Vatavaran works on socio-environmental issues through creating simple, replicable models to mitigate problems. One aspect of Vatavaran’s work is managing garbage through the so-called Cleaning Brigade Scheme. The scheme is scientific, employment-generating, and resident-friendly. Cleaning brigades manage solid waste for at least 2.5 million residents in Delhi. The working principle is that since each of us is responsible for creating garbage, it is imperative that we share the responsibility to manage it. It is possible to make each colony a zero-garbage area, and Vatavaran can play a catalyst’s role in that.

At least eight per cent of India’s landmass has become wasteland due to open garbage dumps. These dumps are breeding ground for infectious diseases like plague, cholera, tuberculosis, jaundice, and numerous skin aliments. The unmanaged garbage also leaves behind a spate of civic woes such as logging of sewers and uncontrollable emission of toxic gases.

Cleaning brigades operate along simple and sustainable lines. The garbage is collected from door to door, at a nominal charge of Rs 60 per month per house. The waste collected is segregated. The biodegradable waste is used for making organic compost through the pit system and sold at Rs 5 per kilogram. The non-biodegradable is further segregated into groups such as glass, paper, and plastics, and then sent to recycling industries or to mills that require these for raw material. The money collected through the scheme is distributed back to the workers in the form of pay. The cleaning brigades manage garbage for a maximum number of people without using heavy vehicles, loaders, machines, or plants.

Anaerobic composting is done for residential areas as it does not require any initial investment. Also, it means there are no open dumps or stench, as both vegetarian and non-vegetarian leftovers can be composted. For schools, wormicomposting is preferred because worm pits are popular with students. They study the process of composting in their biology classes and analyse the compost in their chemistry classes.

When residents of a colony contact Vatavaran for launching their cleaning brigade, the quantum and type of garbage produced by the colony is studied. Next, a patch of wasteland within the colony is selected for composting. Local ragpickers and underprivileged, unemployed youth are trained to collect and segregate the garbage.

Before launching of the scheme, the concerned resident welfare association (RWA) is required to send a notification to all the residents of the colony requesting them to join the scheme. Further, the RWA must arrange for an appropriately designed three-wheeler cycle rickshaw for the transportation of garbage. Other responsibilities for the RWA include demarcating wasteland for segregating and composting, providing uniforms to the cleaning brigade, helping the supervisor to collect monthly payment from residents, and monitoring the day-to-day working of the scheme.

Vatavaran has published a report titled ‘Garbage Management: My Experience ‘ by Dr. Iqbal Malik, founder and executive director of Vatavaran. The project has been extensively documented on video cassettes, some of which can be procured from the University Grants Commission, India.

Carry on the solid work
In south Delhi’s residential colonies such as Asiad Village and Vasant Kunj, the waste-management initiative is now being carried forward by the respective RWAs. The compost pits yield high-quality manure that is either sold or used to promote horticultural activities within the colony. Vatavaran has successfully set up cleaning brigades in low-, middle- and high-income residential localities, educational institutes, markets, and resettlement colonies with the help of local communities. Vatavaran has already converted Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and University of Delhi South Campus (UDSC) into zero-garbage areas. It has assisted various colleges and schools in setting up paper, plastic, or waste management programmes.

Vatavaran also studies solid waste situation in railway stations, markets and commercial establishments, hospitals, etc., and recommends changes according to the context. In 1996, a thriving hospital waste market existed behind Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi; its exposure by Vatavaran led to its closing as well as delineation of hospital waste management rules by the Supreme Court.

The organisation has trained 11 Delhi-based NGOs in waste management and monitoring of plastics, metals, glass, rubber, etc. These NGOs are Indcare, Accord, Samarth, Development Alternatives, Navjyoti, Disha, Deepalaya, Concern India, Iffcord, Rotary Eco Foundation, and Inner Wheel.

Vatavaran has twice been conferred with the ‘Best Practices Award’ by United Nations Cell on Human Settlements (UNCHS), in the years 2000 and 2006.