How digitalisation will help Kerala soon become India’s first zero-waste state

Kerala wants to complete the digitalisation programme, a key part of its waste management initiative, by 31 March, 2023.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Oct 06, 2022 | 9:00 AM Updated Oct 06, 2022 | 4:38 PM

Haritha Karma Sena volunteers collecting waste in Thiruvananthapuram after the Onam pageantry last month. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

Kerala is working towards becoming a zero-waste state, potentially the first Indian state to strive for it, by digitalising its waste management system over the next 18 months.

Under a mammoth initiative covering 1,034 local bodies, it envisages establishing a circular economy where existing materials and products are shared, refurbished and recycled as long as possible to minimise waste — and even bring it down to zero.

The Kerala government wants to complete the digitalisation programme, a key component of its waste management initiative, by 31 March, 2023.

Incidentally, in 2016, the then President of India Pranab Mukherjee had declared Kerala the country’s first “complete digital state”.

But it was a self-declared tag; this time, if its waste management digitalisation programme is successful, Kerala could well emerge as — and get recognised as — India’s first zero-waste state.

What does waste management digitalisation mean?

Kerala waste management

Waste management options for the household. (Supplied)

The project promises to maximise resource recovery from waste, ensure responsible management of waste, prevent waste landfills and open burning of waste, and enable scientific management of waste to reduce greenhouse gases.

“Digitalisation in waste management is the need of the hour,” avers KT Balabhaskaran, executive director of Suchitwa Mission, the technical support group for the state’s waste management mission.

“The key advantage of digitalisation is that it will help us keep a tab on the status of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste generated in the state,” he explained to South First.

The digitalisation plan is to be implemented in two phases, with the first, covering 374 local bodies – from panchayats to corporations – scheduled to be completed by the end of November.

Phase 1 underway

Kerala waste management

Waste management at the community level. (Supplied)

Some progress has already been made, with a few local bodies such as the Kannur Corporation, already initiating the digitalisation component of waste management.

All data regarding waste generation, collection, processing, and disposal or recycling will be available from the ward level to the state level. The priority will be on non-degradable wastes.

“It is this type of waste that gets dumped in the open,” says Balabhaskaran. “The social, economic, ecological and health impacts are beyond imagination.”

The plan envisages treatment of biodegradable wastes at the source level — both household and institutional — through composting or biogas plants.

While households are being provided with devices such as bucket composters to manage kitchen and food waste, at the community and institutional level there are organic waste converters, portable bio bins, biogas plants, among other solutions.

80% success at household level

Officials of the Suchitwa Mission say that at the household level, the initiative has been mostly successful, but at the same time admit that around a fifth of them is yet to adopt the processes.

The officials say varying reasons have been cited, including space constraints.

Authorised waste collectors will now visit these families to pick up their garbage for a fee.

User fees for collecting non-biodegradable wastes have been fixed at Rs 50 at the panchayat level, Rs 70 at the municipality/corporation level, and Rs 100 for establishments and institutions.

Digitalisation aided by QR codes, smart apps 

In the first step towards digitalisation, each house or establishment will be assigned a QR code (quick response code) which will scanned by the trash collectors, who will be provided smartphones, much in the way payment apps use QR codes to scan for payments.

Freedom from waste Kerala

The Freedom From Waste campaign. (Supplied)

Trash collectors will scan the strip when they visit, thereby feeding live data to the servers at the local body level and the state level.

The scanning and uploading of data will be carried out using specially designed apps like Haritha Mithram (a government-owned app) and private apps such as Nellikka, Harithakarmasena, and Vrithhi. Data from the private apps will be integrated with the Haritha Mithram server.

Monitoring of the trash will continue when it moves first to the material collection facility (MCF) and then to the resource recovery centre (RRC).

MCF is where non-compostable solid waste will be temporarily stored, whereas the RRC will be equipped to sort, clean and store non-biodegradable discards, and make them available for production or consumption purposes.

 A Suchitwa Mission official says efforts are now on to spread awareness of the Haritha Mithram app among waste collectors, the people, government officials, and people’s representatives.

Adoption of the apps

Alongside the government’s services, those provided by the private apps have also proved their worth already.

For instance, Nellikka, being used by around 14 local bodies, was last month selected as one of India’s top 30 start-ups in the Swachhata Start-up Challenge – an initiative of the central government to meet the challenge of waste management in the country.

“The award was for the transformation in waste management by Kannur Corporation,” Nijin Narayanan, one of the founders of Nellikka, told South First

REACH OF PROGRAMME:

  • 1,034 local bodies
  • 941 gram panchayats 
  • 87 municipalities 
  • 6 corporations 
  • 19,454 wards 

 First phase

  • Digitaliation of 374 local bodies
  • 312 gram panchayats
  • 58 municipalities
  • 4 corporations
  • 1,162 MCFs & 264 RRFs