Mumbai – Worlds First Truly Sustainable City

[This is my last post of 2017. A very happy and healthy new year for all my blog readers and followers]


I woke up in the morning of the New Year.

I decided to go for a walk around the Shivaji Park. At the entrance of the Park, I saw an electronic display of the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI was less than 100. The message that was scrolling below was “Good Morning – Its Safe to Go for a Walk”

I was delighted. “Oh, things are improving” I said to myself.

When I returned home, I saw my neighbor washing his car in the porch. “Hi Dr Modak, enjoyed your walk?”   He beamed. I nodded. I noticed that he was washing his car using the water collected from the rainwater harvesting tank.

I saw my neighbor opposite. He was working on the composting unit that was recently installed in the housing society. It looked like that waste segregation at the households was really happening and the compost produced was used for gardening. He waved at me. His face was glowing with expression of sustainability.

“Oh, people have become so conscious” I said to myself.

I got ready. My driver had arrived. As we drove to the Bandra Kurla Complex where my office is located, I saw less traffic on the street. The headline in the Newspaper was “Mumbaikars shifting to public transport. Many commuters now prefer AC Railway coaches instead of driving their own cars”

“Oh, something that we always wanted to” I said to myself.

When I got down at my office, I saw four of my colleagues getting out of a taxi. One of the them smiled at me and said that they have decided to go for car pooling every day to cut down emissions, reduce consumption of fuel and in addition save costs. Plus, they chatted on current topics during the journey and updated each other. This was overwhelming.

When I reached my desk, my secretary walked in with an “offer envelop”. “Dr Modak, you have an offer to go for an electric car with a 30% discount on down-payment”. I asked what happens to my present car. “Your old car will be bought at a handsome price and then taken to “Auto-Recycling” unit to extract all the reusable components and important resources like metal, plastic etc.”  She read out from the flyer. This was a rather tempting offer for a “phase out”, both from economic, social and environmental point of view. “Connect me to the dealer please” I asked my secretary.

“This is circular economy in action” I said to myself.

I went to the conference room for the morning meeting. I didn’t see the usual plastic drinking water bottles. These bottles were replaced by reusable mugs that carried filtered and disinfected water from a common unit. I was impressed.

My colleague from HR told us that soon water will be served directly as is from the taps. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is about to step up the treatment at the Bhandup Water Treatment Plant, arrest leakages and eliminate cross contamination of water during transmission and distribution. Idea was to ensure that water we get at the taps is as good as mineral water as MCGMs responsibility. Clearly, the domestic water purifier industry was going to be in trouble”

“Wow, this upstream thinking of MCGM deserves a big applause” I said to myself.

In the afternoon, we had a meeting at the Secretariat, where the Ministers and the powerful bureaucrats sit. The building was under renovation. The Board outside stated that the building is in transition to green.  It will run on solar energy, have water efficient plumbing fixtures, more natural ventilation to reduce consumption of energy due to air conditioners and practice greywater recycling etc. The Government had put a directive that all State-owned buildings will become green and no new housing and infrastructure development will be permitted unless it is green.

“Oh, something that we always wanted to see” I said to myself “Government must demonstrate commitment at its end first and then preach to others”

The meeting at the Secretariat was to discuss policy on telecommuting – where people will work from home for one day a week. Mumbai was considered as a pilot. The Secretary said that this will help reduce congestion on the street and so the emissions. It will also help improve the work life balance. The Minister thought that the latter will be a political advantage.

“This is simply revolutionary – better than the odd-even strategy tried in Delhi” I said to myself. I was always longing to see some afternoon TV shows that I couldn’t due to all 5 working days.

My wife had asked me to go a supermarket and buy some stuff for the house. So, I went to a food mall at the Phoenix High Street.

When I entered the Food Mall, an escort accompanied me to guide in shopping. She was a dietician and nutrition expert. We spoke. This won’t cost you any extra – its our complementary service” She said.

“We stock only organic and eco-labelled food Dr Modak. No oily, frozen or curated stuff. Nothing based on GMOs. I will help you chose the food that is best for you” She smiled with dimples. She packed my goods in a cloth bag that was made from fabric waste and stitched by underprivileged women (that’s what was written on the bag). “No plastic bag Dr Modak” She said apologetically,

When I came out of the food mall with this “healthy” experience, I saw that the chains like McDonalds, KFC etc. had completely changed their menu and no more junk food was available. The outlets like barista and Café Coffee Day were replaced by Mini-Gyms, Yoga Centers and Meditation rooms. The caffeine in the air was missing.

