Reframing waste management in the Punjab

Solid waste management is a fundamental urban issue that needs a multipronged approach to alleviate

Reframing waste management in the Punjab


he Suthra Punjab programme is a welcomed initiative. However, from a policy perspective, it has several deficiencies. It has a firefighting approach to addressing the fundamental urban issue of cleanliness, a dimension of development and sustainability. It is also quite parochial in scope. It focuses mainly on the tangible - ensuring clean streets, functional sewerage systems, working streetlights and park beautification. What the province needs is a vision for sustainability and a mechanism for measuring progress.

The population of the Punjab is 127.7 million. It is growing at an annual rate of 2.53 per cent. According to the Country Commercial Guide by International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce, USA, Lahore alone produces approximately 7,690 tonnes of waste daily. The cost of waste collection and disposal is increasing. There is a need to underscore the multidimensionality of waste management. There is a misperception in Pakistan that the matter pertains to cleaning up of the waste. It is imperative to understand that solid waste management is much more than this. It is indeed a major logistic and operational task. The Punjab needs an implementable waste management plan.

The purpose of this article is to present a frame of reference to approach the issue. In this regard, Steven Cohen’s analysis of waste management, in his book Sustainable Cities, is quite helpful. He presents SWM as an issue of values, politics, technology, economic and policy analysis as well as of management and organisational capacity.

Waste management as a reflection of the overall societal consciousness, emanating from individual actions and attitudes towards waste, can be seen to arise from isolationist, self-centred thinking. Pakistan is a consumption-oriented society. Irresponsible consumption creates an unmanageable amount of residential and commercial waste. This is more of a behavioural issue than a question of capacity and preparedness. The citizens need to understand the repercussions of their consumption habits and realize how a change in their attitude can increase their quality of life. This is why top-down awareness campaigns under the Suthra Punjab initiative are not going to be sufficient. There is need to engage and incorporate citizens in the decision-making and implementing streams to allow them to imbibe a waste-responsible attitude by knowing and doing.

Waste management as a reflection of the overall societal consciousness emanating from individual actions and attitudes towards waste can be seen to arise from rather isolationist, self-centred thinking.

As citizens’ agents, one of politicians’ chief concern is electability. In a waste-avoiding society, many politicians do not include waste management in their political agendas, especially as an issue beyond collecting and disposing of of garbage. This explains the double burden of responsibility on the state actors – to devise a waste management plan that is sustainable and acceptable to the society for compliance. This is one reason why SWM fines, waste collection fees and citizen accountability are sidelined. This leaves the governments with the much more expensive alternatives, such as waste-to-energy initiatives, which are harder to sell to the constituents who often seek immediate gratification of their needs.

A sustainable SWM system has technically viable solutions.

Another problem is the citizens’ distrust of the ability [and intention] of the state to resolve the issue. The problem of waste in the province is complicated by the not-in-my-backyard syndrome. Cohen explains in his book how NIMBY occurs as a by-product of inappropriate development – one that occurs without gauging citizens’ needs and priorities and without proper impact evaluation. Consequently, citizens tend to become ambivalent to policy interventions, even if they are needed socially, environmentally and economically.

Strategically, it is plausible to suggest that waste removal must, in parallel, be bulwarked by a provincial SWM legislation. The law should address the waste management issue and promote sustainable practices. An SWM Act should be seen as the blueprint of the waste management infrastructure in the Punjab. It is direly needed because it can provide definitions and explain the scope of the problem, outline minimisation and reduction strategies, institute enforcement and compliance regulations, create avenues for co-creation as well as strengthen accountability and transparency through monitoring and evaluation.

Waste management is a fundamental urban issue. It needs a multipronged approach to alleviate. The task is herculean. It requires extensive research and analysis. However, with a dynamic team and leadership, it can be accomplished. The team must comprises SWM experts, urban planners and environmentalists, local representatives, stakeholders from the private sector. It is a necessary step in the right direction.

The writer is affiliated with the Centre for Governance and Policy at Information Technology University, Lahore

Reframing waste management in the Punjab