Wilma Rodrigues founded Saahas in 2001, it's an NGO that works in the field of waste management.  Saahas executed the Alag Karo source segregation programme in Gurugram, along with various partners, such as Coca-Cola, GIZ and Tetra Pak, in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram under their city-wide initiatives on SWM (Solid Waste Management).

In an interview with Journey, Wilma shares key insight into how communities need to come together to change behaviours on waste management, getting the right infrastructure in place to segregate, collect and process waste, and what India needs to do right to lead the way for the world.

Municipal solid waste is turning out to be a big problem across cities. How important is it for cities to take the right steps to control the problem and work out a solution?

The need for waste management and awareness across our city is apparent to all. The Waste Management Rules of 2016 defined by the Government of India clearly signifies the need to manage different streams of waste separately.

It is important for municipal corporations to put an ecosystem in place around municipal solid waste rules – from segregation at source, collection of segregated waste, processing of wet and dry waste, secondary sorting, aggregation, compaction and finally transport to recyclers.

Bulk generators need to get authorised vendors to handle their waste, which is different from door-to-door waste collection by government bodies.

How can communities make a beginning so that municipalities can be pushed to take corrective action ground up, and ensure and enabling environment for recycling?

Segregation at source and following up with municipalities or private vendors is an important step that citizens can take.

There are enough pilot programs now where communities can put a decent waste management system in place, in apartments, gated communities, wards etc. One must understand that infrastructure needs to be appropriate and operational budgets are required to maintain an effective waste management system.

What have been the key leanings from recycling initiatives in Gurugram and Bengaluru that can be adopted by other cities?

In Bengaluru, 40% of waste is from bulk generators and as per the law; they are required to manage it on their own through authorized vendors. This means that much less burden on the city system and municipal corporations can be held accountable for their work.

In Gurugram also, we’ve worked with apartments where they have started segregation and composting on site. We need to get citizens to take responsibility for the waste they generate. The push must come from citizens and this means we need to raise awareness at every level.

Should sensitisation to recycling be made a mandatory part of school curriculum to bring about a lasting and permanent change?

Sensitisation is essential, but it is only the first step. Schools must implement solid waste management rules themselves. This means no burning of leaf litter, composting of wet waste, and ensuring proper end destinations for dry waste.

Children cannot run the system, management needs to take decisions which should be in proper compliance.

You have worked on the ground for nearly two decades. What are the few things that India can do right so that we can lead the world in recycling?

Decentralised waste management - this means on-site composting, a biogas facility and recycling centres for dry waste in every neighbourhood. This is how we can create jobs, sensitise communities and work towards a circular economy.

For this we need citizens, corporates and government support, but the push needs to come from citizens.