“Oh, this is unbelievable. People have become so concerned about food they eat and have realized the importance of workouts and meditation. This city is changing its culture” I said to myself.

When returning home, I saw several other innovations.  For instance, booths for collecting used electronics such as junk mobile phones and used household batteries were seen outside the movie theaters. These booths were sponsored by electronic giants like Samsung, Apple, Panasonic, Nippon and Sony. The electronic waste thus collected was sent for refurbishing and remanufacturing and discount coupons were issued as a token of appreciation.

“The business organizations in this city seems to be on a sustainability mission” I said to myself.

We were crossing the Dadar Railway station by then. I saw a huge crowd inside and outside the railway station. The crowd was rising, heaving and swaying like you see in a political rally.

We were stuck for a while in negotiating with the traffic jam. I asked a gentleman on the street the reason. This gentleman turned out to be “breaking news communicator” to the news channel Times Now.

He said “Well, these people are leaving the Mumbai city. They are simply unable to adjust with all the good things happening around. They prefer to rather settle somewhere else where they can lead a normal life that they are used to. We expect to lose at least 30% of people in 2018 in such an out-migration and many more may move out”

“That’s terrible. Don’t we want Mumbai to be the first sustainable city in the world? We have to work on convincing these people and introduce the benefits of sustainable living” I said – this time aloud and not to myself

The man from Times Now gave me a mischievous smile

“Well, don’t you think the city will be sustainable by itself when such people will choose to leave?”

I thought “He was quite right”. This time I said this to myself


Photo credit:

http://www.rediff.com/getahead/report/travel-come-fall-in-love-with-mumbai/20170331.htm


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The Jukebox

The term jukebox came into use in the United States beginning in 1940, apparently derived from the word “juke joint”, meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.

A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that plays your selection of a song. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers. When entered in combination, these buttons trigger a mechanism to fetch, lift and play a specific song. The technology of coin driven song selection is sophisticated. Leading makers of Jukeboxes were Wurlitzer, AMI, Rockola and Seeburg. Amongst these the famous organ maker Wurlitzer was the leader and model 1015 was by far the most popularly used Jukebox.

Initially, the 78 rpm records dominated the jukeboxes. The Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45-rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950. The 33⅓ rpms then took over. In the last decade CDs and videos on DVDs stormed in with MP3/MP4 downloads and Internet-connected media players.

Today digital versions are spinning around and have made the old Jukebox obsolete. iTunes software from Apple provided a personalized digital Jukebox that was revolutionary. You could build a playlist of your favorite songs on iTunes and shuffle the songs if you like to be in surprise. The iTunes store became a global jukebox holding a stock of 40 million songs! You could connect iTunes based device to an amp with speakers and entertain the audience.

Several digital jukeboxes are now available in the market. One of them is BCJukebox in Mumbai that was introduced by four IIT Bombay alumni. BCJukebox is a digital jukebox that plays music by your choice and the mood eliminating the need for a Disk Jockey (DJ). BCJukebox has more than 1000 installations in India. But the charm of playing a classical Jukebox with a coin and vinyl disks is different and this experience just cannot be compared.  I love the old Jukebox.

Many jukebox restaurants have now withered away in Mumbai. I still remember playing songs at the Swimming Pool Café at the Dadar Chowpatty, at Hotel Sanman on the Cadel Road and at the Pomposh restaurant in front of the National College in Bandra. We used to sit there after attending the college to relish an oily hamburger (laced with onions) and a chilled glass of London Pilsner.

You can still find old Jukeboxes in Mumbai restaurants and pubs. The Kit Kat Restaurant, Dhobi Talao that was revamped recently has a bar with jukebox that plays both English and Hindi music. Diners usually like to play Classic Rock, but you’ll also hear classic 90s Bollywood songs. The other café to visit is the Café Mondegar in Colaba. Although all genres are available, you’ll hear classics like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Hotel California by the Eagles, Knock Knock Heavens Door by Bob Dylan and Riders On The Storm by The Doors more frequently. On these Jukeboxes, you pay 10 Rs for one song and play 3 songs for 50 Rs.

