Christine Furedy

B. A. (Doubles Honours) University of Sydney
D. Phil. (African and Asian Studies) University of Sussex



Workshop on "The Waste Economy" Sponsored by National Institute for Scientific and Technical Forecasting and Strategy Studies, Hanoi; University of Toronto; International Development Research Centre, Ottawa Hanoi, August 22-25, 1994


Dr. Christine Furedy
Urban Studies Programme, York University
North York, Ontario



To provide background for future research and policy discussions, this paper explores some issues of residential solid wastes that are currently being debated in major Asian cities. I have selected issues from recent projects and meetings on solid waste management (SWM) in Asia. I emphasize the relations of "informal" waste management to conventional municipal solid waste management (MSWM), because an important change is taking place in the thinking about urban waste management worldwide: a shift from techno-managerial approaches to integrated plans that recognize the importance of socio-cultural factors in SWM (Furedy, 1989a; Furedy, 1992). The role of everyday behaviour in waste generation and waste reduction is now seen as central to solving problems associated with increasing wastes and the costs of their disposal. The paper includes appendices on a case study of Bangalore, and the agri-aquaculture system of Calcutta.

The Waste Economy

Professors Whitney and White use the phrase "the waste economy" to emphasize that wastes arise from the processes of extraction, production and consumption of materials and goods; waste management must be understood in the context of the socioeconomic system (Whitney, 1991; White & Whitney, 1992, pp. 23-24). In resource-scarce societies where people can start small industries and enterprises easily and many people are willing to do "dirty" work for low returns (capitalist), or where the state organizes recycling enterprises (communist), the unused resources of the production-consumption cycles are extensively recovered (see Appendix II).

The resources referred to here are diverse: almost any material can be used. There are the common metals, glass and ceramics, textiles, paper and cardboard, leather, rubber, wood and construction wastes, items like batteries, and also hair, oils, food and garden wastes, and human excreta (the last two being used as animal feed, in agriculture, or as a nutrient in fish ponds).

We can include in the general concept of "recovery" the extensive reuse of products, often after repair and refurbishing, such as machines, furniture, clothes and household tools. (Repair of all types of consumer and commercial/industrial goods is an obvious effect of the need for resource conservation). If we could give a comprehensive account of the waste recovery and recycling (WRR) systems of Asian cities, I believe we would find that 75-95% of all wastes or potential wastes are absorbed in the urban and peri-urban regions.

The main categories of the recyclables are:

  • postconsumer "dry" materials;
  • organic wastes (fruit, vegetable and meat trimmings and bones, cooked leftovers, garden and park or street vegetation trimmings);
  • inert residues (dirt, ashes);
  • construction wastes;
  • human excreta (dry or in sewage waters) and wastewaters.

There is a close relationship between the thoroughness of WRR of the manufactured materials (sometimes called "dry wastes") and the potential to use the remaining organic and inert ones. In cities where there is intensive agriculture in the urban area or close by, the minimization of postconsumer dry materials allows the organic/inert fraction to be readily composted or even applied directly to the soil. Dump sites can be converted to vegetable farms, as at Calcutta's Dhapa dump (see Appendix III). In addition, food wastes are fed to animals and organics are used as fuel. Composted plant material can also be added to fish ponds for nutrient. Organics can be converted to fuel (Lardinois & van de Klundert, 1993). Where both synthetics and organics are reused, the residues (largely dirt, ash, drain silts) can be used to reclaim low land (Smit and Nasr, 1992; Lardinois and van de Klundert, 1993).

Waste recovery and recycling not only serve production cycles but enable very poor people to meet some of their basic needs without purchasing products. For instance, people gather wood, sawdust, coal cinders and animal dung for fuel or construction wastes to repair housing (Furedy, 1991).

The modes and degrees of recovery vary with the socioeconomic system. These factors are especially important:

  • materials scarcity or cost;
  • the standard and style of living of consumers;
  • the existence of social groups associated with waste work; the numbers of rural migrants seeking work; the numbers of street people;
  • the diversity of industry;
  • the capacity to trade materials beyond the local economy;
  • the existence of intensive farming in peri-urban areas;
  • the technology and efficiency of the official waste collection and disposal system;
  • the policies of local authorities towards, for instance, street people or municipal workers.

The recovery and trading modes of the waste economy include:

  • exchange of used goods among households; donation of goods to charities;

  • waste picking from dumps, garbage transfer points, garbage trucks (by the collection crews) and streets;

  • sale or barter of materials by households, shops, institutions, offices, municipal workers, etc. to itinerant buyers, small dealers, or farmers (food wastes, organics);
  • trading of materials through a hierarchy of dealers and agents to reach the reuse/recycling enterprises;
  • waste exchange and trading among factories;
  • large-scale industrial/construction scrap trading (including auctioning);
  • export of surplus materials for recycling elsewhere; the import of waste materials.
  • small-scale composting and the sale of organic wastes
  • capture of wastewaters for fish farming (see Appendix III).

