10 July 2020


Sustainable solutions

Two Indian projects have won the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award 2014

The Urban Age Programme is an international investigation of the spatial and social dynamics of cities centred on an annual conference, research initiative and publication. Since 2005, over twelve conferences have been held in rapidly urbanising regions in Africa and Asia, as well as in mature urban regions in the Americas and Europe. The Urban Age catalyses the exchange of information, experiences and data across a global network of cities. The conferences operate as mobile laboratories, testing and sampling the social and physical characteristics of global cities through expert presentations and testimonials, research, site visits, mapping and informal information exchange. Very recently an independent jury selected two projects from Delhi -- from a pool of 135 entries -- for the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award 2014, jointly initiated by Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society, and LSE Cities at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The projects that won the accolades included Chintan, a material recovery facility (MRF) at New Delhi railway station and a non-governmental organisation called Goonj, working on issues of urban waste.



The Chintan material recovery facility (MRF) project at the New Delhi railway station manages tonnes of unsorted garbage from the numerous trains that arrive at the railway station every day. The garbage, which would otherwise end up in landfill dumps outside the city, is sorted into organic and non-organic waste by trained workers at the center. The organic waste is then composted into manure through micro-composting and the non-organic waste is systematically sorted into various recyclable components, and as a result only 20 per cent ends up in landfills. Proper management and a systematic process leads to more dignified livelihoods for the otherwise marginalised rag-picking community. Once sorted, waste is passed onto various corporate producers like Tetrapack for recycling.

The project arose from a partnership between Chintan, Safai Sena (an association of waste-pickers) and the New Delhi railway station. The profits are used to improve social awareness among the rag-picking community and to create educational facilities for children of the waste-pickers. The facility stands on a former garbage dump, which has been transformed into a dignified and clean working space where the trained rag-pickers come and carry out their livelihoods. The facility is a part of six MRF facilities that the organisation operates around the city, which collectively divert about 21 tonnes of waste from 3 landfills in the city. The project has demonstrated that with innovative processes and bold partnership-building with businesses, residents and institutions, a just, ecological and inclusive approach to urban waste management in a mega city like Delhi is both possible and urgent.



An NGO formed in 1999 working on issues of urban waste and social distribution, Goonj’s mission is to reuse vast quantities of untapped old and waste material in middle class households to create second-hand products. The material left at Goonj drop-in centers is sorted at a facility run by the group at Madanpur-Khadarpur village in Delhi's South-east, a conservative-marginalised neighborhood that has seen positive attitudinal changes after the facility was set-up there. Embedding the facility in the community ensures local employment opportunities for women in the area. The sorted material is then used as a parallel currency for development programs in rural areas like 'Cloth for Work'. This supports hundreds of grassroot programs like digging wells, improving sanitation, making bamboo bridges, which are undertaken through partnerships with local NGOs. Goonj deals with about 1000 tonnes of solid waste annually and ensures nothing ends up in landfill sites, Otherwise unusable materials like torn clothes, used books and notebooks etc are creatively transformed into usable products. Some products are also sold through various channels to generate funds that help sustain the organisation. Any remaining pieces of cloth are turned into sanitary pads for rural women under the 'My Pad' program.

Anthony Williams, a jury member and former Mayor of Washington DC, was led to say, “I have been on all the juries now, and I really believe that of all the cities we have visited and all the projects we have reviewed, I actually think that we have seen the best set here in Delhi. I actually think such initiatives could be a wonderful arm of diplomacy for the country because some of the things being done here are really remarkable and could have widespread effect around the world and other places we have visited.”

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