Waste is a significant source of short-lived climate pollutants. As the third largest man-made source of methane, waste contributes to climate change and ozone pollution. Open waste burning and the use of polluting collection vehicles emit black carbon, a key component of particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution. When unsustainably managed, waste is also a breeding ground for toxins and microbes that contaminate the air, soil, and water.
The proper management, separation and treatment of waste is important to reduce its impact on the climate and people.
Pune is one of the few cities in India working to treat all the waste it generates. To help achieve this the city has come up with an innovative strategy: It has placed a group of marginalized women at the forefront of a campaign to clean the city.
Through an agreement with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), more than 3,000 women workers provide door-to-door waste collection services to over 600,000 homes in the city, recycling more than 50,000 tonnes of waste a year.
The workers segregate the waste that they collect into either recyclables— paper, plastics, metals, and glass—or wet waste, which is taken for composting. Known as “SWaCH” (Solid Waste Collection and Handling), the co-operative has developed a significant composting operation, which sees wet waste turned into valuable natural fertilizer. The city has also decentralized bio-mechanization for processing and composting of organic waste.
The environmental impacts are significant. SWaCH says that, in one year, the recycling of the paper that it collects prevents the felling of over 350,000 trees, and avoids the release of over 130,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere. 29,000 tons of CO2 equivalent are also avoided through anaerobic digestion.
The municipal policy and implementation shows how climate mitigation can generate economic opportunities for informal sector workers that are highly replicable in other cities.