March 28th, 2017
In the latest state budget announced last Saturday, the government of Goa has promised to invest nearly two thousand crores for waste management. One man shows how, in the long run, getting the community on board is more sustainable that investing in expensive technology.
Clinton Vaz is a soft spoken, young civil engineer from Goa. Looking at this unassuming man it is hard to imagine that he is at the helm of a revolutionary initiative for a garbage free Goa. “When I moved from the city [Margao] to the village, I realised that waste disposal was a big problem here. I thought if I can manage my own waste, I can help other people do the same. I devised my own system. That was 10-15 years back,” he says. He feels that the government’s promise for a zero-waste Goa by 2020 should be taken with a pinch of salt.
A small coastal state with just under 2 million people, Goa sees massive tourist footfall every year. Just in 2016, over 6 million tourists came to visit. A short drive around some of the most popular beaches in North Goa reveals heaps of garbage strewn among the coconut groves and lush greenery. The tourism industry adds to the problem by generating huge amounts of waste. Composite figures on the total waste generated by the state are not easy to come by, although estimates from 2013 put it at around 400 tonnes per day.There has been sustained campaigns by citizens across the state that led to more composting and waste segregation units. In March 2017 the newly elected Chief Minister of Goa promised more investment in the waste management infrastructure to make Goa ‘garbage-free’ by 2020.
Vaz is in no small part responsible for this change. Back in 2003, working with the local municipality, he singlehandedly documented the waste woes of the capital, Panjim. Around the same time he started the online group Green Goa which is today a resource for all sorts of citizen-led sustainable initiatives in Goa. Today vRecycle manages the waste of over 10,000 households in South Goa and have collection points in over 18 sites spanning panchayats and housing societies.
vRecycle collects household waste segregated into wet (organic) and dry (inorganic). A small organisation of only 20 employees, they collect and sort 3-4 tonnes of waste per day. Of this about half is organic waste that is composted yielding natural soil fertiliser. This goes back to the households for use in their gardens. The dry waste is sorted into twenty different categories. Most of this is recycled. Only 1% of the waste which is completely non-disposable or recyclable, mostly soiled diapers and menstrual hygiene products, is left over after the entire process. vRecycle currently stores this in their warehouse as even the municipal authorities have no solution to deal with this. Most of the employees are migrants who were informal waste pickers. They are all provided with safety gear when collecting and sorting the waste.
The government has repeatedly stated lack of co-operation in segregating waste as a major hurdle to effective waste management. It is continuing to invest in technology-heavy solutions which need huge investments. The first waste treatment facility in the state in the village of Saligao in North Goa, became operational less than a year back. CM Parrikar has announced three more waste treatment plants in the latest budget. The existing waste treatment plant costs Rs 10,00,000 per day. And yet, a lot of North Goa’s garbage problem remains unsolved. Vaz has succeeded in persuading over 10,000 households to segregate the garbage. If he can do it, why cannot the government also do it?
“The Saligao plant has the capacity to handle half of Goa’s waste. So definitely three new plants at huge costs are not necessary. In fact, the existing plant is not as effective as it should be because they are taking in non-segregated waste. The rules of solid waste management were amended in 2016 to specifically state that non-segregated waste should not be picked up. This is because most of such waste can’t be recycled and ends up in the landfill. Essentially, the government is violating its own rules. We have seen 80% of the communities are willing to work with us in segregating waste. Unnecessary technological investment just goes to justify inflated costs of such projects. Many municipalities and panchayats who invested in such expensive machinery, like baling machines, are not using them at all. Even the expensive mechanised sweeping machines in Panjim and Vasco are just gathering dust. We have had promises and deadlines from successive governments over the years but nothing has changed. The continued investment in technology, without looking at the actual needs on the ground, just shows a lack of real commitment to solving the issue,” says Vaz. His model demonstrates how achievable the dream of a zero-waste Goa is, without investing billions of rupees in unnecessary technology. And in fact, such investment leaves the door open for massive corruption. When will the government start listening to the people that elected it?
You can contact vRecycle at https://vrecycle.in/ and +91 9890936828