Narendra Modi has reached out far and wide to get his Clean India campaign off the ground. From industrialist Anil Ambani to former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, the prime minister has called out to prominent Indians—on social media and elsewhere—to galvanize support for the mission, which aims to spruce up India within five years.
Even Modi’s cabinet ministers have taken to sweeping the streets lately, making for perfect photo ops. But the much harder work of actually cleaning India is more than just wielding a broom.
Here are three projects—with critical grassroots involvement—that have interesting solutions to India’s massive cleanliness problem.
“We help you throw differently,” promises this Bangalore-based startup, which says it has kept about 14,000 kilograms of organic waste out of landfills by using a simple device—the Khamba. The brainchild of Poonam Bir Kasturi, the founder of Daily Dump, this inexpensive and compact terracotta device helps city dwellers turn the waste from their kitchen to eco-friendly compost. It’s made from raw materials sourced from potters (thereby earning them a small income), and is small enough to be installed on a balcony.
On an average, an Indian city produces 3,000 tonnes of waste every day, most of which goes into landfills even when it could just have been managed at the household level. Typically, according to Daily Dump, each bag of garbage thrown out of Indian homes contain 50-60% organic waste and 25-30% of recyclable waste.
Organic waste from the kitchen is segregated from the dry waste. The wet waste is collected in pots, to which some dried leaves, paper or sawdust is added to aid the composting process. After 10 weeks, it turns into manure for your plants. And if you have created too much manure, Daily Dump even buys back the excess from you.
The company also provides back-end services to those who want advice, are struggling with composting or want their entire block to take up the activity.
Pune’s SWaCH—Solid Waste Collection and Handling—is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers.
Its 2,300 members (dominated by women) provide door-to-door waste collection and other waste management services across 400,000 households in 15 wards of the Pune Municipal Corporation. The workers collect in pairs, are paid on an average Rs10-30 and segregate waste into recyclables—paper, plastics, metal, glass—and wet waste, for composting. A new innovation by this women’s cooperative is the ‘Swach yellow bags’ for disposing sanitary towels and baby diapers.
The cooperative, which traces its roots to the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), a membership-based trade union for waste pickers established in 1993, has provided dignity to waste workers usually considered at the lowest rung of society. At the same time, it has ensured that Pune’s garbage is responsibly collected and disposed.
Over the course of her menstruating years, an average woman generates 125 kilograms of sanitary waste. And in India’s cities and now in rural areas, too, a rising number of women are switching to using disposable sanitary pads. But these, contrary to what their name suggests, are barely disposable. Instead, once discarded, they end up littering village roadsides or getting burned in huge trash heaps.
That’s where Eco-Femme comes in. Since 2009, this group of women in Tamil Nadu’s Auroville has been working on making washable cloth sanitary towels more popular. Their eco-friendly pads can last up to 75 washes, drastically reducing the need to make multiple purchases of disposable sanitary towels.
Eco-Femme estimates that about 12% of the 355 million women of menstruating age in India can afford disposable sanitary napkins. Together, that is a staggering amount of waste generated, which can be drastically reduced if cloth sanitary towels become more widespread.
After running a pilot project covering over 1,000 women in the hinterland, Eco-Femme offers a range of subsidized pads for rural communities. Alongside, there’s a more slickly packaged range for urban consumers. The enterprise currently employs 18 women, including 10 tailors from the Auroville Village Action Group’s self help groups.