Eleventh in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
“As countries develop from low income to middle and high income levels, their waste management situations also evolve. Growth in prosperity and movement to urban areas are linked to increases in per capita generation of waste. Furthermore, rapid urbanisation and population growth create larger population centres, making the collection of all waste and the procuring of land for treatment and disposal more and more difficult” (source). In regards to waste management one of the most difficult things to understand is the scale of waste and the impact created. Without accurate and up to date data about the quantities of waste being produced within urban areas, it is increasingly difficult for policies and procedures to not only be developed but to be put in place in a way that makes a difference (source).
By last year 4.2 billion people, 55% of the world’s population, lived in cities and it is forecast that by 2050 this will rise to 6.5 billion (source), highlighting that there is a need to receive accurate data about the situations affecting people within urban centres and to design solutions that can address unsustainable practices within cities. Examples are already seen in countries such as Ethiopia where designers have created a waste to energy plant that powers Addis Ababa. It reduces the amount of waste that is in landfills without emitting toxins into the air due to filtration systems, which in turn allows inhabitants in the growing capital city to breathe cleaner air (source), thus improving livelihoods. Although reducing, recycling and reusing are better options for long term environmental sustainability this solution addresses the current issue that globally landfill sites produce 10% of the world’s methane (source).
A different type of solution that focuses on the types of material used to build infrastructure within growing cities is found through an innovative building design where wood is glued together as the material to build buildings as large as skyscrapers- the technique for building skyscrapers is known as plyscrapers. The use of concrete and other traditional materials produce large amount of toxins, whereas the wood method is a fireproof and sustainable approach that is currently being used in locations across the globe (source). However, how would this work in a country like India where, in Chennai, “the city alone generates 5,000 tons of waste every day and spends over $200,000 USD a day on waste collection and landfill costs” (source).
Policies and innovations such as those led by the current government of, ‘smart cities’ “where the objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘smart’ solutions” (source) that aim to improve livelihoods may provide a starting point. Additionally, it has been noted that the economic growth of India has been catalysed by the ongoing migration from rural to urban areas, which is forcing governments and organisations to innovate and design. Further, that it can be an urban laboratory for the world to view, analyse, copy or adjust innovation to their own needs, and, that it can provide lessons in handling mobility (source). Therefore, it is strongly suggested that the country can develop new methods for large urban centres that can handle the waste being generated. Yet, without accurate data the policies of governments or the innovations made by organisations may not reach fruition. Sustainable solutions must be allowed to move from the drawing board to trial phases that are suited for each city- for each, although they may resemble one another in ways are different organisms as a whole- around the globe to limit waste, improve health and increase the overall levels of livelihoods of everyone and everything living within the city’s bounds.