ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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How Not to and How to Tackle Waste

The editorial “Not in My Backyard” (EPW, 21 July 2012) on the issue of municipal solid waste was timely and welcome. The management of urban waste has serious public health implications for both waste generators and handlers in cities and also for unsuspecting villagers in the peri-urban areas where it is dumped. The editorial in good faith makes a statement about the “fortune” of having a large informal army of waste-pickers! The fact that in 21st century India, millions of economically marginalised and socially excluded wage-less workers have to rummage through waste in order to earn a living can hardly be called “fortunate”.

What we are fortunate in having is a robust market-driven value chain in recyclables. Informal workers recover or extract recyclable materials that are then traded and supplied to industries as raw material. It makes economic sense to strengthen and regularise these informal recycling markets by providing land, concessions and incentives, and investing in them. It also makes environmental sense. Improving the conditions of workers in the value chain is another area of focus. Organic waste too will fetch a market if it is converted into soil-enriching compost that can substitute chemical fertiliser in the interests of sustainable agriculture. But then what would the dozens of consulting firms, financiers and technology peddlers that have sprung up to do business in the wake of urban renewal missions do?

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