35-year-old Jahangir rises before dawn every morning, puts on his uniform, and heads to work as a waste collector at Hyderabad's Raghavendra Colony at 6am.
"I cover around 600 houses. I have been doing it for five years now, and my father used to do it before me. However, things have gotten much easier ever since I got this," he says, pointing to an auto.
Jahangir is a 'Swachh auto’ driver under the city's Rajendranagar Circle of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). The circle has been leading the way in waste management under its limits.
The Circle boasts of 100% solid waste segregation and has even managed to give its waste collectors an extra incentive every month.
"With the cycle rickshaw, it was a lot of hard work. We dumped all the waste together and transported it to the transfer station at Budwel from where it would be shifted to the city's landfill," Jahangir says.
Jahangir was given an auto by the GHMC around a year ago. The vehicle has two compartments -- one for dry waste and one for wet waste.
"Thanks to awareness campaigns, the entire colony, with around 600 houses, segregates their waste neatly now. It makes the job much easier," he says.
The ITC group has also tied up with the GHMC in the area and has been buying solid waste from them, for recycling purposes.
However, instead of pocketing the money, GHMC officials in the area decided to give the cash to the auto drivers, thereby motivating them to keep the area clean.
For example, Jahangir would earlier struggle to earn Rs 3,000 per month but is able to earn up to Rs 10,000 now.
"We began promoting waste segregation around a year ago, and immediately began seeing promising results. The GHMC Circle caters to a population close to 2 lakh, which generates more than 200 tonnes of waste every day. Out of this, we are able to recycle and process most of the waste," says G Anjaneyulu, sanitary supervisor, Rajendranagar.
Anjaneyulu claims that while other transfer stations hire around 20 trucks a day to make two rounds to the city's main dumping yard at Jawaharnagar, his circle sends less than 5 trucks for one round, only with segregated wet waste.
"Taking the garbage away from our homes and dumping them somewhere else, is not the solution. We need to take steps to make garbage disposal sustainable and eco-friendly,” he adds.
"When we started, it wasn't easy. We realised that the residents of each colony had their own needs to be addressed," Anjaneyulu narrates.
While some colonies willingly segregated their waste and were willing to put both their dustbins out for the auto drivers, there were colonies in which people complained.
"Many of them would complain that they didn't know the timings of the auto, and were afraid to leave their dustbins outside as someone would steal them. Our solution was simple. We put a loudspeaker on top of the local Swachh auto, and played the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan's theme song as a signal," Anjaneyulu says.
Today, as the auto arrives and switches on the speaker in the Durga Nagar area, residents can immediately be seen stepping out with segregated waste, in blue and green bins.
Another major problem that the GHMC circle faced was 'open dumping', where residents of a colony would dump garbage at an unused plot or against a wall.
One such area was Adarsh Nagar Colony, where residents used to block half of the entrance road, with garbage.
"Instead of fighting with the residents, we decided to undertake a Gandhian approach, and did this," says Anjaneyulu, as he points at a large 'rangoli', with the words 'Do not know how to dump waste' written in Telugu.
"People who come now read this, and automatically feel ashamed. We also have adopted the same concept in Hindi and Urdu in other wards of the circle, to ensure that people stop dumping at open plots. We also hire a person to stand guard at the spot for a day or two, to ensure that it is more effective," he adds.
Waste to wealth
After the auto driver brings his waste to the transfer station, the dry waste is weighed and he is paid on the spot, following which the waste goes for a 'second segregation', to the Dry Resource Collection Centre (DRCC) at Kattedan.
"ITC takes care of transporting the waste from the transfer station and brings it here," Anajaneylu says.
ITC employs a few people at the DRCC as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, to provide employment to waste collectors and rag pickers.
These people segregate the waste like paper, cardboard, pet bottles, plastic chairs, and other such materials, and neatly arranges them in separate piles.
"While they do not pay as much as regular scrap dealers, ITC takes a great load off the transfer station, while also ensuring some economic benefit for the auto drivers. Due to this, they are able to earn more," Anajaneylu says.
According to a rough estimate, workers can earn close to Rs 10,000 every month, one can even earn up to Rs 60,000 per month.
This includes an amount of Rs 50 that they collect from the more affluent households and Rs 30 from other households and slums, every month.
For now, Anjaneyulu says that the GHMC plans to continue expanding awareness programs, to ensure that people understand the importance of sanitation and hygiene.
"We have a shortage of Swachh autos, and we are expecting more vehicles to be sanctioned shortly. Besides that, there is a need for structural change," he says.
The Budwel transfer station also has a vermicomposting shed to convert the wet waste into usable manure. The composting pit uses earthworms to help break down the organic matter.
"Citizens feel that their job is over once they put the waste in the dustbin. However, the waste that our city generates, is our collective responsibility. We need economically sustainable solutions along with the political will, if we really want to see a clean city and a clean country," Anajaneyulu adds.