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The city shines because of the Cleanliness Sisters

Global Goals & Global Society
The city shines because of the Cleanliness Sisters

Ambikapur, a city in Chhattisgarh, has gained national and international recognition for its successful decentralised waste management plan. The city, with a population of around 200,000 people, has implemented a system called Solid Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) that has not only minimized waste going to landfills but also generated revenue for the local municipal corporation and created job opportunities.

A key aspect of Ambikapur's waste management model is the significant role played by a group of 470 women. These women, hired through the National Urban Livelihood Mission, are involved in day-to-day waste collection, segregation, and management. They view waste not as a liability but as a resource. Initially, they faced challenges and encountered negative responses from residents, as waste management was still considered a taboo in India. However, when Ambikapur was recognized as India's cleanest small city in 2017, the mindset of the people began to change. The women waste managers are now called "Swachhta didis" (cleanliness sisters), and their work is appreciated by the community.

The success of Ambikapur's waste management efforts can be seen in the various accolades the city has received. In the Swachh Survekshan, India's annual cleanliness survey, Ambikapur won the title of India's cleanest small city in 2017 and India's Best Small City in 'Innovation & Best Practices' in 2018. It also secured the second-cleanest city award in 2019 and won the title of India's best self-sustained small city in 2022.

The SLRM system implemented in Ambikapur has significantly reduced the city's daily waste generation since 2015, eliminating the need for a landfill site or heavy investment in waste processing plants. According to data from the Ambikapur Municipal Corporation, 90% of the daily waste collected from households and commercial units is sorted and sold as recyclables, while the remaining 10% is used as fuel in cement factories. This has made Ambikapur India's first zero-waste landfill city.

Apart from waste reduction and revenue generation, the improved waste management system has brought additional benefits to the city. The reduced waste accumulation has led to fewer complaints about stray dogs and feral pigs, as well as a decrease in malaria and dengue cases.

The waste management process in Ambikapur involves the collection of segregated waste from households and commercial establishments by three-member teams. The waste is then brought to waste handling stations, where it is sorted into various categories and sold to vendors. Electronic waste is sent to a central facility for further treatment. The city also has a centralized composting facility for organic waste. The income generated from user charges and the sale of waste materials is used to pay the 470 women waste handlers, making the system self-sustained.

However, Ambikapur's waste management model is not without flaws. There is a need for better anti-littering enforcement and improved health and safety measures for the waste handlers. Some workers do not use gloves and masks while handling waste, which poses health risks. The city's CCTV monitoring system needs maintenance, and there is a shortage of vehicles for waste collection.

Despite these challenges, experts believe that the Ambikapur model offers valuable lessons that can be replicated in other cities. The empowerment of women in waste management, the decentralised mechanism, and the focus on timely waste collection and recovery are key factors for success. Suggestions for further improvement include collecting waste twice daily and enhancing the quality of waste management.

Ambikapur's decentralised waste management plan has transformed the city into a clean and sustainable model. It has not only reduced waste going to landfills but also generated revenue.

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