With the Modi government’s Swachh Bharat Mission kicking up a dust, the Kerala CPM recently resolved to take up “comprehensive garbage management as a new mission”. It doesn’t have to look very far. The Alappuzha municipality ruled by the party has managed to put in place a successful solid waste management system within two years of its launch.
As part of its ‘Nirmala Bhavanam, Nirmala Gagaram (Clean Home, Clean City)’ programme, the municipality set up biogas plants, pipe compost units in households and aerobic composting units in public places. It also set up surveillance cameras across the city, linked to the police control room, to catch those littering public places.
Twenty-two months later, the municipality with a population of 1.74 lakh no longer has 40-50 truckloads of garbage headed daily to a nearby dumping yard, saving Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 a day on fuel bill alone.
The programme was conceived following a protest by residents of Sarvodayapuram in the monsoon of 2012. They objected to more waste coming to the dumping yard located near the town. The yard at the time got 40-50 tonnes of unsorted waste daily.
As the Alappuzha municipality couldn’t send its waste to Sarvodayapuram, it started collecting in the city. Alappuzha MLA and CPM central committee member Dr T M Thomas Isaac was involved in the talks. The architect of the people’s planning movement started by the then LDF government in 1996 — under which local self-government units (panchayats or municipal bodies) were empowered to formulate development plans and execute them — the former finance minister asked why waste couldn’t be managed at the source itself.
“If human waste could be processed at our own houses, why couldn’t we manage kitchen waste? The idea of ‘Clean Home, Clean City’ began thus,” he says.
In November 2012, 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 per cent subsidy from government agencies. Within a month, the scheme was rolled out in 11 more wards, a few of them represented by the Congress.
The size of the biogas plants was decided on the basis of the quantity of solid waste a household produced. Those households which could not install plants due to financial or space constrains were urged to deposit their domestic waste in biogas plants of their neighbours.
Those who could not go in for biogas plants were told to opt for pipe composting, which was cost-effective and easy, involving two pipes lowered into a pit where waste would gather and get treated.
Aerobic composting units were then set up in various parts of the city, in places where people would dump their waste for collection by the municipality. These were meant for biodegradable waste and for commercial establishments, hotels and households that had not gone in for biogas plants. Each unit, comprising two bins, processed 2,000 kg of waste and converted it into fertiliser within 90 days.
Households were told to keep their plastic and other non-degradable waste separate or deliver it at aerobic bin clusters after segregating. This waste was separately collected once a month by the municipality from the clusters or households, and handed over to private ventures for recycling.
To involve students and hence get through to their families, water and sanitation clubs were set up in schools. Students were told to gather plastic waste at home and bring it in. One kg of plastic waste fetched them a book coupon worth Rs 20 from school. Municipal workers collected the plastic later from school for recycling. The municipality hopes now to get a sponsor for this scheme.
Since November 2012, the Alappuzha municipality has established 2,500 biogas plants, 4,000 pipe composting units and 75 aerobic bin units. Last month, three wards in the municipality were certified “clean” under the project after 80 per cent of their households had opted for either biogas plants or pipe composting. Seven more wards are expected to join their league soon, and by next June, authorities hope to declare the entire municipality free from garbage. The project has also changed the life of the municipality workers, a majority of whom now man aerobic composting units rather than hauling the garbage themselves, risking their health.
“Earlier I used to mop up and load the dirt in trucks. Everyone looked at me with scorn. Now I find dignity in my job. I have to just help people deposit their domestic waste in bins and fill these with dry leaves for processing,” says K A Antony, a municipal worker in charge of an aerobic composting bin.
Jaya Dananjayan, a homemaker, is happy about her reduced LPG bill. Her family of five installed a biogas plant two years ago.
Isaac says the major challenge was to bring in an attitudinal change among people, who are generally cynical. “We, the people’s representatives, led the movement from the front. When you mean business, that gives a certain degree of confidence to the people,” he says.
Instead of intervening when people were fined for littering public places, the MLA adds, politicians demanded more stringent punishment.
The Congress’s Thomas Joseph, the opposition leader in the Alappuzha municipality, says they wholeheartedly support the waste management system, and their only objection is to the lack of a workable solution to address plastic waste.
While it took two years to implement the project in 12 wards, Isaac expects the rollout in the rest of the municipality to be hassle-free. “The public mood is conducive to expanding the clean drive,” Isaac smiles.