Where a dumping ground is a tourist attraction!

A half-hour drive from Goa, the small municipality of Vengurla is recycling 7 tonnes of waste generated daily and earning money from plastic sold to contractors for road-building in nearby areas.

It’s not every day that you hear of a municipal waste dumping ground that is a tourist attraction. But in Vengurla taluka, a half-hour drive from India’s tourist hub of Goa, it isn’t just the pristine beaches that are drawing people.

In 2017 so far, the municipal waste dumping ground, where every piece of waste is recycled, has received 7,000 visitors. They’re travelling to see how the small municipality is recycling 7 tonnes of waste generated each day and transforming their community. It is earning a hefty income, which is being ploughed back into municipal activities.

In 2015, under the watchful eye of Ramdas Kokare, the chief officer of Vengurla municipality, the hamlet began a process of transforming how it dealt with its waste. The municipal council began segregating waste at source. Plastic bags were banned, and door-to-door campaigns urged households to begin separating their waste, teaching them how. Today, two years later, all 3,000 households separate waste in up to four different coloured bins. Municipal collectors pick up waste six days a week and transport it to the municipal dumping ground.

At the waste collection centre, you’re greeted by lush green gardens (using organic fertilizer generated at the ground itself), behind which are smaller areas where different types of waste are neatly stored. Here, 20 municipal workers painstakingly segregate waste into 23 different categories. Wet waste is used to generate biogas, producing 30 units of electricity per tonne, which powers all the different types of machines used here.

One of the machines powered by the biogas is a plastic shredding machine, provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The machine crushes up to 180 kg of light plastic every day. This waste plastic has been a boon for road building. When used with bitumen, shredded plastic is effective in helping build sturdier roads. The plastic binds together the bitumen better, ensuring roads are able to withstand more wear and tear. These roads offer greater resistance to inclement weather, and reduce costs. A one kilometre stretch of road can use upto 1 tonne of plastic or 1 million carry bags, and save INR 10,000 per stretch. Two years later, Vengurla has 12 km of “plastic” roads and earns INR 15 per kg of plastic sold to contractors for road-building in nearby areas.

Virtually every other type of waste is also recycled. A briquette machine helps process dry waste such as cloth, paper, cardboard into briquettes, which are sold to nearby industries as alternate fuels for boilers. Heavy plastic is sold to cement factories where it is melted at 3000 degrees Celsius. The municipal council found considerable support in the private sector with banks and insurance companies in the area chipping in to replace plastic with cloth carry bags, and providing waste collecting vehicles.

“Waste is not a problem,” says Kokare. “It’s mixed waste that is the challenge,” he adds. Vengurla has demonstrated that managing waste can be good business. Each month, the municipality earns INR 150,000 (US$ 2,300), which is used to improve solid waste management systems in the village. Kokare says, “If we don’t effectively manage waste generated in our area, it will follow us everywhere – in the soil, in the air, and in the seas that sustain us.”

As the country steps up efforts to Clean Indiainitiatives such as those in Vengurla are demonstrating that a combination of awareness, innovation and partnerships can go a long way in transforming waste to wealth.

[This story was first published on the website of UNDP India and the original post can be read here.]

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