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New Delhi introduces its first zero-waste community

Navjivan Vihar is the first – and only – zero-waste locality in the world’s most polluted city of New Delhi. 

New Delhi, India, is known for its vibrant culture, incredible food, and – perhaps most infamously – its high levels of pollution.

The city is covered by a blanket of acid smog 365 days of the year, causing a range of diseases amongst Delhi’s 18.98 million residents.

From respiratory illness, to asthma and lung capacity loss, air pollution in India’s capital kills around 4.2 million people each year.

Navjivan Vihar is one of a number of initiatives hoping to change Delhi’s reputation as the world’s most polluted capital.

The locality is the first ‘zero-waste’ community in the city, practicing as a waste-segregated colony for the past 3 years.

Dividing waste into three categories – wet, dry, and domestic hazardous – Navjivan Vihar is following in the footsteps of other modern colonies across India.

Each household segregates waste themselves before passing over the rubbish collectors.

‘Segregation of waste is the key to urban waste management’, said vice-president of modern colony JST Shai. ‘It not only reduces landfill size, but also paves the way for sustainable development’.

In Navjivan Vihar, dry waste is recycled and hazardous waste is carefully disposed of. Wet waste is utilised to create tens-of-thousands of tons of organic manure.

This model of waste segregation and composting has set an example for other zero-waste colonies, both in India and across the world.

In polluted urban areas like Delhi, the need for communities like Navjivan Vihar is more pressing than ever. Depleting vegetation has led to a lack of insects and other wildlife like sparrows, which are vital to the health of local ecosystems.

Alongside stringent waste-disposal, Navjivan Vihar organises regular initiatives like nest-making to encourage birds’ return to the area.

The community encourages plastic alternatives like cloth, carries out consistent donation drives for clothes, toys, and other household items, and boasts buildings with terrace gardens. Residents of Navjivan Vihar regularly attend and organise events to spread environmental awareness.

The community’s success in achieving zero-waste status is in part due to the leadership of Dr Ruby Makhija. An ophthalmologist by profession, Makhija has helmed Navjivan Vihar since its inception almost four years ago.

‘Since I’m a doctor, I know about the hygiene issues created by waste and the diseases which spread due to lack of proper sanitation’ Makhija said of the project.

‘As a secretary, I got a platform to deliver solutions at a larger level, instead of just the individual level. So I took it up on priority’.

Makhija’s awareness of waste management came after the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) held a workshop on the topic in 2018.

Residents of Delhi came together to support the cause after discovering the detriments of poor waste-management on the local environment and economy.

‘We started going door to door to sensitise residents, garbage collectors, and domestic helps about the basics of waste management and the different dustbins’ Makhija told The Better India.

In order to encourage residents to segregate waste themselves, the Navjivan Vihar distributes free biodegradable supplies each month, using drop-off times to educate individuals about the importance of waste segregation and sustainability.

Aerators have also been installed into all domestic faucets, reducing the amount of water waste across the colony.

As a result, around 10,000kg of compost is produced by Navjivan Vihar each year. 175kg of wet waste and 125-150kg of dry waste are diverted from landfill daily.

It’s with the efforts of Ruby Makhija and Navjivan locals that deeply polluted cities like Delhi are re-establishing themselves.

The community’s success means colonies in the surrounding area are starting to follow suit. And local workshops on waste-management are ensuring Navjivan’s efforts are embraced by the next generation.

It might be the first zero-waste community in Delhi, but it looks like Navjivan Vihar certainly won’t be the last.


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