On 2nd Oct 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat mission – the largest cleanliness drive in India. Government staff, volunteers, celebrities and sports persons were mobilised to spread the message across the nation. Cleaning India became a national mission, and every year on 2nd Oct, Modi ji reminds the citizens the importance of cleanliness.
But, are the Indians listening?
Our filthy cities
After 4 years, despite the glitzy statistics from the government, a drive through the streets of Bengaluru shows a horrid story. Every passing day, this once beautiful city, is torn apart at its burgeoning seams. Lush greenery is replaced with garbage mounds. Garden city is now a Garbage city.
The story remains consistent across the other larger metropolis like Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata. Few smaller cities and villages have made an impressive turn-around and have done well in the Swachh Bharat annual rankings.
But, with cities being the largest generators of waste, and little done to combat this problem, humanity is facing a massive environmental crisis.
Image : Live Mint
From source to recycling & landfills, the waste management ecosystem is complex with many players and varying interests. Indiscriminate use of non-biodegradable materials, improper segregation, and mishandling of waste, means most of the waste end up in landfills and water bodies. The toxic materials in the polluted water bodies and food supply chain, finds its way back onto our plate. A horrifying reality.
What ails our waste management story?
Waste management challenges
Everyone – from citizens, to civic agencies, producers and politicians – gets blamed for the environmental disaster. Some economists even argue the link between increase in waste and an economy doing well (consumption). Every cog in the waste management wheel is important. Unfortunately, every cog seems to have developed a snag. From a personal experience of implementing waste segregation/ management program at my society, there are 3 main challenges:
- Citizen indifference: A mindset change in citizens is required to handle waste properly. It takes minimal effort and discipline to segregate waste. Yet, many amongst us, don’t do it. Civic apathy encourages them to default
- Civic apathy: The agencies entrusted with waste collection and disposal are ridden with corruption. In cities like Bengaluru, despite the public outcry, they care little about the results, leaving the city high and dry
- Failure to recycle: Nearly 99% of the waste can be kept off the landfills. Improper segregation and handling results in a majority of the waste ending up in landfills.
The change(s) needed
The seeds were sown by Modi ji in 2014. Yet, as a nation we have a long way to go. While oft repeating the message is important, it is insufficient to tackle the problem. How to overcome these challenges? What is required to hold the erring actors accountable and drive the change?
- Transparency: From source to recycle/landfill, utmost transparency is required – from tracking waste generation until its management
- Irrefutable proof: A system with irrefutable and absolute proof of events and actions, will eliminate the blame game and the burial of truth
- Incentive: Incentivising desired behavior (and penalising the opposite) will bring a mindset change towards waste
Many disparate systems and technology exist today, with each party in the ecosystem having its own. It is clear the systems have failed to deliver the results.
Could this nation at the fore-front of supplying technology to the world, use technology to solve its own problems?
Blockchain as an enabler
Blockchain, the technology that powered cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, is now poised to change the world order. At its core, Blockchain technology empowers a democratic, open, and irreversible system of ledger. The underlying principles are:
- Transparency: An open database that is accessible to all participants. Transactions are entered into the database through consensus. No single party owns the database, thereby reducing the possibility of fraud
- Immutability: Once information (a transaction) is accepted into the database, then it cannot be altered or tampered with
- Accountability: Through smart contracts, multiple parties willing to enter into a transaction, but don’t necessarily trust each other, can conduct business in a transparent and hassle-free manner
Backed up the strong features, Blockchain is therefore, finding its way into solving many problems, that seemed impossible to solve earlier.
A “Swachh Bharat” Blockchain
Countries like India will vastly benefit from adopting Blockchain technology. A national blockchain will help:
- Build an open system for waste management contracting process. Under the watchful eyes of the citizens, local governments will be forced to award contracts based on merit
- Keep track of the performance of the agencies (e.g., timely garbage collection and disposal)
- Track the supply chain of harmful waste – single use plastics, package wrappings, reject waste – from source to recycle/landfill.
- Incentivise (and penalise) desired behaviours. For example:
- citizens who properly recycle their waste, gets “good citizen” points that can be redeemed for other benefits
- companies that manages the supply chain properly (e.g., Amazon wrapping goes back to Amazon for recycling) gets “good company” points that can be available for tax breaks
- e rring parties can be penalized with an environmental tax
“A small drop makes an ocean”
Will Modi ji become the rain maker and save his own mission?