Vishwas Vidyaranya, Director of Solid Waste & Wastewater at Earth One, has kindly shared this fascinating article about waste management in a remote Himalayan valley.
The Lower Dibang valley, located in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India has one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the Himalayan belt. Around 80 % of its district is covered by dense forests and is mainly inhabited by the Idu-Mishmi tribe.
Over the last decade, the population of the district capital Roing has swelled to around 20,000. This rapid urbanization has led to many challenges – including how to manage the increasing amounts of waste. A group of specialists from Further & Beyond foundation (who have installed solar lighting in some 300 local homes), with waste management professionals from Earth One, Bangalore, and upcycling artist from Eco Hut, Udaipur, analyzed local waste materials and conducted a workshop in the town.
The team was in for a surprise when the first visited Roing. There was no littering on the streets, which would normally be expected in a town this size with improper waste management. Furthermore, they found the Idu community doesn’t have a word for ‘waste’ in their language because they had a sustainable lifestyle. Hence the challenges for communicating about the issue were different.
The urban development department had recently set up a basic collection system and a dumpsite located in the outskirts. There was also an incinerator without adequate emission controls and a small composting machine. However, they had never been operated due to lack of three-phase power supply in the region. The informal sector, which is mostly active in developing countries, was absent here because of high costs and difficulties in transporting recyclables through the rough terrain to markets hundreds of kilometers away.
During the waste analysis study, household waste was collected from over 300 residences and a sorting station was temporarily set up in the community hall. About 18 m3 of samples were collected to achieve statistical accuracy. Young volunteers from the town sorted the waste into fine (<25 mm) and coarse fractions and this was further separated into 13 primary categories. During the collection, the per capita waste generation was also estimated to be about 0.28 kg per person per day with small variations among different density areas.
The waste characteristics were found to be significantly different from other towns or cities in the country. The organic waste was just about 36 % against the nationwide average of about 55 %. This was because of their efficient cooking habits and the food waste was often fed to the pigs reared in the houses. Low quality plastics, Styrofoam and other disposables were significant at about 11 %. Glass was about 12 % and textiles were high at about 7 % due to the weaving culture in the community.
An estimated 5.6 tons of MSW was being generated in Roing and the organics from household and market areas can produce compost worth 4000 INR (approx. 60 EUR) every day. Since the current quantities are not very high, it is easily manageable.
During the survey of the community members, it was found that they were unaware of the hazards of open burning. It was only two decades ago that somebody first saw the use of plastics in the town. However, everybody in the town was willing to change their disposal habits if it meant protecting their environment.
The findings from the study as well as interaction with the community were presented to various stakeholders such as government officials, the market community and residential population. Anjite Menjo, a young community leader was instrumental in bringing all the stakeholders together.
Since the population was not aware of the consequences of improper waste management such as effects on health, pollution to water and land, images from landfills of Delhi and Bangalore were presented to give an analogy. The region is an eco-sensitive zone and the Idu community has high regards to the forests and rivers. They also had a sense of belongingness to the region and were committed to protect their town.
The shopkeepers in the markets were also very proactive and decided almost immediately to phase out the use of disposables and plastics. Such a proactive response is observed very rarely in urban areas and hence the changes were easy to implement.
One of immediate decisions by the officials was to provide appropriate gloves, masks and boots for waste collectors to ensure their health and safety. They also committed to making Roing an eco friendly town with effective waste management. As a next step, the team is preparing an integrated solid waste management plan together with the local community and government officials to introduce a policy ban of use of disposables, enforce segregation at source and implement an effective collection, treatment and disposal system.
Roing is at the brink of urbanization. With population expected to increase significantly in the coming years, these steps in the right direction will hopefully prevent a disaster in this beautiful town.
Director – Solid Waste & Wastewater