Using cloud computing to solve Bangalore’s garbage problem
Bangalore’s garbage problem stems from its two-decade transformation into India’s technology capital, so it seems appropriate that a new plan to clean up the mess is coming from an executive at one of the city’s technology companies.
Prashant Mehra has developed a cloud-based technology network, now being tested privately, that he hopes will make garbage disposal and recycling more efficient, provide better working conditions for people who collect and separate the garbage, and lead to city streets that don’t double as dumps.
“Bangalore generates about 6,000 tonnes of solid waste every day of which 15 percent to 20 percent is dry and recyclable,” said Prashant Mehra, who has the unusual designation of ‘Chief Architect of Social Inclusion’ at Mindtree, an information technology services company based in Bangalore and New Jersey.
This is the result of an expansion in the city’s population from 4.3 million people in 2001 to about 9.6 million people as of 2011, transforming a sleepy military pensioner’s city into a glass-walled hub of technology companies seeking skilled labour at lower prices than they could pay in other countries. With so many new arrivals from around India, the city found its infrastructure from roads to garbage collection overwhelmed.
In Bangalore, Mehra sees finding a way to separate dry waste — including paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and scrap metal — from the rest of the city’s trash as an important way to make the city cleaner and to make disposal more efficient, beginning with the moment when someone decides to throw something away.
Now, the Bangalore municipal authority, called the BBMP, appoints contractors to collect unsorted garbage and to take it to landfills on the city’s outskirts. Those landfills have filled up and nearby residents have complained of illnesses brought on by their proximity to so much garbage. Contractors responded by simply finding places on city streets to dump the trash. Add to that municipal garbage collector strikes, and Bangalore by 2012 was filling up with garbage. Worse, residents and contractors frequently fail to separate recyclables and other kinds of dry waste that can be collected, sold and reused.
That leaves the city’s 25,000 so-called ragpickers — very poor men, women and children — to sort by hand through piles of oozing, putrefying garbage for items to resell, and often without gloves or other protection. Not only that, Mehra said they don’t find as much valuable material as they could, hurting their income, which tends to be about 4,000 rupees ($65) a month. That also means that many materials that could be used again are not.
There are some two dozen non-governmental organizations that help make parts of this process work, but Mehra’s plan ( ‘I Got Garbage’), now being tested on a limited basis among several apartment buildings, garbage contractors, ragpickers and groups, would try to coordinate these efforts through a central computerized repository of information.
“All of these transactions are recorded and tracked in our system and we know exactly how much waste does each DWCC [dry waste collection centre] handle, what is its efficiency, performance of each centre according to geography, and category. Then one can analyze why one ward is doing better and the other is not, etc.,” said Mehra.
The project has enrolled about 200 ragpickers so far who are now uniformed workers. They tend to earn more money now because they find more recyclable waste, and also from a fee that NGOs charge apartment residents for collecting waste from apartment blocks. “The project target is to raise a ragpicker’s monthly income to 7,000 rupees ($110) a month from the previous 4,000 a month,” Mehra said.
The goal is to get 7,000 collectors on one cloud-based system with 21 NGOs acting as trainers and managers. The ragpickers would collect the recyclable material directly from apartment blocks that participate in the program, then take dry waste to collection centres where they would sell it.
“The biggest advantage of the IGG (I Got Garbage) platform is that it will ease out the management issues. The problem now is that we may not always be able to monitor the leaves and absences of waste pickers since we deal with about 7,000 of them. This system will ease that for us and also help keep DWCC [dry waste collection centre] records for us,” said Nalini Shekar, co-founder of Hasiru Dala (“Green Squad” in the Kannada language of Bangalore’s state, Karnataka), an NGO that educates people about the proper disposal of solid waste and works with ‘I Got Garbage’.
Mansoor, a scrap dealer in southern Bangalore, gets material from four to five ragpickers a day. “I get about 150 kilograms of waste every day of which 10-15 kilograms is dry waste. I then get it segregated by sorters and sell it to the wholesale dealers who then eventually give it to the recycle plants.” Mansoor earns about 10,000 to 12,000 rupees ($160 to $200) every month through buying and selling waste.
Mindtree has designed a database for Mansoor’s centre that allows him to maintain accurate records of waste collected and sold from all areas for each month. This exercise will eventually help Mindtree create the cloud platform’s database.
Scrap dealers like Mansoor work with apartment complexes to collect additional waste. With the help of Hasiru Dala, volunteers from apartment buildings have begun to supply households with separate bins and bags to correctly segregate waste which is then collected by ragpickers and eventually sold to scrap dealers.
“Earlier, we were part of the problem. Now we are part of the solution,” said Lalitha, 40, who formed a volunteer group to help educate people on waste disposal called Kasa Mukta (“Free from garbage” in Kannada) two years ago and since then has reached about 6,000 households in the city, spreading awareness on waste segregation and disposal.
Annamma, a ragpicker from western Bangalore who works with Hasiru Dala, has seen positive results.
“I used to collect waste from the streets from 6 a.m. to 12 noon and then two hours of sorting. That time I used to earn about 8,000-9,000 rupees ($130-$145) a month. Now I collect waste from apartments, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. including sorting and earn minimum 12,000-13,000 rupees ($200-$210) a month,” said Annamma.
(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Robert @bobbymacReports | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)