Jukeboxes essentially gave opportunities for “participatory listening”. When a great song will be played, you would wonder and look around to see who would have probably selected it.

Later, an era came up of “participatory singing and listening” as Karaoke. Karaoke (meaning “empty listening”) is a form of interactive entertainment or video game that was developed in Japan in which an amateur singer sings along with recorded music (a music video) using a microphone. The music is typically an instrumental version of a well-known popular song. Lyrics are usually displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol, changing color, or music video images, to guide the singer.

A karaoke box is the most popular type of karaoke venue. It is a small or medium-sized room containing karaoke equipment rented by the hour or half-hour, providing a more intimate atmosphere. Karaoke venues of this type are often dedicated businesses, some with multiple floors and a variety of amenities including food service. Unfortunately, Karaoke box got tarnished because of the girly business ending many times with prostitution. But if you are lucky, you could land up with someone with a great voice to sing along with you and has a sense of humor!

 

A Japanese Karaoke Box

The era of Disk Jockeys (DJs) followed along with the Jukebox.  DJ-ing was all about the concept of mixing music. Modern technology made the job of a DJ more technical. A DJ did not restrict to playing or mixing music but got into cutting his own records or take up training. Today, there are more than 300,000 DJs in India, and the demand will continue to grow for the next 20 years unless robots take over! It will then truly become a “machine music”.

In Mumbai, DJing was introduced at the members-only nightclub, Studio 29. Studio 54 in London was the inspiration. The Sound systems, turntables, lighting equipment and a big disco ball had all been imported from England. The brain behind Studio 29 was Sabira Merchant, who later became a renowned grooming and etiquette expert. At its peak, Studio 29 had 700 paid-up members till Merchant, for want of space, put a stop to new entrants.

Dancing at Studio 29 

Jo Azaredo was Studio 29’s original resident DJ and the man behind the musical success of Studio 29. Jo was trained under Alan Jackson, one of UK’s Best Remixers’. Today Jo runs a training school for DJs.

DJs have now graduated to the EDM or the Electronic Music Dance. The EDM industry is relatively new in India but it has widely spread and has taken over a large percentage of people from the age group (14 – 40). The EDM events are increasing and harmoniously blending to the traditional festivals that the people celebrate. Sunburn festival, EDC India, Vh1 Supersonic are few well reputed EDM festivals that are happening in India. Sunburn is Asia’s largest music festival that is an amalgamation of Music, Entertainment, Food, and Shopping. It was ranked by CNN in 2009 as one of the Top 10 Festivals in the world. So, from that cute and soulful machine called Jukebox, the world of music has transformed and stormed with the advent of digital innovation, technology and a mass appeal for entertainment.

Now let me tell you about Tina and Albert.

I was sitting at the Café New York in Girgaon in Mumbai with Tina. It was nearly 7 pm and we were expecting Tina’s boyfriend Albert to join. Café New York is a very cozy, cheap and cheerful place considering its Chowpatty location. Tina and I went to the first floor where the bar is located and asked for some chilli mushrooms and two glasses of Kingfisher beer.

The ground floor of the Café has the Jukebox that has all the retro music that you would want.

Cafe New York 

I was looking into my wrist watch waiting impatiently for Albert. Tina was sitting cool.

People on the ground floor were playing Bob Marley. And suddenly someone put Elvis Priestley’s Jailhouse Rock. And the mood changed.

Tina smiled. She got up from the chair and started walking downstairs – Dr Modak, Albert has arrived. Let me fetch him up”

How do you know that he has arrived? I asked (later realizing that it was a dumb question)

“Oh, Dr Modak, this is his Signature song – Albert plays this song on the Jukebox to announce his arrival”

She blushed. She looked so pretty.

I then realized the real power of the Jukebox. It was far more than the digitals like the iTunes, Karaoke Boxes and the DJs with machines and what have you.

“Make it to three glasses of Kingfisher, Boss” I yelled at the bartender.


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Data and Diagnostics – Two Interesting Conversations

My Professor Friend and I went to meet the Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India. The Chairman was busy conducting a meeting with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Professors from reputed Academic institutions such as IIT Delhi, Environmental NGOs like the Centre for Science and Environment, Medical Professionals etc.

