Nishtha Clean Village Project

Project summary

Two years ago NISHTHA Rural Health, Education & Environment Centre came up with a solution for managing soft plastic waste in the villages of Kangra District in Northern India. This waste which is neither biodegradable nor collected by waste collection merchants causes huge environmental damage by being thrown in streams, dumped on the roadside or burned. Nishtha staff give house to house training in waste segregation and collect plastic waste from 400 households in one area of the village. Over 30 x 50 litre sacks of plastic are collected each month and in doing so dramatic change in the cleanliness of the village has been seen. The collected waste is segregated and hand packed into prepared cement bags which are then compressed in a purpose made machine. A part time team produces 60-120 blocks a month. The blocks have been included in the construction of store and garage walls and the air trapped within the blocks provide an inherent and effective insulating material. The blocks are durable and cost effective and most importantly are putting plastic waste to good use in this rural setting.

The problem of waste plastic:

The problem of waste management in India is one which has only arisen in the last 20-30 years with the introduction of non-biodegradable waste, in particular plastic. While this is necessarily used by manufacturers for the safe delivery of foods, the resultant waste material is posing an enormous problem throughout the country. Waste collection is done on a huge scale by rag pickers and waste merchants throughout India and effective recycling of any waste material that has commercial value which includes metal, glass, cardboard, paper, cloth, plastic bottles and hard plastics is carried out. Indeed it can be estimated that up to 85% of household waste is either bio-degradable or recycled. In several states including Himachal Pradesh the Government has banned the use of plastic carry bags which has reduced the amount of non-recyclable plastic.

However, soft plastic and aluminium coated plastics used for packaging food products cannot be recycled and because they have no commercial value are mixed with bio-degradable waste and either clog municipal landfills in towns where there is garbage collection or in villages is thrown out casually or down hillsides into streams causing huge environmental damage. Farmland and roadsides are littered with soft plastics, streams are clogged, irrigation systems destroyed and animals, particularly cattle die from ingesting plastics. The slow release of dioxin from the gradual degeneration of the material causes pollution to both air and water. In an effort to clean up local people burn the plastic waste releasing toxic fumes which are known to be carcinogenic. In the wintertime groups of village children waiting for transport to school in the morning can be seen huddled around slow burning fires mostly comprised of plastic waste.

Nishtha’s Clean Village Project

Nishtha’s clean village project was started in May 2012 in Rakkar village aiming to make people aware of how to manage their household waste. Nishtha is a NGO working in a village running a small holistic health clinic with an active community centre alongside. Our interest in the health and welfare of the local community meant we could not avoid becoming involved with the issue of waste management which is such a glaring problem for everyone. Our initial effort focused on educating people about the need to be aware of their waste and to segregate it. We set up garbage collection bins in the village in an effort to keep the village clean. However, the bins encouraged people to use them to dispose of their unsegregated waste and so we had a huge problem then dealing with it. An incinerator was built for the medical and dirty waste but this is no solution to the volume of waste produced by the village people who are increasingly using food materials packaged in plastic. It was clear that a new approach focusing on finding a good way to use the waste plastic and educating the community how to manage their waste was needed. We therefore launched our programme to collect only soft plastic from the village by going house to house, talking to the women in particular and working with the children making them aware of the dangers of burning and throwing plastic and showing them how to collect the clean soft plastic waste and bring it to us for re-cycling.

Around this time the local government introduced a project to use the plastic waste on the roads. We enthusiastically delivered our collected plastic to them only to find that after a few months the machine ceased to function and the project died. We were then motivated to find another solution to how to use our collected plastic and looking on the internet came across an innovative design for a plastic block making machine which we replicated. Having successfully made the blocks we then set about exploring ways in which to use them in the construction of walls.

The Scope of our Project

This Innovated Soft Plastic Waste Management Project has been launched to collect all the soft plastic waste for all the households in 5 sections of the upper village which altogether contains around 420 households.

Our initial activity was to draw up a plan of the village, marking the houses and dividing them into sectors to make sure we covered every village cluster.  We conducted a detailed house to house survey, meeting the women of the families and explaining the project to them. Special 50 litre waste collection bags were made and distributed during a series of special events to make people aware of our programme and to explain how it worked. This included Vijay Bhadwaj who is our primary plastic waste management worker and is also a musician composing a song which he performs at each of these events. This is followed up each time our workers go to the houses to collect plastic. Then they tip out the bags and reject any waste which is not soft plastic, explaining to the people how it should be disposed of.

Regular village clean up sessions are conducted by our staff and the children who come to our after school programme in the Community Centre. The children are taught about segregation and the dangers of plastic burning and throwing through a range of fun activities.

Information boards about the dangers of burning and throwing plastic and dirty waste, particularly pampers and sanitary towels, have been made and put up outside our garbage management shed and in the village playground. We have also made bumper stickers and an information leaflet n 3 locally used languages.

We have set up 8 grills in the irrigation channels which run down the hillside into every field to catch any plastic waste which has been carelessly discarded.

Manufacturing the plastic block making machine and constructing the shed in which to house it was a major project. A visitor from the UK has fabricated and provided a second machine with a hydraulic press which we received in July and has now been set up in the block making shed.

Working with engineers and masons we have carried out various experiments using the plastic blocks as panels set within a structural concrete frame. During the manufacturing stage the block wall is wrapped in chicken wire to provide a key for the finishing coat of cement or mud based render. A second project on our farm to build a shed has been completed using a bamboo framework and mud render on the walls. The blocks have also been used to build a berm behind a house and for filling around a submerged water tank in front of a house.

Results and Achievements

Our village is very much cleaner and healthier. People are gradually becoming more aware of the dangers of throwing and burning plastic waste and now all the households in village areas are co-operating and collecting their plastic for the Nishtha staff to collect. The social effect of encouraging people to be more responsible for their waste, whilst being unmeasurable is clear from the amount of co-operation we receive from 360 actively engaged households.

We collect an average of 30 x 50 litre bags of segregated soft plastic waste a month from which we make 60 – 120 blocks. This increases when we have active volunteers and decreases during the monsoon when it is difficult to collect so much waste. The number of blocks we make is limited by the amount of plastic we have the manpower and reach in the village to collect. At present we are only collecting from around 1,600 people. Our brick making machines are capable of producing 10 blocks each in 2 hours. Therefore with two machines 50 – 60 blocks a day could be produced absorbing the plastic waste from over 8,000 households.

We now have two masons who have trained to use these blocks in construction and who will be the main means of encouraging people to use the plastic in their constructions since it is a cost effective way of filling walls. Equivalent size cement blocks which lack the insulation quality cost Rs. 40 each whearas we can sell our blocks for Rs.30 each.  The production of the plastic blocks is a great achievement and our experimentation putting them into constructions is receiving a lot of interest from visitors.

Our project has a huge potential for replication as each and every village in India has exactly the same problem of mountains of soft plastic waste. As awareness of the importance of maintaining our air and water quality is increasing so will interest in supporting a project to make good use of this dangerous waste material at a local level.