on sidewalks, solid waste, and social change

To an outsider, this may seem like common sense. In Bangalore, however, it can sometimes be easier said than done.

At first, the regular occurrence of people walking in the street — particularly in areas with sidewalks — struck me as quite bizarre. Why risk being hit by a rickshaw or motorcycle? The sidewalk clearly seemed like the safer option. For many of us in our group, there were numerous instances where such unfamiliar norms didn’t seem to make sense.

In retrospect, this initial impression seems quite stereotypically naive, betraying my so-called “Western” background. In contrast to the typically standardized footpaths of the U.S., the sidewalks in Bangalore are home to a wide variety of land uses. They are extensions for storefronts or construction sites, parking spaces for both two wheelers and cars, and a place for roadside vendors of all sorts to set up shop. For some, it’s a place to sleep; other less fortunate spaces become designated as bathrooms. A few sidewalks are wobbly and most are uneven, with some areas either unfinished or incomplete, revealing the sewer below. Snaking along Bangalore’s convoluted and tree-lined streets, their width and height can vary considerably. Given this high degree of unpredictability, I started walking on the road myself — first out of convenience, then out of habit.

Of all the reasons why it might be easier to walk on the smoother and (relatively) less obstructed surface of the road, one particular factor stands out more pungently than most: trash. Solid waste management in Bangalore remains a pressing problem, despite the passage of federal legislation in 2000 aimed at combating the issue. In some areas, the sidewalk becomes a prime destination for unwanted garbage.

Enter Saahas, a local non-profit organization committed to crafting effective solutions to the problem of solid waste disposal — working towards a vision of “a zero waste Bangalore“. According to its research, “Bangalore generates 3,000 tonnes of waste everyday from households and commercial establishments” and “around 70% of this waste is organic.” Some of the challenges faced by change agents such as Saahas include the accepted practice of burning waste, the lack of waste segregation at the source, and the hesitance of institutions and individuals to take responsibility for waste management.

One of Saahas’ programs includes its Waste Sensitive Corporations Program which targets large companies seeking to “initiate a process of waste minimization and recycling of waste generated within the premises,” in accordance with the Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules (2000). The program includes an audit of the waste generated by the corporation, training for housekeepers, staff sensitization, segregation of waste at the premises, and the collection of e-waste. While a number of firms have enrolled in the program, Saahas is looking to craft a new approach for engaging executives who do not see waste management as a top priority or responsibility of their company.  To achieve this goal, Saahas is working with Sattva, the social enterprise and non-profit consultancy that our GSE group met with during our first full day in Bangalore.

Throughout our GSE experience, this case study stuck with me, perhaps because of the enormity of the task at hand (while living in the city, I encountered almost-daily reminders, especially when walking in the street). Reducing waste and creating effective recycling/composting programs not only involves improving infrastructure and other support systems, but also necessitates changes in behavior at the individual level — cultivating an understanding of our collective responsibility for the environment. It’s a pressing problem in the U.S. context as well, where many municipalities do provide comprehensive waste management services, yet the volume of trash continues to increase while recycling rates remain relatively low.

In the end, simple signs and slogans will not do.

Where would you begin?

This entry was posted in by Marianne Sierocinski and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to on sidewalks, solid waste, and social change

  1. Raju Parakkal says:

    Good write-up. Having experienced/endured this in India for many years (including a few years in Bangalore), I must admit that waste management represents an excellent social entrepreneurship opportunity there. It makes both social and business sense because people are both willing and able to pay for the clean-up services. I have always wondered why no major corporate interest entered waste management services in India (probably because of local rules). Maybe things are changing now….good.

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