Guest Blog: How to achieve zero waste status?

Mar 28, 2024 | ISWA blog

Dr. Vivek S Agrawal

In India, where languages change every fifty kilometres, waste characteristics shift within just fifty meters. Achieving zero waste is not solely reliant on national policy initiatives like the ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The situation of zero waste means that every productive object is either recycled or the old architecture gets a new life cycle in a new form. On 30th March, the world observes International Day of Zero Waste, designated by the United Nations.


The ever-increasing quantity of Waste is a matter of grave concern for every nation. Mismanaged waste emits harmful gases and carbon, threatening ecosystems. Improper disposal introduces toxic chemicals into soil, water, and air, jeopardising biodiversity. Due to the lack of proper processing of waste and disposal in the open, toxic chemicals also affect the earth, water, and atmosphere to a great extent. It is believed that if the chemicals released from the waste get absorbed into the groundwater, they will last for hundreds of years in a polluted aquifer. Which cannot be purified, resulting in direct and indirect damage to entire living organisms and Biodiversity

In such a situation, there is an urgent need to take necessary steps to discourage waste generation as a policy. The current waste management system in the country leads to an increase in quantity instead of a reduction. Due to a comprehensive campaign in the last 10 years, waste collection has increased. Its disposal has also largely also increased, but still, about 80 per cent of the total population is not within the ambit of the waste management system. Most urban bodies think that the work is done by outsourcing the collection and disposal of waste. Most of these agreements are done keeping the quantity of waste as the basis, due to which the private sector tries to maximise it. There is no incentive in the agreement to reduce the quantity of waste, nor is there any provision to monitor the promotion of segregation of waste at the source. The expectation is that the concerned agency will meet the set criteria for collecting segregated waste. Still, the criteria for assessing it are not fixed, resulting in a gap that increases the possibility of corruption. If a nationwide assessment is made, apart from limited examples, the equipment used for the collection itself discourages the collection of dry and wet waste separately. In terms of better segregation, Goa has set a unique example where at every Gram Panchayat level, there are designated places for collection and storage of dry waste and transportation from there is also done separately so that the entire value chain remains intact.


After the Pneumonic plague epidemic that erupted in Surat city in 1994, organised efforts began towards waste management, first through voluntary organisations and then through the commercial sector. Over time, it took the form of a noticeably big enterprise which gained momentum, patronage, and expansion with the implementation of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. In the initial phase, door-to-door rubbish collection projects were carried out by voluntary organisations like CDC, Exnora, Chintan, Vatavaran etc. by organising Rag Pickers. It was also an effective means of conveying the message of getting waste reduced and segregated. In the consultations organised between the year 2000 and 2016 to frame rules for waste management, it was strongly advocated to provide the first right on the recyclable to the collector so that clean and effective segregated collection could be done, but that issue became dormant with active lobbying of the business sector. With that authority, the rubbish collector would have been able to forcefully tell fellow producers about separate collections because it would have also included his benefit. At present the entire aim of the collecting agency is to increase the quantity even if it multiplies in proportion to the population of the city.



In the last 10 years, due to national and local efforts, public awareness regarding waste has increased and the waste collection and disposal system has also improved. Still, except for a few examples like Indore, Bhopal, Ambikapur, and Goa, it is not so effective anywhere. The person generating waste has not been directly connected. Due to this, there is no sense of responsibility while generating waste and they become self-centred and autocratically leave it to the services provided by the government. At the time of the concept of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, Goal 12 was considered in terms of human behaviour. Under this, the need for responsible consumption was enunciated. This target is to be achieved by the year 2030, despite the passage of more than half the time, instead of decreasing, it is increasing. With the prosperity of the economic system, the amount of waste production per capita also increases. The increasing rubbish is taking the form of a volcano in which the entire world is in its grip. This is a matter of greater concern for India because here both the economy and population factors are increasing at a rapid pace.


Suppose changes are made at the policy level, the polluters are held accountable, and steps are taken to establish the system as per the ancient rich culture of India. In that case, it can prove to be a stepping stone in the direction of zero waste. Culturally, there is no concept of waste in India. It is the effect of Western influence that we have started considering things as waste. Also, there is a need that people engaged in rubbish collection should be recognised as Micro-entrepreneurs instead of being considered as mere informal workers. With their being entrepreneurs, meaningful results will be seen in the direction of zero waste. The current weight-based waste collection system will never allow the dream of zero waste to be realised.

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