The noncommunist countries where the most complex systems of WRR exist are low-to-middle income ones with diverse industries such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt and Thailand. China exemplifies a state-organized WRR system. Even there, the informal forms of recovery and trading persist in smaller cities. They are increasing in the larger ones with the dismantling of components of the communist economic system (cf. Furedy, 1990b; Yang & Furedy, 1993). Vietnam also has a mix of state procurement, private enterprise, and traditional household reuse/recycling (Digregorio, 1993).

Conventional and Informal Waste Management

Taking this "systems" view, one can argue that urban "waste management" consists of much more than the regulations put in place by national, state or local government authorities. We can call these latter regulations and their implementation the "conventional" or "municipal" system of waste management (MSWM). With respect to municipal solid wastes (MSW), the conventional system deals with the storage, collection, transportation and disposal of wastes designated as the responsibility of the municipal authorities (or firms under contract to them).

But in many cities, the municipal and contracted system only handles a minor fraction of the potential wastes1 generated by industries, shops, institutions, hospitals, parks, construction works, and households, etc. In many Asian cities, more wastes (including potential wastes) are "taken care of" outside of the municipal garbage system, "informally," than by the local authorities. The traditional Asian city was "waste absorbing," and the informal practices of waste management have their origins in the exploitation of wastes as resources (cf. White and Whitney, 1992. p 23; Whitney, 1991; Digregorio, 1993).

An Integrated Understanding

If waste management is to be a part of sustainable environmental management, it is important to recognize and understand the full range of ways in which wastes are recovered and used. Enhancement of waste recycling saves resources, the purchase of raw materials with foreign exchange, and reduces the costs of final disposal of residues. Cheaper goods can be produced, which helps low-income households; jobs are created (Vogler, 1984; Cointreau et. al., 1984). The agri-aquacultural use of uncontaminated organics and human wastes helps to ameliorate the damage to local ecosystems by urbanization (see Edwards & Pullin, 1990).

The issues, however, go beyond the environment and the economy because we must understand attitudes towards people who work with wastes, their health and public health. In most Asian societies there is an inherent tension between thorough waste recovery in pursuit of economic gain (with the environmental benefits of resource savings and waste minimization) and the status and welfare of the lowest level workers of the WRR system. Since in large cities we estimate that at least one to two percent of the workforce is engaged in WRR, working conditions in these jobs are important for public health and social justice.

Furthermore, the main cities of developing countries are seeking, usually through international and bilateral aid programs, assistance in modernizing their MSWM systems. Very often aid is given for "hardware" --machines and equipment designed in developed countries. Managerial changes such as privatisation are recommended. Western models of waste minimization and recycling are also now being promoted (e.g., waste-to-energy incinerators or pelletization plants). Rarely do the providers international advice and assistance consider the existing traditions of WRR in the developing country. A major factor in the failure of many projects since the 1970s (e.g., complicated composting plants, waste-to-energy and pelletization plants) has been ignorance of local practices of waste recovery and trading. As a result, engineers have miscalculated the composition of waste streams and recommended inappropriate techniques.

Better technology and management choices in both SWM and recycling industries depend upon a more comprehensive understanding of the existing patterns of WRR.


Trends encouraging changes in the philosophy of SWM

In the last five years or so meetings and research projects have promoted an integrated approach to waste management--one that brings together managerial, technocratic, environmental and social concerns (see Appendix I). This workshop is a contribution to this international trend. Here I mention some factors influencing this trend, note the "stakeholders" who are engaging in debate, list some main issues, and summarize suggested answers. The emphasis is upon issues of the informal activities in MSWM.

Until a few years ago there was very little discussion of these topics. Debate is beginning stimulated because:

  • conventional approaches to MSWM have become unsustainable in many cities: a significant portion of wastes generated cannot be collected regularly, while dumping space is hard to acquire or too far away;

  • waste picking is increasing in large cities as more valuable materials are consumed and recycling industries proliferate; technical changes in MSWM are encouraging dump picking;

  • the direct buying of separated recyclables is declining in some countries (e.g., most Latin American ones, Indonesia, Philippines);

  • the public is more aware of the risks associated with poor waste management; various types of citizens' groups are willing to take up waste issues;

  • solid waste management is being influenced by developments in other urban services (e.g., sanitation, housing) which coordinate official, private and community-based activities for maximum progress in meeting basic needs (Furedy, 1990a, pp. 15-16);

  • waste reduction and recycling are now internationally accepted as the basic principles in all waste management.;

Stakeholders in SWM

Before setting out the issues, I should explain who are the "actors" or "stakeholders" speaking out on these issues (Furedy and Shivakumar, 1990b).

