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10 Jan 2020

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! - Waste Management in Kelwara

John and Felicia Pheasant are associated with the Friends of Seva Mandir UK and come to Seva Mandir every year, making regular trips to the communities we work with. Here, they share their experience from a recent visit to explore the waste management project in the peri-urban town of Kelwara.


Kelwara is a peri-urban settlement, meaning that it is a village grown to the size of a small town, but without the infrastructure needed to run smoothly. It is a bustling place with a market, many shops, restaurants and a few government buildings which bring people in from surrounding villages. It also has a bus stop from where buses set off for Udaipur, 75 km and two hours' drive away. All of this means that much waste is generated, but until recently there was no provision for collecting or dealing with this waste, which clogged the open drains and made the town a mess.

Seva Mandir has engaged a team who clean the town's streets every morning, and has built a new (open) concrete drain down one side of the road, opposite the existing drain. There are plans to cover it soon.


With the permission and approval of the local panchayat (village-level elected government body), the NGO has introduced a waste collection system. Waste is collected twice a day from homes (362 families have signed up), shops and restaurants and from the market and chai stalls. Bins have been distributed and families and shopkeepers encouraged to segregate waste, putting dry waste into the blue bins and ‘wet' (compostable) waste into the green.

The collected waste is taken to a nearby facility where one woman, armed with gloves and covering her face with a scarf, sorts the rubbish: plastic bottles into one sack, other plastic including bags into another, discarded chai cups and paper into another. Compostable material goes into a bin where composting will take place. She has a lot to do, and the team may need reinforcing in due course. The sorted material in huge sacks is weighed. Plastic bottles go for recycling; the other types of plastic are taken to a cement factory miles away where it is burned - we are told, without causing pollution. The factory can use some of the waste material in its manufacturing process. At the moment, as quantities are relatively small, Seva Mandir sees to the transportation of the material and it is given for free. If the project reaches scale, the factory may collect it later on.

Paper is burned and cardboard sold to companies who recycle it. The composting is work in progress, but should in time produce compost which can be given to farmers to use in their fields.

In the town, the locals are very pleased with the difference this project has made. One man who runs a small chai stall asks to speak to us and starts by saying, ‘Swachh Bharat!' - the government's phrase encouraging people to work towards a clean India. He says that the town is much cleaner since Seva Mandir started work, and therefore healthier with fewer mosquitos. His message is ‘Keep up the good work!' He tell us that he encourages others to follow his lead. He knows Seva Mandir's work in the villages, as he lives in one where many toilets have been installed.

Another shopkeeper, with a shop in the main street, sells an assortment of stationery, toys, belts etc. He too is very positive about the difference the project has made. He says the town is 85% cleaner. His advice to Seva Mandir is to involve the panchayat and get them to take on the project so that, if the NGO ever leaves, the local government can take over, thus ensuring a long-term future for this programme.

There have been a few problems along caste lines. Those who collect the waste are of lower caste, as is generally the case in this society. But some higher-caste households have said they do not want the lower-caste waste collectors to touch their bins. This is a problem that will need patient work to overcome.

It is clear from walking down the main street of the town that the bins Seva Mandir has provided are being used, though there would appear to be room for improvement in the segregation of waste and use of both bins at household and shop level. Most shops on the street seem to have just one bin and to put everything into it, making more work for the woman who sorts it. But this too is a work in progress and the project is clearly making a big difference which is appreciated by the townspeople.


Felicia Pheasant, November 2019


You can find out more about Seva Mandir's Peri-Urban programmes here.


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