Although we had barged in without prior appointment, Chairman welcomed us and requested to join the meeting. We were offered seats at the long elliptic table in the conference room. Tea with sugar and cashew nuts were served.  Around 20 experts were present on that cold and smoggy day.

The Senior Environmental Engineer at CPCB was making a presentation about the air pollution in Delhi.

“We have today real-time air quality monitoring at 10 automated stations that generate data on 8 parameters every 15 min. This data is transmitted to the server of CPCB for visualization and analysis”

He showed us pictures of the stations, some “data flow” diagrams that had steps of data quality control and assurance. The stations seemed to work.

I whispered to the Professor “Very impressive – this means in a year there will be nearly 3 million digits of “information” available on Delhi’s air quality. This should be really useful for the “diagnosis” of the “problem””.

Professor did not seem to be impressed. He said, “Do you think that we ever link data with diagnosis and decisions when it comes to  managing environment? Decisions are often ad-hoc and an exercise so rhetoric”. He had a smirk on his face.

” All we get from this online data is information on mean, max, min, extent of violations over standards etc. and the plots. Next, this data is crunched into an Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI essentially adds up the “effect” of each pollutant independently or in “isolation” without considering any “interaction” between pollutants. When air pollution hits your health, both particulates and gaseous pollutants act “simultaneously”. The formula for AQI does not recognize this complexity. So, this AQI is really a bit of “fooling around”.”

I thought Professor was becoming overly critical. “But can we ever address this limitation? If we start dissecting the crudeness of the AQI and disclose its various limitations, then what will the National Green Tribunal (NGT) do? And AQI is so sensational today in the media as “breaking news””

Air Quality Index

A Professor from a reputed academic institution was the next presenter.

“We just completed a source apportionment study sponsored by CPCB using a Chemical Balance Model (CMB). In this project, we collected nearly 1000 samples of Particulate Matter (PM) and for each sample 12 constituents were analyzed. Now we have a fair idea on which group of emissions influence Delhi’s ambient air quality and where to prioritize. In this process, the conventional CMB model was modified. Our work will soon be published in an international research journal”

I was really impressed when I saw the graphs, pie charts and outputs of the modified CMB that was called CMB-Plus. Indeed, there were considerable assumptions made in reaching to the final conclusions but isn’t this usual? Unfortunately, the outcomes of the work appeared a bit trivial and sometimes a bit far-fetched. I thought that many of the actions could have been taken without waiting for the results of the CMB. It was now Professor’s turn to whisper

“Dr Modak, I am glad to see that in the process of generating such huge data, at least a research publication could be made”. Once again, I saw that he had a smirk on his face.

A Professor from a Research Unit of a famous Medical Hospital in Delhi presented results of “long term” (2 years) survey on air pollution and health. This survey was carried out over 2000 patients who were tracked over a period of 2 years and an extensive data was collected on the symptoms, respiratory illness, loss in working days and costs paid for medical treatment and consultation. This data was correlated with the ambient air quality data reported at the monitoring stations of CPCB and DPCC. The results concluded that air pollution affects human health, and more so to children and aged people. The economic costs are also significant. (We could not disagree with these important conclusions). The study however provided new statistics on morbidity and disability-adjusted life year (DALY) and some of these numbers were rather alarming.

While we all were appreciative of the painstaking work that was done, one gentleman asked (I think he was a retired bureaucrat as a bureaucrat generally speaks sense only after retirement!)

“Professor Doctor, did you consider indoor air quality at all in your attempt to correlate respiratory illness with air pollution? You are aware that we spent more than 70% of the time indoors. And to draw conclusions on DALY, don’t you think that 2 years data is rather short”

We left the meeting a bit earlier as we had another event to attend.


I was facing a problem of stomach acidity for a while. Antacids worked but I did not want to take them overly long. My GP (General Physician) was on leave and so I went to Hinduja Hospital and sought an appointment with a Senior doctor in the department of Gastroenterology. The doctor examined me and wrote down on a paper a number of tests that he wanted me to get done.

“Dr Modak, we must first build data around your “problem” and “diagnose” accordingly. Come with your reports in a week and I will see you then”. I liked his style of building data for diagnosis. As I was about to leave, he said “now that you are going to do these tests, we might as well get some more tests done – perhaps a good idea to do a MRI and a 2-D Echo cardiogram too as you mentioned about frequent heart burn you get due to acid reflux. Let us not take any chances”. He smiled and took back the note he had given and scribbled some more tests.

