Solid Waste Management in South Asia: Key Lessons

swm-south-asiaSolid waste management is already a significant concern for municipal governments across South Asia. It constitutes one of their largest costs and the problem is growing year on year as urban populations swell. As with all waste management experiences, we have learned lessons and can see scope for improvement.

Collection and Transportation

There are two factors which have a significant impact on the costs and viability of a waste management system as it relates to collection and transportation: first, the distance travelled between collection and disposal point; and second, the extent to which ‘wet’ kitchen waste can be kept separate from dry waste much of which can be recycled. Separating waste in this way reduces the costs of manual sorting later on, and increases the prices for recyclable materials.

In many larger towns distances become too great for door-to-door collectors to dispose waste directly at the dump site. Arrangements are made to dispose of waste at secondary storage points (large skips) provided by the municipality. However, where these are not regularly emptied, the waste is likely to be spread beyond the bins, creating a further environmental hazard.

Ideally, and if suitable land can be found, a number of smaller waste disposal sites located around a town would eliminate this problem. With significant public awareness efforts on our part, and continual daily reminders to home-owners, we were able to raise the rate of household separation to about 60%, but once these reminders became less frequent, the rate dropped rapidly back to around 25%. The problem is compounded in larger cities by the unavailability of separated secondary storage bins, so everything is mixed up again at this point anyway, despite the best efforts of householders.

If rates are to be sustained, it requires continual and on-going promotion in the long term. The cost of this has to be weighed against the financial benefit of cleaner separated waste and reduced sorting costs. Our experience in Sri Lanka shows how important a role the Local Authority can play in continuing to promote good solid waste management practices at the household level.

Home Composting

Our experience with home composting shows that complete coverage, with every household using the system, is very unlikely to be achieved. Where we have promoted it heavily and in co-operation with the Local Authority we have found the sustained use of about 65% of the bins. Even this level of coverage, however, can have an important impact on waste volumes needing to be collected and disposed of. At the same time it can provide important, organic inputs to home gardening, providing a more varied and nutritious diet for poor householders.

Waste to Compost and Energy

The variety of technologies we have demonstrated have different advantages and disadvantages. For some, maintenance is more complicated and there can be issues of clogging. For the dry-fermentation chambers, there is a need for a regular supply of fresh waste that has not already decomposed. For other systems requiring water, quite large amounts may be needed. All of these technical challenges can be overcome with good operation and maintenance practices, but need to be factored in when choosing the appropriate technology for a given location.

The major challenge for compost production has been to secure regular sales. The market for compost is seasonal, and this creates an irregular cash flow that needs to be factored in to the business model. In Bangladesh, a significant barrier has been the need for the product to be officially licensed. The requirements for product quality are exacting in order to ensure farmers are buying a product they can trust. However, the need for on-site testing facilities may be too prescriptive, creating a barrier for smaller-scale operations of this sort. Possibly a second tier of license could be created for compost from waste which would allow sales more easily but with lower levels of guarantees for farmers.

Safe Food Production and Consumption

Community people highly welcomed the concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost. In Sri Lanka, women been practicing vertical gardening which meeting the daily consumption needs became source of extra income for the family. Female organic fertilizer entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are growing seasonal vegetables and fruits with compost and harvesting more quality products. They sell these products with higher price in local and regional markets as this is still a niche market in the country. The safe food producers require financial and regulatory support from the government and relevant agencies on certification and quality control to raise and sustain market demand.

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

Conclusion

Solid waste management is an area that has not received the attention it deserves from policy-makers in South Asia nations. There are signs this may change, with its inclusion in the SDGs and in many INDCs which are the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we are to meet the challenge, we will need new approaches to partnerships, and the adoption of different kinds of systems and technologies. This will require greater awareness and capacity building at the Local Authority level. If national climate or SDG targets are to be met, they will need to be localised through municipalities. Greater knowledge sharing at national and regional levels through municipal associations, regional bodies such as SAARC and regional local authority associations such as Citynet, will be an important part of this.

Practical Action’s key messages for regional and national policy makers, based on our experience in the region in the last 5 years, are about the need for:

  • creating new partnerships for waste collection with NGOs and the informal sector,
  • considering more decentralised approaches to processing and treatment, and
  • recognising the exciting potential for viable technologies for generating more value from waste

About Practical Action Bangladesh

Practical Action is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that uses technology to challenge poverty in developing countries. We find out what people are doing and help them to do it better. Through technology we enable poor communities to build on their skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions- transforming their lives forever and protecting the world around them. Practical Action is working through country and regional offices in Bangladesh, East Africa (Kenya and Rwanda), Latin America (Peru and Bolivia), South Asia (Nepal, India and Sri Lanka), Southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique), Sudan, West Africa. Our works are organised under four programme themes: Sustainable energy access, Food and agriculture, Urban water and waste, Disaster risk reduction.
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