My foray into waste began in 1998 as a classroom exercise for my students where we were looking at types of problems and ways to approach them . The first exercise to design a better garbage bin became an exercise to portray the whole system. Two months later I agreed to do a pilot project, ‘Campus Recycling Programme’ (CRP) to test the Zero Waste system and also agreed to find the funds to run the project from industry sponsorship ( IITD Seeks Corporate Support For Recycling Project , Indian Express, New Delhi, 18/ 04/1999). This I did (collecting, for over two years, close to 1.5 million rupees, donations of vehicles and infrastructure) and the project was up and running soon. In this phase the pilot project serviced 200 houses. Bins were installed outside the homes, a campaign was conducted to elicit the cooperation of the residents, and all the other infrastructure elements required for the project were designed and fabricated. By the sixth month the segregation rates were very good, in the 8th month it was nearly 100 %. At this point the institute asked for it to be upscaled to the whole campus and came in with the salaries for the staff (Approximately Rs.100,000 per month). I continued looking far and wide for sponsors for the vehicles (2 small trucks donated by Scooters India) and for infrastructure (Suzuki and DSCL were the big supporters) like the bins and the building of the collection centre and offices.
A year and a half later I was coordinating the collection of 2 tonnes of waste everyday, and when this project, the Campus Recycling Programme, finally ended there were two worker owned NGOs (In year three the project team, now an NGO, Naya Savera (New Dawn), formed by the team members, was awarded a commercial contract) together servicing, in addition to the University campus, around 8 communities/ localities in the city. There had been a lot of media coverage, many invitations to speak to local community organizations, conference audiences and a role in preparing the position paper for Johannesburg 04. After the project I coordinated the preparation of a status paper for the Department of Science and Technology (the equivalent of ARC as the premier S&T funding agency) on municipal solid waste in the country. What I hold precious and which is really quite significant for me is this and growing; the lives of the project team members were transformed – 30 families had a predictable source of income; the city of Delhi and possibly India too had a community model for recycling waste; and about ten thousand households in the city had a feeling they were making a contribution to society by supporting their waste service provider.
The project was awarded the ” Indo-German Greentech Environmental Excellence Award” in January 2001 for its work in demonstrating a sustainable solution to the problem of managing waste in an Indian city (Award to the Campus Recycling Programme: http://www.indiaeducation.info/iit/delhi/awards.htm). The project was the topic of a magazine article in a series that looked at people making a difference to society (Outlook India, 17 December 2001: ” Some time in the beginning of this year, Soumitri and Vasudevan decided to spin the boys off into an NGO to disseminate their expertise for projects outiside IIT as well “). I have presented this project at conferences and workshops in Delft, Lisbon, Israel, and Paris. At this time I was involved with Sajha Manch, a forum of associations of unauthorized colonies in New Delhi and helped write the waste section in the Alternative Master Plan for Delhi. Student who have worked with me (also other students have studied the projects – typically from MGT and Civil) have worked upon many aspects of the project like the vehicles and other infrastructure elements. Last year a group of students (RMIT – Industrial Design) organised a waste trip like the ones I used to do in India – going from bins to landfills to recycling centres like Vizy.
Today there are many NGOs servicing different parts of New Delhi two of these are run by former staff of the project, and there are many others doing this in much the same fashion. The Waste campus/ collection centre became a tour destination for many of the UN agencies in New Delhi & continues as an exhibition for the project. In June 2000 I was invited to a meeting by UNEP (Paris) on “Product Service Systems”; this was one of the direct outcomes for me, and it was followed by invitations to two more UNEP events. The meeting was to be a crucial formulation of a change of regime in the sustainability discourse – from products to services. I presented the CRP at this meeting and in the debates ensuing made a point that community orientated traditional service systems (the wallahs) existed in developing countries. At the end of this meeting I agreed to do a project to look into wallahs and over the next few years had groups of students documenting different wallahs (such as the Dabba-wallahs of Mumbai who have been the subject of study in best practices by Harvard University). This resulted in a joint paper with a colleague for a UNEP conference in Japan in December 2003.
Blog (1) Resource Archive for Project Waste TBC