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Issue 8
, 2008
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Countdown to zero: Success story of Defence Colony waste-management initiative

Parvinder Singh and Md. Tariq Gaur
Source:, Date: , 2008

India's urban trash has been growing at a tremendous pace, and with its urban population tipped to reach 470 million mark by 2015, the problem is clearly reaching to a phase of criticality that may lead a progressive collapse of the civic system in large areas and turn into a severe health and environmental hazard for millions living in the urban centers.

waste segregation in processIt is a shock to see that an issue that evokes such a hue and cry from those getting impacted by the problem of urban waste and those working on the issue, is missing from the list of top priorities of the policymakers.

But it is not a story of despair as usual. At least not for the residents of the Block A in the up-market Defence Colony, who decided a year ago to take on the problem of waste management on their own steam. With help from the experts on communities and waste from Delhi-based environmental advocacy group Toxics Link, they have churned out a success story that can be safely dubbed as self-sustaining.

Need for change

It began in 2005, when Toxics Link received a message from Mrs. Shammi Talwar, a member of Residents' Welfare Association (RWA), A-Block, Defence Colony for establishing an environmentally sound municipal waste management in their community. The residents here had heard of an intervention taken up in Sarita Vihar by Toxics Link and the community there.

The RWA's primary concern stemmed from the inefficient waste collection, and dumping, and the larger issue of waste being largely mixed and sent away to landfills untreated.

Household solid waste from over a thousand homes in the A-Block of Defence Colony, used to go directly into the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) run dhalaos located within the community. Since there was no primary segregation of waste and the MCD dhalao overflowed making the area filthy and unhygienic.

For waste collection, four waste collectors, charging a monthly user fee of Rs. 35 from every household, used to pick up waste from each home. The monthly salary of the waste-collectors was supported from the monthly fee, with each of them was catering to 200 to 250 households.

Breaking the ice

After a need assessment, Toxics Link decided to push a model of decentralised solid waste management, with the resident community as the key stakeholder. It was made clear to the RWA that unless they geared up to drive the project, such initiative would only achieve long-term success.

Meetings and interactions were held for flagging the dynamics of such an initiative. Respective roles and responsibilities were delineated to ensure that the community takes the optimum ownership of the process and its sustainability.

A stakeholder meeting was organised in which the MCD Commissioner, RWA members, Residents, Toxics Link, household maids and waste collectors participated. This was the first one-on-one interface between different players in the chain of waste management system.

Creating systems

Four compost pits were constructed. Two in the Junior Commissioned Officer's Club, a popular place among the residents, in the space of 7x5x4 cubic ft and the other two were dug in the adjacent municipal park with dimensions of 12x5x4 cubic ft. With an emerging sense of ownership of the project, the RWA took up the task of construction of the pits and coordination with the waste collectors. Recognising the importance of the occupational safety of the workers, Toxics Link addressed the aspect of health hazard to the workers.

A practice of segregation at the household level itself was pushed among the residents to handover separated dry and wet waste. Later, the workers themselves segregated the waste to recover recyclable and reusable waste for sale.

Kitchen waste began being diverted to the composting pits for processing through a biochemical method. This involves spraying of a diluted microbial solution on to the pits, which also incidentally removes the stench that most people associate with composting, this converts wet waste into compost in two to four weeks times. This safe and hygienic method yields manure for local parks and even sale to households.

Making it last: Issue of sustainability

The system of community-based waste management can only become a viable intervention if it can support the waste-workers salaries and up-keep of the pits and dustbins and establishment etc. Toxics Link, with years of research and advocacy on communities and waste, kept economic sustainability of the system at the center of this engagement.

Essentially, there are specifically three modes of revenue generation, collection fee from the residents or the user fee, the sale of compost and the recyclables.

The model takes into account the initial establishment cost, which includes procuring of rickshaw and related equipments, cost of construction of compost pits and its maintenance and the cost involved in training and building the capacity of the waste collectors. While the establishment cost is one-time, there are other recurring costs, which need to be supported throughout. These include the cost involved in purchasing microbial solution and labour cost for monitoring the composting.

A monthly collection charge, paid by each household, supports the salary for the waste collectors, who also male an additional income by selling the valuable dry wastes to kabariwalas of Sarai Kale Khan.

Community cohesion and accountability

The strength of the initiative lies on the active involvement of the RWA members who have kept a strong vigil on the waste collectors and the compost turners. The residents, who are educated through meetings and distribution of information materials, now have the capacity to sustain the project. The initiative shows a significant impact on the cleanliness and the aesthetic sensibility of the community.

A Snap View

Projected landfill diversion:

Management of wet waste by community in Block A (1000 HH) will divert an amount of 600-700 Kg of waste taken to landfill. If this system is extended to the whole of Defence Colony (4000 HHs), an amount of 2400-2800 Kg (2.42.8 Tonnes) of wet waste per day will be reduced, leading to a massive diversion from the landfill.


Including the recovery of recyclables, there will be a total diversion of 2650 3150 Kg (2.6 3.0 Tonnes) of municipal solid waste that is disposed into the landfill daily.

Clearing of Dhalao and transportation:

Earlier, the dhalaos and the MCD bins overflowed with garbage. The MCD would clean the dhalaos and the bins daily and transport to the landfill daily. With the start of the community initiative, the use of dhalaos is greatly reduced. In fact, only the bins are used now, which means the labor, and the transportation costs have been reduced significantly.

Cost recovery from recyclable waste:

Approximately Rs. 50 - 75 is generated from the sale of recyclables per waste collector. In total, there is a revenue generation of Rs.400 600 per day only from selling recyclables collected from 1000 HH. The revenue generated through the programme can meet the monthly recurring cost and can reach a break-even (revenue generated covering the establishment cost) point in certain time period.