I spent the next week making visits to a Path clinic and a MRI Centre. I got the 2-D echo done too. I walked to the room of Gastroenterologist with a large “paper bag” that had all the reports/plates and a CD. The doctor looked through all the “outputs”.

He removed his spectacles and said “Dr Modak, I was checking for the disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer and reflux disease. These appear to be absent with a minor case of acid reflux. However, I need to check now possibilities like chronic liver disease and bilio-pancreatic disorder. And I also want to rule out malignancies”. He said this in a caring tone.

I thought this data collection exercise was now getting rather too much with no diagnosis for timely action. I left the Hospital.

My GP had just returned then from his vacation. I went to meet him with all the data that was generated – thanks to the Gastroenterologist.

“Oh, Dr Modak, I don’t need all this stuff. I will see this later but let me examine you first”

He asked me to show my tongue. He then put a stethoscope on my back. Checked my pulse and asked some simple questions like what I eat, do I take a walk every day or exercise, am I constipated and how well do I sleep. I thought these questions were rather basic and appeared “traditional” and not so much “data driven”.

“Nothing to worry Dr Modak. I will solve your problem” He yelled at his assistant or the “compounder” and instructed him for my medicines.

I was given a paper sachet of colorful tablets with 2 x 1 x 2 written on it. The assistant explained the numbers. I listened obediently. “This dose is for 3 days” he said.

“Come back after 3 days and see me. And don’t eat too much spicy food now – at least for the next 2 weeks” He said this patting on my back.

I realized that I would have to miss the wada-pav (bread with a spicy patty) that I used to relish every other day at the street food stall next to my office. Oh, was that the reason?


We sometimes collect too much data just because we have the technology. We rarely connect with the nature to make observations and use our traditional knowledge on “bio-indicators”. They often offer inexpensive, instinctive, participatory and communicative ways to get forewarned and interpret the situation. How many of us for instance observe the movement of frogs around a lake that message about the status of the lake ecosystem? Tribals do not need data from Automated Weather Stations (AWS) to estimate the onset of rain. They watch the movement of insects instead.

Doctors have no time today to converse with patients to understand the “symptoms” or the burgeoning “problem” to diagnose the “root cause” and “hit on the spot”. They talk about possibilities. A lot of expensive data is collected in the process but it often lands into poor diagnostic.

These types of doctors and the “modern” environmental scientists and engineers are no different.

Striking a balance is the key. The stress and disruptions to the environment and our disconnect with nature & traditional knowledge – are making the diagnostic rather difficult.

We seem to be data rich but with a “foggy” understanding – unable to face the world of tomorrow.


Cover image based on

https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-diagnostics-data-numbers-ball-measure-problem-find-solution-image38259320


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My Experience with Three Landmark Reports on Waste Management with UNEP

Why this post?

The subject of waste management is rapidly evolving. National policies and regulations are getting redrafted, strengthened and expanded. Indeed, implementation continues to be the challenge but the interest from the community, entrepreneurs and investors is growing. The term waste is now closely linked to resources and innovation is now recognized as a product of this “union”. Achieving circularity in the material and energy flows using these innovations is imperative towards this planets sustainability. 

In the last decade, I was fortunate to work on three interesting reports brought out by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  This post recounts these reports, describes their genesis and shares some of the findings. Though targeted to policy makers, these reports serve as a great resource to students, research workers and young practioners who are looking forward to making careers in the new era or avatara of waste management.

The Waste Chapter – UNEP Green Economy Project

The financial crisis of 2007–2008, also known as the global financial is considered by many economists as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The housing market suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures, and prolonged unemployment. In particular, as businesses cut production in response to lower aggregate demand, workers were shed in large numbers, sharply increasing unemployment worldwide. This was a time of great depression.

As a consequence, between 2007 and the end of 2009, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of unemployed. Beyond job losses, the quality of employment also deteriorated. Across the globe, many workers who did not lose their jobs were forced to accept reduced working hours as well as lower wages and benefits. In developing countries, a large number of workers lost their jobs in export sectors and were forced into informal and vulnerable employment elsewhere. The situation was further aggravated by austerity measures in most developed economies. The great recession had thus created a global jobs crisis.

