The size of the waste

May 31, 2020

Of late, Lahore’s biggest problem has been waste management. Will the new system announced by the Punjab CM recently do the needful?

“[The new system] will empower people to hold the sanitation staff accountable, to keep the system in check and ensure service delivery.” — Photos by Rahat Dar

Waste management has been one of Lahore’s biggest issues for a long time. Complex urban issues, an ever increasing population, mismanagement and lack of coordination between the concerned departments have all contributed to aggravating the situation. Last month, a glimmer of hope for a clean Lahore was kindled after Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar asked the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) to finalise the parameters of a proposal for what he called the “new solid waste management system” for the provincial metropolis. Will the new system deliver? Only time will tell.

Reportedly, the new system is being installed as the contracts of Albayrak and Oz Pak, two private Turkish companies hired for solid waste management in the past, have expired. (The contracts were extended till May 31.) The LWMC is supposed to outsource door-to-door waste collection and cleanliness to private companies through open bidding. Whereas earlier the payments were made in US dollars, now the contract will be inked in Pak rupees in a bid to cushion the national exchequer.

Under the new system, Lahore will be divided into six zones — four for urban areas, and the rest for rural areas. This is expected to bring the number of waste containers down from over 8,000 to a mere thousand. The city should don a cleaner look as all of the 1,000-odd containers will be underground.

The proposal also includes the business, technical, financial and operational models for the new system. According to the recommendations laid down in the proposal, the people of Lahore might be charged in accordance with their house size — Rs 20 per marla service charges might be levied. This means that a person who owns a five-marla house might have to pay Rs 100. However, since the recommendations are still being evaluated, the monetisation criteria will be subject to CM’s approval.

TNS learns that informal waste collectors such as waste pickers are also being engaged in the new system, by offering them jobs. Related services will include mechanical sweeping, manual sweeping and mechanical washing. Commercialised waste service will be available to private housing societies. The system will not be available in Cantonment areas and the DHA.

The LWMC is said to have submitted the proposal with the CM. The managing director of LWMC, Rao Imtiaz claims that “all stakeholders have been taken on board. I’m sure [the new system] will live up to the people’s expectations.”

A sore point

According to the United Nations’ population projections, Lahore is presently home to over 126 million people. The number has grown — from last year’s 122 (round figure) million — by almost 3.72 percent.

The amount of hazardous and contaminated waste spiked after Lahore became the engineering hub of Pakistan with industries such as car manufacturing, heavy machinery, steel, IT, chemicals and computers coming up. As more and more private hospitals were set up, an insufficient waste segregation, illegal dumping (of waste), illicit medical waste recycling, and mismanagement at landfills compounded the issue. An estimated 1.9 million tonnes (source: the annual report of LWMC) of waste was lifted and disposed of at the landfill site (Lakhodair) in the year 2019. That meant around 6,000 tonnes of waste (collected) daily.

“What with its elaborate infrastructure of around 1,800 vehicles and a workforce of more than 10,000, the new waste management system shall deliver the goods,” says Asif Iqbal, the general manager for operations at the LWMC. “We will ensure 100 percent door-to-door waste collection using mini dumpers assisted by sanitary workers instead of traditional pushcarts.”

The problem is compounded by illicit recycling of medical waste.

Iqbal adds that the mini dumpers will offload trash to compactors for final dumping at Lakhodair.

He also speaks of a committee, headed by the Finance Department, which came up with the new system’s business model in August last year: “Recommendations were submitted to the CM in October [2019]. Later, ICEPAK [International Consulting Engineers of Pakistan], in collaboration with EY Ford Rhodes, was hired to design the technical and financial feasibilities in February 2020. The design is currently being fine-tuned.”

Talking about the impact of an imminent new local government system on the waste management system, Asad Rabbani, a spokesperson for the Local Government and Community Development Department (LGCDD), rules out a tug of power and overlapping of mandates between the concerned authorities. “Everything will be synchronised,” he says. “Our vision is to shift the entire system to automation to improve operational and financial transparency.”

He emphasizes digitalisation as the main component of transforming Lahore into a smart city: “It will be people’s own system. It will empower them to hold sanitation staff accountable, to keep the system in check and ensure service delivery. The general masses will rule the roost!”

Mandated to manage

The LWMC, mandated to keep the city free of waste, was set up under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance, 1984, in March 2010. In 2012, the LWMC outsourced waste collection to Albayrak and Oz Pak as per rules by dividing the city into two zones. In the beginning, both the companies failed to execute door-to-door collection of waste; they would pick up heaps of garbage from waste containers placed variously on the roads and in the streets. Their contracts expired in March this year. Later, on legal and technical grounds, the contracts were extended till May 31.

Sanguine about the success of the new system, the LWMC deputy manager for media and communications, Malik Rehman, says, “It will click because the people now have a better understanding and a better behavioral response to the system as compared to the past.”

He declares that the minimum fee for garbage collection is not a problem as people are accustomed to paying Rs 200-400 to the informal waste collectors, depending upon their locality. “As their civic sense improved, the people did not like to litter, especially when provided good services.”

Talking about zoning, Rehman says, “When Lahore was divided into two zones, out of 150 UCs [Union Councils], 138 were handed over to Albayrak and Oz Pak. They belonged to the urban belt. Twelve UCs, which were identified as rural areas, were served by the LWMC. After 2016, when the mayor system was introduced, the number of UCs was increased to 295. Almost 282 of these were declared urban and the rest were characterised as rural.”

Under the new proposal, no one will be allowed to litter or even spit at a public space. “The violators will be fined,” he adds. “The LWMC has already applied this rule and penalised violators after The Mall was declared a model road. It met with great success.”

Rehman concludes by saying, “After May 31, the LWMC has two options: either to grant further expiration, or to approve a four-month transition period [for Albayrak and Oz Pak] until the new system comes into effect.”

The writer is a freelance journalist, working for various national and international media organisations. He tweets @yaseerkhann

The size of the waste