Recently social researchers, social activists in volunteer organizations, international development advisors, and some concerned citizens have begun to discuss the social aspects of SWM. Social activists in organizations devoted to the welfare of street people (especially children) discuss how municipal policies and procedures affect poor families who depend upon waste recovery and recycling. Citizens' environmental organizations have become interested in community-based solutions to poor solid waste services. In some countries, informal waste workers themselves organize to express their views on particular issues (for example, Indonesian waste pickers protested the import of waste plastics in 1992-3). Those in charge of SWM are preoccupied with the tasks of collection, transportation and disposal, but increasing solid waste problems are making urban managers more open to solutions based on public-private partnerships (Fernandez, 1993).

Primary Questions

I. How will more urbanization and modernization affect waste generation, informal waste recovery and recycling?

The effects are paradoxical in that urbanization and modernization result in greater waste production, which supplies more materials for recycling industries. At the same time, zoning regulations, higher land values, controls on bicycle carts and hand carts, traffic flow controls, etc. impede the operations of itinerant waste buyers (IWBs) and displace pavement or neighbourhood waste shops and recycling industries. The more distant are the depots, industries, and farms from sources of recyclables, the greater the trading costs, so that materials of little value become uneconomical to recover (e.g., small plastic bags, rags, broken glass). Some modernizing city managers consider that pickers, buyers and traders are bad for the city's image and harasses or restrict their operations. Increased concern for public health may lead to the banning of pig and poultry farming near to cities, so that food wastes cannot be used as feed.

As incomes rise, household habits of separating and selling materials may decline unless there are lowly-paid servants who are interested in the materials, or there are campaigns to encourage separation.

II. What are the implications of technology change in MSWM for current resource recovery?

When wastes are not left in open piles or bins, and are picked up efficiently, there is less chance for waste pickers to retrieve recyclables. Containerization and hydraulic compaction make recyclables less accessible to pickers and garbage crews, as well as damaging the materials extensively (Furedy 1990a). When more recyclables are transported to dump sites, waste pickers must go there. At dumps they suffer far greater health risks than on streets and the field staff regard them as interfering with dumping operations.

The introduction of mechanical sorting plants, incinerators and pelletization plants (to make fuel from solid wastes) discourages source separation and the sale of materials, thus decreasing informal waste work. Privatisation of collection may reduce waste recovery because private companies usually forbid crews to retrieve and trade materials.

III. What should municipal authorities do about the "informal" activities related to waste recovery, trading and recycling? Should waste picking be controlled? Should there be some form of "integration" of informal recovery with the city's collection-transportation-disposal system? What are the approaches recommended?

Although there are municipal regulations that can be used to control informal WRR, most authorities tolerate these operations. The police, however, usually extract bribes from waste pickers, itinerant buyers and unlicensed traders. Many cities wish to control picking by licensing and limiting the numbers and by forbidding children to pick
Voluntary social organizations object to controls that add to the harassment of poor street people. Recently, social organizations in Indonesia, India, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, the Philippines, South Korea, and other countries, have argued that waste pickers and itinerant buyers contribute to the economy and reduce the quantities of wastes requiring disposal. Waste pickers are being organized into "unions" or "cooperatives" and requests are made to recognize their role in MSWM (Rodriguez, 1993; Raman, 1993). The requests are to allow them access to recyclables within the city (at transfer points with designed picking areas) or at dump sites, to give sanitation facilities, and schooling for their children.

Special "waste processing zones" where pickers and itinerant buyers can live and sort or process materials to increase their earnings with better working conditions have been suggested. Another idea is to "promote" pickers to be the door-to-door collectors of separated wastes, with households paying a fee for this service. The collectors can trade the recyclables for extra income, and the organics can be taken for small-scale local composting (Rosario, 1992; Raman, 1994).

Some social organizations, however, do not wish to see waste picking institutionalized: their approach is to help pickers to gain alternate skills, to enable them to stop picking. (Raman, 1994, p.R-63). (The problem in this approach is that for every waste picker transferred to other work, there is a new jobless person ready to step into his or her place. Redeployment of a few individuals does not alter the structure of waste recovery in the city). Others recommend acceptance of waste picking but efforts to reduce the time that migrants to the cities spend at this work (Indrayana and Silas, 1993).

IV. What are the strengths and handicaps of the informal waste economy? What are the status implications for those who do the dirtiest work of picking out recyclables from mixed wastes? Are there health problems related to the reuse of products such as containers, bottles, clothes? Will control of the problems reduce WRR?

