Are you applying to the No Waste Challenge in Delhi?
In this brief summary, we dive deeper into local perspectives around waste, and highlight the specific challenges and opportunities facing this region. Keep reading to learn more about submitting a project to the Delhi city track.
WASTE IS A BORROWED CONCEPT
To begin with, it’s important to note that Indian homes didn’t have a dustbin for the longest time — some still don’t. Most traditional households utilised everything, unfamiliar with the concept of ‘waste’. Even choosing to call it ‘waste’ brings in a bias – to view it as a problem to solve, rather than a resource.
Indian homes have long prioritized value for money by trying to ensure the durability and longevity of the material things they own. Indian families are also big on sharing — they will often pool funds and cycle resources within the community. For example, families would buy one large set of utensils to share, and simply borrow whenever one is hosting a gathering.
Repair skills have also been an essential component of this frugal culture. 20-30 years ago, every Indian household had a toolbox and a network of cobblers, tailors, and mechanics formed the backbone of a robust repair economy. But now, with hands-on repair skills considered more a vocation for the uneducated and with replacements becoming easier and cheaper, repair culture in Indian cities is steadily declining. Meanwhile, the landfills keep on growing.
Though India has a long tradition of sustainable ways of living, the country’s fast-growing population is now facing major waste management issues. Delhi alone produces around 10,000 tonnes of garbage every day. A huge portion of this waste is being dumped in three overflowing landfill sites – Bhalswa, Okhla and Ghazipur — which exceeded their maximum capacities over a decade ago.
So far, the issue of waste has largely been addressed through a “mopping approach”. A lack of collective will and action makes it impossible to solve pressing issues at their core and instead channels efforts into superficial short-term fixes.
In 2016, the government came up with the new Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM). The rules encourage centralised treatment plans such as waste to energy, the present state of which is not robust in the country. All in all, there is a lack of emphasis on decentralised management of waste and the informal sector has been considerably neglected.
Insights on waste IN DELHI
SHARE AND REPAIR
With the fast-moving lifestyle in the city, people have started to buy cheap products that can be used and thrown away easily. With this throw-away culture, people stopped associating values to their objects which leads to even more waste generation in the city.
In ancient times when appliances were not accessible for all, families in the neighbourhood would huddle around a shared television in the evenings or on Sundays — taking great care of the products to extend its life.
A man sweeps the parking lot of a Pollution Checking Centre in New Delhi, India. With incredibly cheap labour, India reaches recycling capacities beyond even the most progressive recycling nations in the West.
USE AND THROW-AWAY
Today, buying things is getting easier — cheaper commodities are just a click away on numerous e-commerce portals. At the same time, brands are manufacturing products which bank on a fast-consumption culture with a declining sense of durability and value for money.
India’s e-commerce packaging industry was worth US $32 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow rapidly to about US $73 billion by 2020. Flipkart, for instance, does around 8 million shipments every month. But at present, there is no law in India that regulates e-commerce packaging.
WHAT CAN DESIGN DO FOR DELHI?
So where can designers make a difference? With the help of our partners, we’ve highlighted some key opportunities and case studies relevant for Delhi, but there are plenty more! Refer to the global briefs for further inspiration.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR DESIGN
This design brief asks: how can we use fewer natural resources and consume more mindfully? Take Delhi’s needs into account by considering the following opportunities.
- In the context of India’s booming throw-away culture, how can design inspire mindful consumption and bring back more lasting relationships with material objects?
- There is so much we can learn from our traditions. Yet, we tend to think of sustainability as a new-found concept. How can design instil pride in local traditions and systems that build on sustainable practices?
- Education is one of the most effective tools we have to promote sustainable living. How can design help educate India’s youth to embrace more circular values?
WasteLess is an activity-based educational toolkit for children aged 6-12 years. It was developed by a team of interdisciplinary educators based in Auroville, South India, with the aim of spreading awareness on waste separation in a fun and interactive way.
The toolkit focuses on stimulating analysis, critical thinking and action — divided into themes like conscious consumerism, resource conservation and systems thinking — each providing a unique perspective on the generation and responsible management of waste.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR DESIGN
This design brief asks: how can we make products and materials that are kept in use or regenerate natural systems? Take Delhi’s needs into account by considering the following opportunities.
- Learn from what does well in the Indian market. For example, products that are trusted by consumers are usually those that are easy to repair by local craftsmen. Can we take this to the next level? How can we promote the design of robust items that are made to last?
- Bear in mind that traditional forms of production in India can still be found within community settings with local materials and techniques. How can we revive these age-old skills of making and crafting?
With her furniture brand Differniture designer Aakriti Kumar connects century old wood-working crafts with reclaimed wood. The wood that is used for her furniture pieces comes from old floorboards salvaged from dismantled container crates. Using ancient techniques with a modern approach, Differniture looks to revisit furniture making in India.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR DESIGN
This design brief asks: How can we use waste as a resource or dispose of goods more responsibly? Take Delhi’s needs into account by considering the following opportunities.
- In India, the informal sector already employs efficient collection and recycling processes, which have evolved through years of small-scale innovation. Instead of reinventing the wheel — how can design build on these informal innovations? Could we hack them, improve them, or scale them up?
- For many, recycling is often the only source of marginal income. Formalizing the informal sector could block many of these small-time operators from their livelihoods. Instead of disrupting these localized systems, how can design play a role in supporting them?
- Waste management is highly complex and it can be overwhelming as an individual to make sense of it all. How can design make information around waste segregation and treatment more accessible and actionable?
Fifty-seven year old Poonam Bir Kasturi is a product designer; determined to explore alternatives to combat waste. This led her to design the khamba, a terracotta composter which helps homes compost their kitchen waste. Daily Dump was launched in 2006 — a design-driven home-composting label that is handcrafted by artisans from different small-scale industries.
Daily Dump’s products and services offer solutions for decentralised waste management in homes, communities, offices and public spaces in India.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RESEARCH
To learn more, here are the main sources used for creating this briefing
Climate Movement in India
Solid Waste Management in Delhi
Solid Waste Management Rules PDF (English version – page 51 onwards)