Walk into any railway station around the country, and you are sure to find garbage strewn all around the premises.
As the second biggest railway network in Asia with 4500 stations, which cater to over 30 million commuters every day besides transporting 2.8 million tonnes of freight, it’s no surprise that waste management remains a serious concern for the Indian Railways.
However, the New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS) is showing the way forward when it comes to waste management.
Working alongside the Safai Sena, it has adopted simple waste management strategies of composting, recycling and garbage reduction strategies.
For the uninitiated, the Safai Sena is a registered association of waste pickers, doorstep waste collectors, itinerant and other small buyers, small junk dealers, and other types of recyclers.
They have also teamed up with Chintan, a non-profit aiming to minimise the waste that ends up giant landfills in and around the city.
“The project started in 2010 as a public-private partnership between Northern Railways and waste pickers from the informal sector. It’s a win-win scenario for the NDLS since waste pickers collect all the waste from trains that have catering, and from dustbins,” says Chitra Mukherjee, Head, Advocacy and Policy at Chintan, in a conversation with The Better India.
Once a train arrives at a platform and parks for a few minutes, waste pickers from the Safai Sena are expected to collect all the trash, clean and empty the dustbins of platforms before they begin to overflow and line them up with a garbage bags at all times. Waste is taken to a material recovery facility at the station where it is segregated into different categories and sent for recycling.
Here are five things other railway stations can learn from the NDLS:
1) Train and incentivise waste pickers to distinguish between wet and dry waste.
For every material that is successfully recycled or sold, workers at the Safai Sena earn a share of the revenue. This model incentivises them to segregate all the waste they gather.
According to the Secretary of the Safai Sena, Jai Prakash Choudhary the association collects revenue running into lakhs every month from all four railway stations in the national capital (Anand Vihar, Nizamuddin and Old Delhi). Revenue earned from this venture goes into paying wastepickers and also buying necessary protective gear for them.
2) Establish a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) equipped to handle both dry and wet waste.
In New Delhi, the MRF is run by the Safai Sena with assistance from Chintan, which set it up and now ensures quality control and monitoring. Here the waste is segregated into 12 different categories before it is sent for recycling purposes.
“The uneaten rotis, 10-12 kgs/day, are fed to cows. Feeding is undertaken as a priority over composting, as it is better utilised. Only waste that cannot be treated, such as chicken gravy or plastic bags containing filthy items are taken away to the landfills,” says the book ‘State of Waste in India: Eighteen Years after the First National Rules’ published by the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.
3) Compost wet waste using Organic Waste Composter and aerobic pit compositing.
Compost is a rich source of organic matter, which plays an important role in sustaining soil fertility. Wet food waste is also composted in situ, and over 500 kgs/month of compost is given free to the railways.
4) Recycle other waste material like Tetra-packs, tissue paper. There is also a directive to ensure that these items are dismantled to prevent reuse and protect passenger health.
5) Collect data, maintain it under close scrutiny and submit quarterly reports. This step allows the Safai Sena and Chintan to keep track of all their activities.
“As a result, the Railways have been able to ensure that out of the four tons of total waste collected per day at the NDLS, over 3.25 tons of waste is recycled; 2.5 tons is dry waste, and 0.75 tons is wet waste which is composted in situ,” says the book.
“Over four tonnes of waste are diverted every day from landfills through dry waste recycling and wet waste composting. It’s a non-financial transaction between Safai Sena and NDRS. Further it is self-sustainable, provides safe, secure and stable livelihoods to over 100 informal waste pickers. It also proves that the NDLS can take care of its waste in a sustainable manner which is scalable and replicable,” says Chitra Mukherjee, speaking to The Better India.
Yes, the NDLS isn’t the cleanest railway station, but thanks to the intervention of the Safai Sena and non-profits like Chintan, the situation on the ground has not merely witnessed discernible progress but also ensured that all the waste generated isn’t thrown away.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)