The informal economy allows for very thorough recovery of resources, but is associated with poor health and degraded status for the primary workers in many cities (Cointreau, 1982; Lardinois & van de Klundert, 1993). There is no easy way to make picking from mixed wastes healthy. The use of picks, thongs, gloves and boots offers some protection from cuts and exposure to pathogens. Dump picking is more unhealthy than street picking (but the trend to eliminate street picking in most modernizing cities is increasing dump picking). Furthermore, exploitative control gangs often arise when there are many pickers at dumps.

In South Asian countries, where particular subgroups are traditionally associated with waste work, it is very difficult for these workers to change their status (for instance, from waste picking to itinerant buying or shopkeeping). They suffer severe social stigma. The lowest level workers in waste recovery may earn very low returns, particularly women and children (see Huysman, 1994; Furedy, 1991). They provide the labour cushion that allows the recycling system to survive market fluctuations, and so must find other work during the heavy rains or when demand for certain materials declines.

The small and medium dealers in the traditional recovery and trading hierarchies, although often regarded as exploiters of pickers and itinerant buyers, may provide a degree of job security and other benefits such as small loans, medical help, gifts at festivals, etc. (Furedy, 1994b; Huysman, 1993).

There are many difficulties and hazards associated with waste trading and recycling (Lardinois and van de Klundert, 1994). Much recycling is carried out in unregistered, cramped, and unsafe workplaces lacking sanitary facilities. Of concern for public health is the reuse, for food and drink packaging, of containers that held toxic chemicals.

V. How should the city system promote and support source separation or waste reduction? Should existing traditional practices be supported, or should "Northern" models of separation and reduction be adopted?

Source separation is now considered the most efficient and rational means of organizing wastes for recycling, and waste reduction and source separation have become key principles in modern waste management world- wide. However, the approaches adopted in Northern cities3 are costly; they require much investment in public education, negotiations with industry, and new, enforceable waste laws. Attempts to institute complex recovery systems that bypassed the functioning traditional system, have failed, for instance in Manila in the early 1980s (Furedy, 1990a. pp. 25-26) and more recently the Shah Alam project in Malaysia (Ogawa, 1993).

Social scientists argue that developing countries should first consider enhancing the existing systems of separation, waste trading and recycling, promoting employment in these sectors, before considering elaborate Northern models (see Furedy, 1989a and 1989b; White and Whitney, 1992; Mougeot and Masse, 1993; Lardinois and van de Klundert, 1993; Bushra, 1993).

In the industrial sphere, however, many enterprises in developing countries can benefit from new techniques such as waste audits, life cycle analyses of products, and low waste technologies (as suggested by Professor Maclaren in her paper for this workshop). Each industry needs to examine its production processes; "across the board" recommendations are difficult to make. The methods of these studies should not be borrowed wholesale from Northern methods, but based on the actual practices in the developing country.

VI. If quantities of uncontaminated organics are available due to good source separation, or removal of synthetic materials near to source, can composting urban solid wastes be significant in waste reduction? Can decentralized composting reduce garbage transport costs and dumpland requirements, and be economically viable? Or should small-scale composting be subsidized as a form of waste treatment?

If there are few nondegradable materials in urban solid wastes, there is a good potential to use composting or vermicomposting as a waste treatment (Smit and Nasr, 1992; Lardinois and van de Klundert, 1994). The high proportion of organics in the waste streams of many tropical cities makes composting the most appropriate means of waste treatment. However, many municipal schemes for composting have failed because they were based on elaborate plants while proper market assessments were not carried out. There is now interest in helping neighbourhood groups and private enterprise tp experiment with small-scale, decentralized composting (or anaerobic digestion of wastes) to reduce transport costs. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements is currently undertaking demonstration projects in 10 cities in the major developing regions (see Appendix I). In several Indian cities community groups are producing vermicompost (worm castings) because this product fetches a higher price than compost. Much more attention is being given to developing uses and markets for compost from urban solid wastes (Indonesia's Recycling Forum is addressing this issue). Cities like Hanoi and Calcutta that have integrated agri-aquaculture farms can use compost in both soil and fishponds (see Appendix III).

To be viable, however, it is likely that solid waste departments may have to support decentralized composting with their savings in transport and dumping costs. So far no solid waste department has agreed to such subsidization.

Further issues

Besides the above questions, there is also discussion of topics such as:

  • Will increasing contamination of materials, organic wastes and waste waters significantly limit recycling and reuse? (This is particularly relevant for composting and waste water aquaculture).

  • How can environmental education best be carried out? What are appropriate roles for non-governmental organizations and government?

  • Who are the major "stakeholders" in the MSWM system, including the "informal" actors and how can they be brought together to support WRR?

