Happy #GlobalRecyclingDay y’all! Thought we’d share some updates from our community-based waste management project in Delhi, hoping it will serve as a respite from the worrying news inundating our media feeds.

East Delhi, where we’re working on a Govt-led waste management project is very densely populated. With over 38,000 residents per square kilometer the municipal council is no doubt overwhelmed as the waste keeps piling on at the Ghazipur Landfill . We were driven up this pile two weeks ago and experienced the shocking reality of this manmade mountain! Thousands of tons a day are added to this pile with the waste not having any other place to go!


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To understand what is actually happening with waste that comes out of households, we have spoken to everyone in the value chain. Literally EVERY SINGLE ACTOR in the Waste Value Chain in the area!! Below is a conversation we had with a waste worker who does back breaking work to pull out as much stuff that’s of value from the pile as she can. The rest is sent to Ghazipur…




Since the waste streams are so thoroughly mixed with each other, it has been a major challenge to map what comes from where, in what volumes and where it ends up.



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Looking at such piles on road sides on overflowing waste bins always makes us wonder why we don’t hold consumer product companies that must litter this MUCH to sell their product, to be forced to take back every single of these packages and dispose them responsibly as part of their Extended Producer Responsibility!

But we suppose the lobbies are too great, the economies of scale converting crude to packaging too affordable and customer demand for “hygienic” packaged items too great to arrive there just yet.. anyhoo…







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SO, we have begun the process of mapping different waste streams in this area to see if we can help divert them at source, and provide incentives to people to upcycle/recycle them responsibly.

But getting people to agree to the need to solve the waste issue is one thing, to get them to actually change their daily habits, is a gigantic conundrum that even the most sophisticated behavior change experts have a hard time navigating!

I mean can you really stop this person from throwing his waste into a pile already overflowing with garbage?!

To demonstrate how we could tackle this one waste stream at a time, we began a conversation at local temples. Lovely Marigold flowers and other organic waste (fruits etc) offered as ritual end up in garbage piles everyday!!!








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Why not reuse/recycle/redirect these and reduce the waste burden on Ghazipur!! No one picks these out and reuses them once they’re mixed with waste! There are some wonderful companies that are recycling temple waste into objects of daily use but companies like Phool require large volumes to justify the high transaction costs associated with drop-offs. How do we address the waste locally at the temples that are space constrained and labor starved?

So we found a wonderful and simple solution. A set of pre-fabricated rotating tumblers that can convert 300 Kgs of temple waste into beautiful, healthy compost within 2 months! And believe it or not a small temple can easily generate this much organic waste!! So we approached a temple. The priest listened and so did the community, and things came together quickly for us to install a community-led composting tumbler set that converts 300kgs of waste into beautiful, healthy compost!


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Everything was set to go – we were ready to install when suddenly, the area we were working in broke into violence! Everything stopped for two weeks and then the priest changed his mind. We could no longer install at this temple! We were quite disappointed! It had taken months to get here- endless community meetings, presentations, Q&As, technology demos, waste mapping, field trips… all coming to a grinding halt and we could do nothing to change their minds.

Well we knocked many more doors and finally, we installed the composting unit at a nearby temple. We were thrilled to see how excited residents were to see this happen and how willing to volunteer! And to see the smiling faces of my teammates at Vertiver who’ve worked tirelessly to make this beginning was the clincher!


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60% of HH waste is organic waste from kitchens and there’s no reason it should end up in landfills! Solving urban waste requires as many interventions such as these as possible, at the neighborhood level, at the household level etc. We will soon be training in this neighborhood to create their compost at home (Our workshop today was sadly cancelled…) and our joined by local residents such as this lady who’s such an inspiration! (For those who don’t speak hindi, now’s a good time to test out Google AI engine for this! 🙂




As we slowly uncover this mountain of a problem, we’re more than happy to celebrate these small successes.

And on a personal note –  when I lived in New York City, 15 years ago, I remember trying to create a Composting Committee in our building. It took (Not exaggerating!!) three whole years, for the residents to agree on meeting together to create a system to separate organic waste and send it for compost for the under-development gardens on the Lower East Side shorefront. So it’s not entirely a shock that the journey to implement small solutions and rally people to accept them is slow and arduous, but meeting residents(especially WOMEN!) and seeing how much they are willing to volunteer and contribute to the solution, makes me hopeful that we can turn this ship around 🙂

Happy Social Distancing and Chilling at Home. Perhaps it’s time to make that compost!! 🙂