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Kerala’s 'zero-waste' Alappuzha among top five cities in UN list to successfully manage solid waste

The waste management system being implemented in Kerala's coastal town of Alappuzha has been recognised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as one of the five models across the world for fighting the pollution menace.

Alappuzha, often called "the Venice of East", has been listed in the UNEP environment report entitled, 'Solid approach to waste: how five cities are beating pollution' alongside cities like Osaka in Japan, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Penang in Malaysia and Cajica in Colombia.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had also lauded the unique initiative and the town that attracts tourists from all over the world emerged as the cleanest city in the country in the survey conducted by them in 2015-16. It was also presented as a zero-waste model at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.

 Kerala’s zero-waste Alappuzha among top five cities in UN list to successfully manage solid waste

Representational image. Getty Images

Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ranked Alappuzha 380 among 500 cities in the country in the Swachh Survekshan Survey 2017 with 91 marks out of 300. The survey listed Alappuzha among the worst cities in Kerala.

Kerala Suchitwa Mission officials said that the parameters considered for the survey were based on the centralised system of waste management involving the door-to-door collection and centralised waste processing. However, Alappuzha followed a decentralised system under which the waste is managed at the source itself.

A senior official of the mission said that they had brought the contradictions to the notice of the Union Ministry of Urban Development. "The officials who came for the survey were impressed by the end result. However, they applied the original parameters, which are not applicable to a decentralised system, in the case of Alappuzha and other cities in the state while ranking the cities," the official told Firstpost.

"Door-to-door and centralised treatment of waste is not practical in a state like Kerala with a very high-density population. It may not be sustainable too in the long run. It is debatable whether Swacch Bharat Mission should change their approach or not. But it may become inevitable when the pace of urbanisation increases in the country," said the official.

The UNEP report has viewed the Alappuzha model as a 'solid approach to waste'. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose World Environment Day 2017 to launch a drive to address the mountains of trash piling up in streets and landfills across India. To implement it, cities across the world's second-most-populous nation could do worse than follow the example of progressive municipalities like Alappuzha," the report said.

Alappuzha addressed the problem by introducing a decentralised waste management system. In fact, many civic bodies in the country have started looking at the Alappuzha model seriously. Some local bodies in Tamil Nadu have already sought the assistance of the Suchitwa Mission in setting up the decentralised waste management system, the mission official said.

Alappuzha had switched over to the decentralised system in the wake of protests from people living around the dumping yard at Sarvodayapuram in 2012. The idea of managing waste at the source was mooted by local MLA and current state finance minister Thomas Isaac when people at Sarvodayapuram blocked vehicles carrying the waste and it started accumulating in various parts of the city.

The project was taken up under the 'Nirmala Bhavanam, Nirmala Gagaram (Clean Home, Clean City)' programme that envisaged the municipality setting up biogas plants, pipe compost units in households and aerobic composting units in public places. One of the 52 wards in the municipality was selected for implementing a pilot scheme.

Biogas plants, both portable and fixed, were installed in households, with 50 percent subsidy from government agencies. Hotels, vegetable markets, wedding halls were asked to have their own plants or make arrangements to entrust their waste to recognised private service providers. Within a month, the scheme was rolled out in 12 more wards. The urban body has so far established 5,000 kitchen bins, 3,000 biogas plants, 2,800 pipe composting units and 218 aerobic composting units to manage 58-60 tonnes of waste the town generates daily.

Municipality junior health officer A Jayakumar said that the public aerobic bins have been installed within a radius of one kilometre to ensure that the residents in all the 52 wards are benefitted by it. He told Firstpost that people who are not able to set up biogas plants in their homes can give it to their neighbours, who can produce biogas and organic fertilisers from it.

Plastic and other non-degradable wastes are segregated at the source and delivered to the respective units. While the kitchen waste can be deposited in public aerobic bins, the plastic waste is separately collected once a month by the municipality officials from the units or households and handed over to private parties for recycling. Plastic waste can also be given to the state government's Clean Kerala Company which sells it to factories in other states.

Jayakumar said that the biogas produced from the plants at the houses was now being used for the purpose of cooking. Currently, it provides enough fuel for two hours of cooking. The waste-filled in the compost units at home is converted into vermicompost that can be either used for the kitchen garden or sold.

The waste deposited at the aerobic compost plants in public places is converted into organic fertilisers and distributed to the public free of cost. Each unit, comprising two bins, processes 2,000 kilograms of waste and converted it into fertiliser within 90 days. The municipality has plans to sell it at subsidised rates in the coming months.

Jayakumar said that the municipality has been able to do away with the door-to-door collection since the implementation of the projects. The employees engaged in the collection have been redeployed at the aerobic plants. They are happy because it has enhanced the dignity of their job.

Jayakumar said the decentralised waste management system had helped the municipality to save a substantial sum. Money saved on diesel used for operating 40-50 trucks to transport the waste to the dumping yard alone comes to about Rs 50 lakhs. The cost of the biogas produced through the plants works out to Rs 60 lakhs. The fertiliser can fetch up to Rs 30 lakhs. The savings are bound to go up when more and more wards join the project.

Suchitwa Mission officials said that the success of the model had encouraged several civic bodies in the state to switch over to decentralised waste management. While 20 municipalities and 300 village panchayats have already launched the project, the others have started the process. A senior official said their target was to cover the entire state within the next two years.

Jayakumar said it won't be easy to implement the model and sustain it. He said that the Alappuzha municipality was able to implement it successfully as it was able to bring all the stakeholders together through a sustained mass campaign.

School students had played a big role in making it a success. They formed water and sanitation clubs in schools. Besides creating awareness about the decentralised waste management, they also collected plastic waste from their homes and neighbourhoods and delivered them at the collection points. They were given book coupons worth Rs 20 for each kilogram of plastic waste.

The municipality also encountered resistance when aerobic plants were set up in the public places. The municipality solved this problem by beautifying the area around the aerobic units. The walls of the units were decorated with attractive paintings and converted some as parks and meeting places. One such park has now become a tourist attraction in the town.

Jayakumar said that despite all these, some people were still in the habit of dumping waste in the public. The municipality has deployed squads of health workers to check the menace. Surveillance cameras have also been set up at various points in the city. A penalty of Rs 2,500 was introduced to prevent the dumping of waste in the public.

However, the municipality officials are hopeful that they will be able to sustain the project since they have been able to bring about a behavioural change in the people. This will not only help maintain the city but also attract more tourists to the city.

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Updated Date: Dec 01, 2017 13:19:13 IST