  • How can organization and regulation at the national level support local behaviours, community efforts, and municipal regulations?

  • How will the importation of recyclable wastes from developed countries affect local WRR? Will the GATT make it more difficult for countries to control waste imports?

Michael Digregorio, in his master's research at the University of Hawaii (Digregorio, 1993), has explored for Hanoi a number of the issues mentioned above.

Conflicting values and principles

The above summary of issues does not reveal the degree of disagreement that may arise when cities seek solutions to solid waste problems that are socially-sensitive while protecting public health. There are some obvious tensions. For instance, as mentioned before, the quicker and more "contained" the storage and collection of solid wastes, the less access pickers or municipal workers have to resources under conditions safer than dump picking (Furedy, 1990a). Thus, changes made in the interests of improving the efficiency of official waste management that may inhibit waste recovery. Small improvements in waste collection might lead to greater waste in the urban system as a whole; greater waste is often inevitable in protecting health.

Another conflict of interest occurs when recycling industries welcome the import of good quality waste paper, plastics and other materials; such imports displace itinerant buyers and other workers and decrease source separation in the developing countries.

As the principal stakeholders in SWM come together for policy making, one can anticipate more intense debate over management, technology and social concerns. "Stakeholder forums" of various kinds, are, however, a means of reaching rational and equitable compromises among the various interests of the waste economy (Furedy 1990b; Fernandez, 1993). Foreign advisors and business people must also develop an awareness of these complex issues, if they are to avoid giving inappropriate advice.


For more comprehensive waste management, Vietnam will need to consider national planning in relation to waste production (and also waste imports) but at the city level integrated planning will be improved if researchers and urban managers can:

  1. Examine how current practices that contribute to waste reduction/recovery/reuse/recycling can be protected and enhanced;

  2. Reduce the health risks in informal recovery and recycling;

  3. Consider socio-cultural factors in technology choice;

  4. Design environmental education to encourage behaviours that will help all aspects of waste reduction.


1. "Potential wastes" are materials that, if they are not reused or recycled, will be discarded as wastes to be collected and disposed of by the city authorities. Many materials that were once reused in Northern cities are now discarded. (For instance, rags once used in paper making and mop-making are now thrown out. Most rags are not yet wastes in countries like China, India and Vietnam because they are recovered and recycled). In view of the fact that most reuseable/recyclable items are not discarded in such countries, and much of the organic waste is later used in farming, we can conclude that the city has ultimately to dispose of only a fraction of all the wastes and potential wastes in the urban system. No estimates have ever been made of the total quantities of potential wastes for any city.

2. Very often the developing country is given this argument for getting an inappropriate pilot plant for some kind of waste management: "your society will inevitably go the route of the Western world in consumerism, so your wastes will soon be like ours; therefore, your engineers need training on machines like ours." This argument ignores attempts to revive frugal habits and traditions of separating wastes for recycling. Sometimes the developing country seeking aid makes this argument, as when Beijing persuaded Japan to donate the city an incinerator.

3. The meanings of these terms are: kerbside pickup of separated materials: municipal department or subcontractor collects from each house or apartment block recyclables placed in special box; dedicated bins in public places and workplaces: separate bins for cans, plastic bottles, glass bottles, etc.; materials drop-off centres: depots where people bring recyclables - usually donated, not sold; buy-back product rules: product carries a cash deposit which retailer or government agency refunds when consumer returns the packaging; subsidized backyard and community composting: city or state sells cheaply or provides free compost bins for use in gardens; grants are provided to support composting schemes at designated sites (smaller and simpler than large compost plants).


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Recent Meetings and Projects Incorporating Socio-Cultural Aspects of MSWM

ESCAP-CITYNET: Project on Waste Recycling in Five Asian Cities.
Contact: Adnam Aliani, Industry and Human Settlements Division. UN Building, Rajdamnern Avenue, Bangkok, Thailand 10200.

GLOBAL FORUM '94 (Manchester, June 1994): Workshop on "Sustainable Cities" included sessions on informal waste recovery and recycling, and solid waste management in developing countries.
Contact: David Satterthwaite, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh St, London WC1H ODD, United Kingdom of Great Britain.

GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technishe Zusammenarbeit) and Solid Waste Management and Resource Mobilization Centre, Kathmandu: Sponsored workshop on "Solid Waste Management and Resource Mobilization," Kathmandu, Oct. 1990. Papers available on request.
Contact: Director, SWMRMC, Box 1044, Teku, Kathmandu.

International Reference Centre for Waste Disposal: "Community-based Solid Waste Collection in Developing Countries."
Contact: Dr. Roland Schertenleib or Werner Meyer. IRCWD-EAWAG, CH-8600 Duebendorf, Switzerland. Fax: 41-1-823-5018.