It was in the background, UNEP launched the Green Economy project in 2008.  Achim Steiner, then UNEP Executive Director played a crucial role on pushing the Green economy project. The Green economy project was coordinated by UNEP’s office in Geneva.  Do watch Achim in the video below.

The idea of the Green Economy project was to demonstrate that the greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth but rather a new engine of growth.

Green economy was defined as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy was thought of one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. UNEP’s definition of a green economy was influential in the build up to Rio+20.

The report was prepared in three Parts. Part I focused on investing in natural capital and had chapters on Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Forests. Part II delved in Investing in Energy and Resource Efficiency,  Renewable Energy, Manufacturing, Waste, Buildings, Transport,  Tourism and Cities. Parts I and II thus illustrated how greening could be mainstreamed towards economic, environmental and social advantage.

Part III addressed supporting the transition to a global green economy with chapters on Modelling, Enabling Conditions and Finance. Modelling was carried out by the Millennium Institute (MI) from the United States. MI used Threshold 21 (T21) model that was developed after more than 20 years of research and application. The Chapters of Parts I and II provided inputs to T21 and results of T21 were in turn interpreted in the respective Chapters.

Armed with T21, the Green Economy report argued that Green investments will open up and enhance new sectors and technologies that will be the main sources of economic development and growth of the future. Sectors of potential included renewable energy technologies, resource and energy efficient buildings and equipment, low-carbon public transport systems, infrastructure for fuel efficient and clean energy vehicles, and waste management and recycling facilities. Greening was thus mainstreamed in the global economies as an engine of growth to revive the economy after the meltdown.

My company Environmental Management Centre LLP was contracted by UNEP to build the chapter on Waste. I was the Principal Author. We had benefit of five contributing authors representing various regions of the world and with extensive and varied experience in the waste sector. There were peer reviewers appointed as well and a global consultation was performed on the drafts we produced. I remember my colleague Swati Arunprasad had a harrowing time to compile and respond to some 400+ comments/inputs that we received! The Chapter was built over 8 months of painstaking work. I enjoyed interacting with the MI Team when it came to building scenarios or make predictions.

The tone of the Chapter was more on the economics of waste management. The global waste market, from collection to recycling, was estimated at US$ 410 billion a year, not including the sizable informal segment in developing countries. Recycling sector was considered as the main job-provider and attracting investments. The chapter recommended that we establish a global circular economy in which material use and waste generation is minimized, and any unavoidable waste is recycled or remanufactured.  Only remaining waste should be treated in a manner least harmful to the environment and human health, and in a way, that generates new value such as energy recovered from waste. The circularity concept was thus positioned. However, we did not emphasize enough on the aspects of reduce, refurbish, re-manufacture. Probably we had less data, only scant case studies and less experience to make a strong economic, environmental and social case. Unfortunately, this weakness continues even today.

Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO)

Presentation of the Green Economy report and especially the Waste chapter, led to The UNEP Governing Council decision GC 27/12: ‘develop a global outlook of challenges, trends and policies in relation to waste prevention, minimization and management […] to provide guidance for national policy planning’.  In response to this decision, UNEP International Environment Technology Centre (IETC) in Osaka was asked to prepare Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO). International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) joined as the partner.

The GWMO chose to focus primarily on the ‘governance’ issues– including the regulatory and other policy instruments, the partnerships and, crucially, the financing arrangements. Relatively less emphasis was given on the technology. The GWMO was result of two years’ work (by UNEP and ISWA) between 2014-2016 and provided an important and timely status report and call for action to the international community.

David Wilson from the UK was appointed as the Chief Editor of GWMO and I was taken on board as one of the four contributing authors. I had just completed then a Strategic Action Plan for Waste to Resource Management for UNEP. In the situation analyses of the Action Plan, I reviewed some 300 projects and programs of the UN across the world in the arena of waste management and assessed their effectiveness vis-e-vis investments made. This Action Plan was not published – perhaps outcome of this assessment was rather dismal!

