SWaCH is a Pune-based cooperative owned and controlled by waste-pickers themselves, who work in tandem with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and get complete control over the user fees for door-to-door waste collection they receive directly from citizens. Mostly composed of women from socially marginalised backgrounds, waste-pickers associated with SWaCH earn more than the average minimum wage for every hour they work. They also get access to dry waste and the income from its sale. Their income varies as per the number and type of households they service, varying from INR 7000-18000. On the whole, the average income is 25- 30% higher.
This may or may not mean a higher total income as compared to the purely informal sector, because waste-pickers working independent of SWaCH will tend to work much longer hours to earn higher income. However, the hours of work, labour, dignity, safety, safety, security, recognition are immeasurably higher within the SWaCH system.
Over 3500 waste-pickers collect 1,350 tons of garbage daily (850 tons wet, 500 tons dry waste), of which more than 200 tons get recycled daily. The city saves over INR 113 crores each year — 21 crores from diversion to recycling from source by waste-pickers, and INR 92 crores when juxtaposed against the cost of any private contractual system that can be introduced to collect waste by the city.
Clean India Journal spoke with Harshad Barde, Director, SWaCH, about how it integrated tech in what is a labour-intensive process, the issues faced in ensuring waste segregation and user fee collection as well as how to overcome them, and how SWaCH plans to grow in 2021.
What are the various successful programmes you have adopted recently with international collaboration? What are the other products being made at your end?
Zero Waste Project is a collaboration with The Plastic Solutions Fund and the Oak Foundation to set up a demonstrative zero-waste model
through in-situ composting by Bulk Waste Generators and increased diversion to recycling by waste-pickers. We are attempting to create a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism in partnership with PMC to ensure policy implementation. The project will:
- Ensure 100% in-situ composting by Bulk Waste Generators across Pune
- Set up monitoring and implementation mechanism through accurate GIS-based data analysis
- Facilitate composting for citizens, including through incentives, consultancy and knowledge transfer
- Track the increase in recycling due to reduction of wet waste at source
- Identify non-recyclable materials, including through brand audits and release data to promote policy changes
- Attract EPR-based investment/support in upgrading recycling logistics and infrastructure in Pune, with an ultimate aim of reducing municipal costs and reallocating municipal resources for zero-waste activities.
Another SWaCH initiative is the HDPE Plastic-to-3D-Printer Filament [European Union (SWITCH-ASIA)} Program. This involves the conversion of HDPE (e.g. shampoo bottles) to plastic flakes and high quality 3D-Printer filament through decentralized micro enterprises (Self Help Groups) owned and operated by informal waste-pickers.
The goal is to introduce and democratize innovative technology through decentralized plastic processing units, converting plastics into high grade 3D printer filaments and setting up an international fair-trade recycling chain which ultimately benefits the waste-pickers in the field while promoting circular economy based recycling of plastics.
When the waste sector was completely unorganized, one of the problems faced by waste collectors was lack of proper equipment, both for waste collection and personal safety. Please describe the types of equipment now provided to those who work with you.
The sector still remains poorly supported in terms of availability of PPE and working equipment. When waste-pickers work informally without any relationship with the local government, the only ‘equipment’ they have access to is large plastic bags for carrying the recyclables and metal pincers/rods to pick waste.
Through integration of waste-pickers into the formal municipal waste collection system, there has been some improvement in working conditions through the promise of basic equipment like buckets, PPE (gloves, masks, soaps, chappals), bags, uniforms, scarves etc. along with non-motorised push-carts. These push carts have been specifically designed to keep the waste-pickers and their work in mind.
Across the country, the carts given to sweeping staff and waste-pickers are exactly the same, though the nature of their work is substantially different. We have suggested electrification of such carts to relieve the waste-pickers of their burden without actually replacing their labour force with mechanised vehicles. Most of the waste-pickers are women, and bringing in vehicles/tempos reduces livelihoods and also pushes out women who are not always willing or adept in the task of operating motorised tempo vehicles.
How have you motivated waste producers to segregate waste? What do you do in case waste is not properly segregated?
Waste-pickers’ integration has led to the meeting of those responsible for segregating with citizens and those interested in segregated waste. Waste-pickers derive income from sale of dry waste directly. Consistent, regular face-to-face outreach and awareness through waste-pickers had led to extremely high levels of segregation.
Most of the collection is from doorsteps of flats, bungalows and slum households, so there is a high level of traceability for those who are not segregating. If not segregated, there is direct pushback by waste-pickers, followed by coordinator visits and finally, local body enforcement through fines.
The user-fee model for door-to-door waste collection has faced numerous issues in various cities. What has been your experience? What problems, if any, have arisen, and how have you overcome them?
75% of Pune’s properties pay direct user fees to their waste collectors, which is more than the recovery of property tax (74%). This includes 1.6 lakh slum properties as well. Direct user fees ensure direct accountability and transparency, higher level of service and cost effectiveness for the city as a whole.
The growth in user fee payments has been slow and organic over the last decade and mostly achieved through consistent regular service provision by waste-pickers to citizens, which convinced them to pay the user fees. It is an acknowledgement of their efforts.
The principle issue in this model is that slum dwellers have lower financial capacity and therefore propensity to pay. They also have poor access to free utilities provided by the city like sewage connections, water etc, leading to discontent and reluctance to pay user fees.
Traditionally, slums get physical containers as the waste collection system from the city. Here, waste-pickers charge INR 50/household//month. Usually, 80% households pay in any given month with the average rate being closer to 30- 35%. However the PMC pays a subsidy of INR 10/month/ household to waste-pickers for declared slums, and this has incentivised waste-pickers and citizens enough to achieve 70%+ coverage in slums across Pune.
However, there is still political opposition to introduction of user fee-based collection especially in areas where the PMC has traditionally provided free services through its own vehicles.
Composting is an integral part of your process. Apart from composting bins, what equipment do you use for this?
We engage in known situation composting at societies. We promote manual composting which generates maximum employment. However, as part of facilities at waste generator’s premises, we operate organic waste composters (OWCs) and organic waste shredders. There are 24-hour composting machines but we do not endorse or operate these due to extremely adverse experience of their use and output.
SWaCH’s Red Dot program sensitises waste producers about the harmful effects of improper disposal of diapers and pads. What alternatives do you offer them? Do you use any machines for their final disposal?
We promote cloth pads and menstrual cups. We also ask waste-pickers and their daughters to adopt reusables menstrual hygiene solutions, so they themselves can speak to citizens about the issue as well.
We are working with a leading FMCG company to set up a segregated sanitary waste collection system through training and outreach, with the aim of eventually setting up a recycling unit for such materials.
What is in the pipeline for SWaCH in 2021?
Our contract with the PMC has come to an end. We are asking the Corporation to renew our agreement as it benefits all three stakeholders – waste-pickers, citizens and the Corporation – immensely.
Beyond that, we are setting up EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) -based collection systems for different types of low-value waste, passing benefits directly to waste-pickers, and working on management of different types of reusables and recyclables like old clothes, furniture, household goods, e-waste etc. We will explore partnerships for expanding our cooperative scrap store network. We intend to push for the integration of informal waste-pickers through the extension of our system to 34 new integrated villages in Pune city.