What if there was a superhero whose secret power is to scrap all kinds of wastes from the face of earth. He also possesses the power to convert all the collected waste into useful products like furniture and stationery; the sale of which fetches a huge price. While he is accomplishing this heroic act, he employs a large army of people to assist him, thus providing them with livelihood opportunities. At the end of the mammoth task, our superhero has actually managed to create a clean and safe environment for millions of people living in the neighbourhood.
This superhero is not out of a comic book nor is he a fictional figure from a TV series. In reality, the superhero is actually a CSR initiative of Vodafone by the name of Project ReSolve. Vodafone, with support from SAFE (South Asian Forum for Environment), initiated and implemented Project ReSolve on the three underlying R’s of waste management: Recycle Reuse and Reduce. SAFE is a foundation based in Kolkata that envisages global reciprocal partnership and participatory policy frame for commons to promote sustainable environment development and wise use of natural resources.
The head office of Vodafone is located in DLF building in Kolkata where the head offices of a number of major companies like IBM, Lexmark, JSW, Alibaba and ESPN are situated. With a large number of offices in one building, it was inevitable that massive dumps of wastes were created, which were neither recycled nor disposed properly. Vodafone decided to take the lead and think of an innovative way for managing these wastes. A meeting was held of the admin and HR heads of all the companies and Project ReSolve was born. The mission of the project was to build livelihoods for poor urban youth by solid waste management and recycling, through stakeholder partnership and community participation.
The outline of the programme was sequential and systematic.
STAGE 1: Collection of Wastes
In the first stage, waste was collected from Vodafone circle office and nearby communities. SAFE employed 16 youths who gathered all the wastes at three stipulated pick-up timings i.e. at 7 am, 9 am and 5 pm. This totalled to 18 pick-ups in a week. It was learnt that lack of awareness was a major hurdle in the way of an effective waste management system. So all the people involved, right from the grassroots level like the garbage collectors to the top most level like the employees involved, were educated on the issues of waste management. For a large scale waste collection drive, many people were employed from the community in the form of rag-pickers, recycling workers, project controllers and managers.
STAGE 2: Segregation of Wastes
Vodafone learnt that segregation of waste was the foremost and the most vital step towards a successful waste management system. The primary segregation was done in the stage of accumulation of wastes. For this, waste bins of three different colours were placed in all the offices of the building so that the waste is segregated into solid, wet and other kinds of waste. Wet waste including food items were collected in green bins, paper cups and wrappers were collected in white bins and plastics were collected in the black bins. The secondary round of segregation took place at the recycling unit.
STAGE 3: Processing of Wastes
People also needed to be trained for the final and the most crucial stage which was the processing stage. All the solid waste was taken to an exclusive paper mache unit owned and managed by Vodafone. The papers were shredded into smaller pieces and soaked in water for 3 days. This raw pulp was further mashed into a smooth paste, which was then used to make paper pulp handicraft products like recycled paper, hard-board boxes & register files. A number of women were trained and employed this way equipping them with long-term employment opportunities. All the wet waste was treated through vermicompost. For composting, bulk of wet waste was dumped into a pit for decomposition, and then this waste was taken out of the pit and was put to the main vermicompost pit and mixed with cow dung and organic waste. Lastly, red worms are released, after 50-55 days cycle. Consequently, the wet waste turned into useful and fertile manure for plants. The other kinds of non-biodegradable waste like plastics were disposed through recyclers.
Besides the primary objective of spreading the message of Recycle, Reuse and Reduce; secondary objectives like creation of livelihood opportunities, revenue generation and a clean and safe environment were also achieved. Corporate and community partnership received a big platform to grow. Corporate stakeholders achieved 99% waste segregation at source. The impact of this project was witnessed at multiple levels.
Vodafone learnt that without organized segregation of wastes, the amount of mixed waste generated was 80 percent more than the average amount. The wastes were weighed at the office itself before sending it to the recycling unit. In terms of paper waste, office paper amounted to 15Kg and newspapers weighed about 20Kg. In terms of wet waste, 450 kg of food waste was collected. Other kinds of wastes included 3 kg of aluminium and steel cans, 5 kgs of plastic bottles and containers, 5 kg of glass and 1800-2000 kg of miscellaneous waste.
A double-sided impact was observed in terms of community engagement and environment. The project impact on surrounding community was the livelihood opportunities created for poor slum youths. Through waste management, this segment was coming in a more organized way where the slum poor people could be mainstreamed into the cycle. Paper mache had great potential to take the shape of a medium size enterprise. There was an observed improvement in the quality of environment in the following ways:
Prevention of landfill emission
Saving the wetlands and biodiversity
Prevention further rise of pollution in city
Minimization of contamination in rivers and canals
A large number of employees started involving themselves voluntarily. The employees participated actively in awareness campaigns on waste segregation and in the waste recycling product exhibitions and promotions. They have also worked on the field to encourage and motivate the community and beneficiaries to work towards the project. The most important contribution was setting and maintaining a strict policy within the premises for correct disposal of wastes.
Project ReSolve faced a number of challenges in managing wastes. A great lesson learnt was that for the forthcoming projects, steps had to be taken in the direction of alleviating these issues.
Accidental hazards of collection boys.
Sudden weather variations especially in peak summer and rains.
Proper segregation methods to ensure 100 percent recycling.
Threats from waste mafia nexus
The project turned out to be such a successful initiative that it received support from a number of bodies and organizations. The Urban Municipal Affairs, Government of West Bengal, under Kolkata Urban Services for the Poor is supporting the project now. It has also inspired local bodies to take initiative, for instance, all the urban Municipalities are making a mandate for urban citizens to segregate waste and has partnered with SAFE for creating awareness in Saltlake & Rajarhat area in Kolkata.
So neighbourhood superheroes are a thing of the past. The need of the hour is a superhero who could save the environment in the form of a corporate-community partnership creating livelihood opportunities, generating revenue and managing wastes.