During the work on GWMO, team at EMC LLP took the task of developing a “database” on waste generation, waste collection and processing infrastructure across the world. Apart from the waste related data, key “meta data” was also compiled on economic and social parameters. This was quite some sweat, requiring validation as the numbers were often conflicting and my colleagues Shreya Bhatia, Vishwa Trivedi, Tausif Farookhi and Anuja Sarangdhar helped me immensely. This database, now a bit dated, was put in Tableau platform for rapid processing and visualization. I wish I could update this work now. I am looking for researchers/interns to take this up.  Interested?

The GWMO stressed on costs of inaction – the public health and environmental damage costs of uncontrolled disposal and open burning – and cautioned that these costs far exceed the costs of sound waste management. We were hoping that this argument would influence the politicians to allocate more budget for management of waste. Pity that we did not have very many “convincing” case studies.

The GWMO noted that while developed countries have made good progress in increasing recycling rates and stabilizing waste growth –there was still much to be done across the world in making the transition from ‘end-of-pipe’ waste biased linear economy, to a circular economy.  So once again, the need for circularity in material/energy flows in waste management was emphasized.

The report corroborated with findings of the Green Economy report and recommended a steep increase in the level of funding on waste management sector. It came up with targets to consider such as  – achieving 100% collection coverage in all cities with a population more than 1 million. Integrated strategies to simultaneously address sanitation and solid waste management services were emphasized. GWMO urged that producer responsibility programmes should be promoted and monitored to ensure that international companies take more responsibility for waste management associated with their products and wastes in developing countries.  We realized that we were working on inconsistent and incomplete numbers and were many times apologetic. Poor data  was also the experience of one of the well-known reports of the World Bank called “What a Waste?”.  So, a plea was made to improve the availability and reliability of waste and resource related data.

Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO)

The success and experience of GWMO and to respond to requests from countries, UNEP IETC  considered building Regional Waste Management Outlooks. Accordingly, a project on preparation of Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO) was launched in partnership with ISWA. I was appointed as the Chief Editor with contributions from three other authors. UNEPs Regional Resource Center at Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) did the coordination and final production. My students Asha Panwar and Malavika Gopinath from IIT Bombay assisted me.

By then I had realized that the Outlooks and associated reports were getting rather rhetoric. Lot was said before and many a times more. More focused and strategic recommendations were needed. In AWMO, we therefore stressed the importance of developing and promoting Green products and introducing Green Public Procurement as recycling was dominating the understanding of circularity. Since informal waste pickers play a major role in waste management in Asia, sorting centres and materials recovery facilities were recommended providing a safe environment for waste pickers to work. Segregation was stressed as something vital for circularity.

We also realized that the secondary materials industry in Asia is growing rapidly. This sector needed to be factored in the national economies as done in countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. The growth of this industry was important because it provides an alternative to the use of virgin materials, thereby improving resource security and reducing GHG emissions.

To build more consistent data, standardization of definitions of waste streams and waste-related terminologies was recommended while generating inventories, tracking progress and making comparisons. Today, each country “defines” waste differently.

Studies on “costs of inaction” on health, environmental and social impacts of indiscriminate waste disposal were found to be rather scant. In this context, remediation of contaminated dumpsites was suggested as a priority intervention by the national governments. Further, necessity of preparing strategic action plans to address upcoming and challenging waste streams, such as marine litter, mining and disaster waste was also emphasized.

The AWMO, amongst its several recommendations, made following four key suggestions for strategic action

  • Test the effectiveness of economic instruments for effective and sustainable waste management. We realized that Asia lacks this experience.
  • Develop a referral framework assessment of policy equivalence, implementation and tracking of progress to guide national governments. The idea was to attempt a regional harmonization on waste and resource related governance. Material flows that dominate movement of waste and resources through trade are dominating today and are getting skewed due to differentials in pricing and governance.
  • Emphasize holistic or zero waste management addressing waste in all three media (solid, liquid and air). This suggestion came from Surendra Shrestha, then Director of UNEP IETC. Indeed, a needed expansion of the “mandate”, but rather ambitious and difficult to achieve. Needs piloting.
  • Consider development of an Asian Directive on Circular Economy to guide the national governments. I thought this was an important intervention to consider.

The Outlooks are expected to get updated every two to three years. I do hope I get an opportunity to work on the next updates. The experience has been inspirational, enjoyable and with a lot of learning.

Access the Green Economy reports here. Follow link here to access the Outlooks.


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