impetus to community groups and NGOS in cities of developing countries, in their efforts to encourage source separation and recycling or to help in the Organisation of former waste pickers.

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