NGO Forum (Earth Summit, Rio de Janiero, 1992). Passed "Social Movements' Waste Treaty."

UNCHS/HABITAT (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements): Project on "Small-scale Composting and Digestion of Urban Solid Wastes."
Contact: Dr. Graham Alabaster, RDD/BITS, UNCHS, Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya.

United Nations Centre for Regional Development: Project on "Managing Solid Wastes in the Context of Metropolitan Development and Management in Asia".
Contact: Dr. A. Fernandez. UNCRD, Nagono 1-47-1, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya 450, Japan.
Fax: 52-561-9374

University of Amsterdam, Department of Social Geography: Project on "Linkages in Urban Solid Waste Management" (three South Indian cities).
Sponsored workshop with Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology, Bangalore, April 1994. Proceedings in press.
Contact: Dr. Isa Baud, Dept. Social Geography, Univ. Amsterdam, Nieuwe Prinsengracht 130, 1018 VZ Amsterdam, Netherlands.

University of Cardiff, Wales: Symposium on "Planning for Sustainable Urban Development," July 1992. Some unpublished papers available on request.
Contact: Dr. Carole Rakodi, Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Urban Agriculture Network: Project on "Urban Agriculture in Developing Countries."
Contact: Jac Smit, UAN, 1711 Lamont St NW, Washington, D. C., U.S.A. 20010.

WASTE Consultants: Projects on "Options for Small Scale Resource Recovery," and "Waste Recycling in Nairobi."
Contact: Arnold van der Klundert, 38F Crabethstrasse, 2801 AN Gouda, Netherlands.

WEDC (Water, Environment and Development Centre, University of Loughborough, England): Conference in Colombo, August 1994 to include panel on community-based options in recycling.
Contact: Dr. Adrian Coad, WEDC, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, United Kingdom of Great Britain.

WHO/PEPAS, Kuala Lumpur: Sponsored workshop on ""Resource Recovery and Recycling from Municipal Solid Wastes in Asia & Pacific," Dec. 1991. Countries represented: Brunei; China, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam. Runs SWMNET: Information exchange network on solid waste management.
Contact: Dr. Higashi Ogawa. P. O. Box 12550, 50782 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

WHO/SEARO,New Delhi: "National Strategies for Solid Waste Management." Informal consultation meeting, Oct. 1991.
Contact: Mr. Hirano, Promotion of Environmental Health, WHO/SEARO, World Health House, New Delhi 110 001, India.


ASEP News: Published by Asian Society for Environmental Protection

Contact: Editor, ASEP News, c/o CDG/SEAPO, Asian Institute of Technology, Box 2754, Bangkok 10501, Thailand.

ENFO: Newsletter of Environmental Systems Information Centre.

Contact: ENSIC, Asian Institute of Technology, Box 2754, Bangkok 10501, Thailand.

SWM Info.: Published by UNCRD's solid waste management project.

Contact: Dr. A. Fernandez. UNCRD, Nagono 1-47-1, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya 450, Japan. Fax: 52-561-9374

SWMNet: information network on solid waste management.

Contact: Dr. Higashi Ogawa. WHO/SEAPO, P. O. Box 12550, 50782 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

WARMER Bulletin (World Action for the Recycling of Materials and Energy from Rubbish). Free publication.

Contact: Ms. Maggie Thurgood, editor, WARMER Bulletin, Bridge House, High St, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1DP, U. K. of G. B.


Dimensions of the Waste Economy in Bangalore, India

To date there has been no comprehensive study of the total waste economy for any city. An idea of the economic actors and the quantities involved is emerging from several studies of recycling in Bangalore, India.

Bangalore is India's sixth largest city. The Greater Bangalore urban area has about 5 million people, the municipality about 4.1 million. A city with diverse large and small industries, governmental and educational institutions, surrounded by intensive farming, Bangalore is able to finally recover and recycle the majority of the solid wastes that it generates.

The Bangalore recovery and trading network consists of perhaps 25,000 waste pickers (predominantly women and children), 3,000-4,000 itinerant waste buyers (IWBs) of newspapers, plastics, glass, metals, clothes and other materials, approximately 800 small dealers, 50 medium dealers and 50 wholesalers. There are two glass and four paper recycling plants, eight aluminium recyclers, 350-500 plastic factories using waste materials, and an uncounted number of small miscellaneous recycling enterprises (Huysman 1994a, van Beukering 1993). Additional actors in the network are householders, household servants, municipal street sweeping and garbage collection workers [(these two last numbering about 7600) (Huysman 1994a)], shop cleaners and office caretakers, piggery and poultry workers who collect food wastes from hotels and institutions, and farmers who remove compost from the garbage dumps or persuade garbage truck drivers to deliver waste directly to their farms. At a rough guess, 40,000 - 50,000 people at least earn their living by waste recovery and recycling in Bangalore, or about 1.6% - 2.0% of the working population.

