Where unsorted waste once languished in open dumpsites, residents of Haridwar, a major city on the banks of India’s Ganga river, now separate their household waste for collection and transport to a newly built materials recovery facility, and from there, onward to recyclers.
For Alliance and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the success of Project Aviral — Reducing Plastic Waste in the Ganga goes beyond a single city, setting a positive precedent for the entire region.
Sitting on the right bank of India’s holiest river, Haridwar is a popular pilgrimage site, its population of over 460,000 swelling by millions each year as it plays host to a constant stream of devotees and tourists. Used plastic bottles, bags, and other debris routinely left in their wake were simply collected by the municipality and disposed – untreated – in dumpsites. Leakage into the environment was common, with plastic waste often making its way into one of the most revered – and polluted – rivers in the world.
Project Aviral aimed to stem this leakage through a comprehensive approach beginning with a detailed baseline assessment and waste characterisation, whose findings fed into an action plan developed collaboratively with the municipality. This was followed by knowledge transfers and training to secure institutional support, and a broad-based educational and awareness campaign.
These efforts added momentum to existing efforts by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (Namami Gange) and the Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Mission).
Central to the project’s success was community engagement. A household survey found that most were aware of the need to segregate, but did not because of the lack of separate collection bins. Once the bins had been installed – green for organic waste, blue for recyclables, and red for hazardous waste – the next step was to make residents aware and encourage participation.
A pivotal engagement point with the community was through ‘Chai pe Charcha’. Small gatherings of mostly women, typically over a cup of tea, were found to be one of the best ways to foster responsibility and awareness. By the end of the pilot in June 2023, up to 85% of households in nine pilot wards separated their household waste, a massive increase from less than 1% at the start of the project. This included several in nearby Rishikesh.