Reducing, Reusing and Recycling

Saahas has been helping build communities across rural and urban India that manage their waste at source by reducing, reusing and recycling and achieving 90% resource recovery

Published on December 20, 2020 at 4:23 am

Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:49 am

Waste collection in a colony.

According to the figures released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Indian waste generation will increase from the current 62 million tonnes annually to about 165 million tonnes in 2030. Managing solid waste which is already a mammoth task in India is becoming more complex with changing lifestyles and increase in consumerism, especially the usage of packaged goods. The problem cannot be addressed by just sweeping and by installing bins. Where will all this waste, be swept and collected, go? What would happen to it? Can we continue with this linear flow of resources?

Saahas, a not-for-profit organisation, was founded in 2001 to find answers to these questions and develop solutions and approaches to manage our resources in a manner such that nothing is wasted. The key principles adopted and advocated by the organisation since its inception have been:

Waste hierarchy: The first objective should be to reduce waste generation by minimising consumption of wasteful products and packaging. However, if this is not possible then the products and packaging should be reused multiple times. When the item cannot be reused, it should be recycled. This is explained in the picture here.

Source Segregation: This is a fundamental step to enable reuse and recycling. If waste streams are not kept clean, they get too soiled to be recycled or the cost of cleaning makes recycling prohibitive. Source Segregation leads to higher recovery of recyclables hence saving the limited virgin natural resources and landfill space. Source Segregated waste also enables a hygienic environment for handling of waste by waste workers, thus supporting dignified livelihood opportunities.

Decentralised Waste Management: Managing waste locally is far more hygienic and environment-friendly than transporting it long distance where it becomes someone else’s problem. This is because the key to drive responsible behaviour from waste generators is to manage waste in their backyard as ‘out of sight is out of mind’. When we look at the various processing facilities around the country, on-site composting at the household level or community level results in better-managed facilities than large centralised facilities.

 A metro passing by an illegal dumping ground behind cyber city at Nathupur, Gurugram.

Various projects of Saahas showcase working models of these principles in different communities and geographies. We have projects in rural and urban areas spread across eight states in the country. While the projects are initially supported through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) grants, they are designed for sustenance either through a business model, community adoption with a service fee or funded by the local administration, a panchayat or a municipality.

Women busty in sorting work.

One of the largest programmes focussed on implementing Source Segregation of waste is called “Alag Karo, Har Din Teen Bin” being implemented in Gurugram, Haryana. The programme focusses selectively on apartments, schools, office and commercial establishments. During the past two years, more than 1,10,000 people were reached out through a public awareness campaign under this initiative. Source Segregation has been implemented in 42 apartment communities covering 23,000 households. Through this programme, 32 tonnes of waste is being segregated at source daily, leading to better resource recovery. 54% of the total waste collected is diverted from the landfill for resource recovery. 18 out of 42 of these communities have also started in-situ composting through which about 7-8 tonnes of wet waste is composted daily. A total of 39 schools have also been sensitised through multiple awareness programmes. The team has also reached out to more than 500 waste workers and conducted different training programmes to improve recycling rates for the dry/recyclable waste.

Rural India is also seeing an alarming rise in the quantum of non-biodegradable waste being generated. Villages remain a key intervention area for Saahas and its rural programmes today cover 53 villages. Its largest rural programme is running in Ballari district where waste is being source segregated, collected and processed from about 20,000 houses spread across 12 villages. The Ballari project has been successful in diverting 3,000 tonnes of waste from the landfills and more than 1,00,000 people have been sensitised. The project has also provided dignified livelihood opportunities to 104 staff, 88% of whom are women.

Alag Kar Bin instructions.

While waste workers play a critical role in driving resource recovery, they work in deplorable conditions and at the bottom of the value chain. Formalising them and giving support to move up in the value chain will not only improve their income and living condition, but it would also improve resource recovery, especially for the low-value items. To showcase this idea, four material recovery facilities are being set up under its project GRIT (Green Recycling, Inclusive and Transparent) one each at Chennai, Ghaziabad, Noida and Mysore. Each facility would sort 10 tonnes of dry waste per day. Aided with material handling equipment there would be better revenue generation and the working conditions for the waste workers would be hygienic. The project also lays emphasis on traceability and transparency across the value chain for all actors. A customised software platform has been developed that would give better visibility and record of the material flow.

Efficient and segregated waste collection remains a key challenge for many urban bodies. Saahas has initiated ward-level collection and processing programmes for Udupi, Bidar and Bangalore. These projects showcase a comprehensive approach towards the proper collection, monitoring and processing at ward-level that can be replicated across towns and cities.

Awareness sessions on waste management in a college.

MoEFCC had released the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 to ensure that waste is handled efficiently, resource recovery is maximised and a minimal amount is dumped in the landfills. One of the key gaps in the system has been that the rules have not been converted into state-level policies and bye-laws so that they can be enforced. As waste management is in the jurisdiction of municipalities and gram panchayats, they need to pass bye-laws in line with the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. Saahas has supported the drafting of Sanitation & SLWM Policy, strategy and bye-laws for rural areas of the state of Karnataka. Saahas has also provided inputs to policy and guidelines of other states and departments. Saahas is a part of the State Level Technical Committee for implementation of Solid Waste Management under SBM(G) in the state of Karnataka.

In order to spread these best practices faster, Saahas is partnering with other large NGOs in different geographies to build their capacity to implement sustainable Solid Waste Management programmes. Saahas is working with Seva Mandir at Kumbalgarh, Rajasthan and with Gram Vikas at Nayagarh, Orissa to train their teams so that they can also take up solid waste management in their respective areas.

Saahas’ work of close to two decades has been recognised in various forums. Saahas is the winner of the Circular Economy Award 2019 organised by FICCI in association with Niti Ayog in the non-profit segment for the year 2019. Saahas is also the recipient of national-level 1st prize at 3R Forum in Asia and Pacific for exemplary work in the area of waste management through 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), 2018. Its project “Alag Karo, Har Din Teen Bin” was awarded at the 6th CSR Impact Awards 2018-19, organised by CSRBOX.

Saahas has also been honoured by Namma Bengaluru Foundation 2011 Award and Godfrey Phillips National Bravery Award for Social Act of Bravery 2002-03.
Saahas’ vision is to make India a leading circular economy and it hopes to continue making strong contributions towards the same.



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