Street pickers work freely in Bangalore. There are relatively few dump pickers [in fact, currently, there are no operational official dumps (Huysman 1994a)]. Pickers are estimated to retrieve about 15% of wastes put out on streets and in over 12,000 street bins, amounting to perhaps 300 tonnes of materials per day within the city. Pickers earn from Rs. 10 to Rs. 30 per day (Can $ .50 to $ 1.25). Municipal collectors and sweepers are estimated to take out 37 tonnes per day, in addition to the wastes removed by pickers.

Itinerant buyers are individuals who have seized an opportunity for self-employment which often offers higher rewards than working in a shop or factory, but which is subject to seasonal downturns and increasing competition. Each recovers about 40 kgs per day, a total of between 1200-1600 tonnes per day for the city of Bangalore. (This amounts to between 400,000-500,000 tonnes of materials per year, as IWBs usually work every day of the week). In return, these buyers earn from Rs. 50-60 per day (Can $2-2.50), compared with about Rs. 40 a day that an unskilled worker in a small factory will earn. IWBs sell almost exclusively to small or medium waste dealers although a few surveyed actually sold directly to wholesalers (and make better profits).

Middle and lower-middle income households, are the main residential customers of the IWBs, who also buy from offices and shops. High income families with vehicles often store materials such as newspapers and plastics for some time and then take then directly to a dealer or even a wholesaler. However, these households still deal with the buyers of old clothes, and repairers of leather and metal goods, who come to the house. Trading by householders and shopkeepers who bypass IWBs is estimated to transfer 5 tonnes of materials per day to small and medium dealers.

It is the large amount of "voluntary" separation of synthetics at source (by residents, shopkeepers, etc.) or close to source (by pickers) that allows truckloads organic of wastes to be taken directly to farms and natural composting to take place on the old garbage dumps. At one dump, in 1990, about 15 truck loads (each of about five tonnes of fresh wastes) are delivered per day and about 12 farmers' truck loads of compost are removed. There is besides, a semi-mechanical compost plant that processes 50-100 tonnes of market wastes per day, producing about 20 tonnes of compost. About 210 tonnes of cow dung per day are collected from the roads for use as fuel by poor people. A considerable amount of kitchen wastes,leaves, grass and tree trimmings are eaten by stray dogs, cows, and pigs from street bins, amounting to perhaps 5% by weight of garbage put in bins. Recently, because some citizens groups are experimenting with decentralized composting and vermicomposting, a small amount of further household organics are being recycled. Overall, the diverted post-consumer and organic wastes which we can reasonably estimate are summarized in the following table.

Estimated Amounts of Post Consumer and Organic Wastes Diverted per Day (tonnes) in

Post-Consumer Wastes
gathered by street & dump pickers 500
gathered by municipal workers 37
purchased by IWBs 1400
sold directly to waste dealers by householders 5

Organic Wastes
eaten by animals 200
sent to compost plant 50
diverted directly to farms 225
removed from dumps 100
cow dung taken from streets for fuel 210

No study has been done of industrial wastes (metals, wiring, batteries, plastics, rubber, leather scraps, etc.) diverted by waste exchange or trading, nor of bones sent to fertilizer factories and food wastes used by pig and poultry farms. None of the major industrial recyclables reach the dumps; food wastes generated by restaurants and hotels are traded. Another unestimated category is construction wastes used for filling low-lying land. Virtually all of these unstudied wastes can be regarded as recycled (although some of the residual industrial and hospital wastes are illegally dumped near to the premises).

Due largely to these varied activities of recovery and reuse, only about 335 tonnes of solid waste per day is handled by the Corporation.

Although not all Indian cities have the capacity to recover and recycle as thoroughly as Bangalore, this study demonstrates that where convenient markets exist, traditions of separation and informal waste trading thrive. It suggests that frugal habits are well established across the spectrum of household classes and that financial incentives reinforce these habits in lower income groups, shop and factories. Such waste-reducing practices are found in other developing countries, although the proportions of materials taken by IWBs and waste pickers and the patterns of control in the trade may vary.

(Based on Furedy, 1994a; Huysman, 1994; van Beukering, 1994.)


Note on Calcutta's Wetland Agri-Aquaculture with Comparison to Hanoi*

Calcutta, which has been called the "waste-recycling capital of the world," could also be called Hanoi's "sister city." Both cities have complex systems for the recovery, recycling and reuse of urban wastes--manufactured materials, organics, human wastes and wastewaters.

Both cities have been built up in extensive wetland areas, and over time natural wetland areas (riverine backswamp) have been developed into lakes and ponds which draw upon city wastewaters for liquid and nutrients. Solid wastes and human excreta have been used in both to fill in wetland for agriculture. And one can find paddy-cum-fish-farming, i.e. plots serving alternatively as fish ponds and rice fields in both areas. An extension of this is fish-rice-vegetable rotation in Hanoi (Pham & Vo, 1990).

Garbage farms

In Calcutta, the site for the main garbage dump was chosen by the municipal administration in the 1860s in the "Salt Lakes" due east of the city. It was the intention from the beginning to use this site for garbage farming and today about 350 ha of old dump land is leased out by the Corporation of Calcutta for vegetable farms (Furedy & Ghosh, 1984; Ghosh & Sen, 1987). Another type of garbage farm is found in adjacent villages where farmers contract for regular supplies of fresh refuse off the waste disposal trucks (Ghosh, 1986).

Together these farms produce an estimated 150 tonnes of vegetables daily for Calcutta (carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, maize, legumes, etc.). The farmers can draw upon the ponds of the wetlands and the canals of the sewage disposal system for irrigation. About 3000 farmers, together with a further 1000 workers are employed in garbage farming in the area (idem).

Wastewater fishponds

Calcutta's wastewater aquaculture has a longer history than Hanoi's in that until the late 1960's Hanoi's fisherfolk caught only wild fish (which, however, were doubtless nourished by waste-waters draining into the wetlands and lakes). Hanoi's planned aquaculture was either started by an individual member of an agricultural co-operative, or by the old Department of Fisheries (Edwards, 1994). In Calcutta, brackish water aquaculture probably started in the 1850s (Ghosh, 1990). The tapping of sewage canals may have started shortly after they were built to drain into the Kulti river system from the 1860s. A large fishpond owner began experiments in controlled sewage fishculture in the late 1920s.
*I am indebted to Prof. Peter Edwards of the Agriculture and Food Department, A. I. T. information on the Hanoi wastewater-fed fishponds.

The large, shallow ponds, fringed with water?hyacinths, that have been constructed in the East Calcutta wetlands, act as oxidation ponds and sustain polycultures of several kinds of fish in their naturally purified waters. There are currently 4,5000 ha. of ponds that, besides producing fish, constitute Calcutta's only form of sewage treatment. Most of the ponds are privately owned in Calcutta, although there are a few co-operatives.

The fish cultured in both Calcutta and Hanoi ponds are very similar: Chinese and Indian major carps and tilapia (an African fish). The fishing methods are traditional. Water hyacinth is used in the pond design in Calcutta, and is regularly harvested; some is used as fish and cattle feed and the rest is composted on the pond dikes. In both systems one finds pond dikes used for growing vegetables and grazing animals: truly integrated farming.

Calcutta's ponds are more extensive, comprising 4,500 ha. compared to Hanoi's estimated 1,400 ha. (Pham & Vo, 1990). The annual gross yields in Calcutta and Hanoi are comparable at 2-7 t/ha/yr to 4-7 t/ha/yr. In Calcutta, this amounts to about 8,000 t/yr. The contribution of wastewater-fed fish to the city's diet is much higher at 40% of fish consumed in Hanoi, compared to Calcutta (estimated 11%) since Calcuttans, high consumers of fish, have access to numerous sources of fish from rivers, the sea, and freshwater fisheries.

Industrial pollution, urban growth and the future of aquaculture

It is not known how far the sewage canals draining into the East Calcutta wetlands are contaminated by industrial wastes. The main effluent, for instance from the tanneries in the area are pumped separately into a separate channel to bypass the pond system. It is feared, however, that the quality of the sewage waters is declining (Patnaik, 1990). Pham Anh Tuan and Vo Van Trac judged that Hanoi's sewage waters were not highly polluted, but Dang Thi Sy has documented considerable pollution of ponds and lakes in Hanoi (Dang, 1993). Some co-operatives studied by Prof. Peter Edwards are fed by domestic sewage with only occasional discharge of textile factory wastes, and the fish are said never to taste or smell of phenolic compounds (Edwards, 1994). However, industrial contamination must be regarded as a threat to the viability of wastewater reuse in both cities.

The Calcutta wastewater-fed fishpond area has declined since the 1940s from about 7,000 ha. to the present area. The filling in of wetlands for urban development has had a large impact in general on the ecology of Calcutta, and infilling is similarly affecting Hanoi. Without protection, the fishponds of both cities could mean the disappearance of this option for waste recycling and waste treatment.

The British Overseas Development Assistance is currently considering a project to support research on aquaculture in East Calcutta wetlands, and the Agricultural and Food Division of the Asian Institute of Technology is assisting research on Hanoi's practices.

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