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Jun 10, 2013

Waste Wise: Dialog - Leadership - Change

Hello Everyone,

This is my first post addressed to my readers and it is a long one, because we never spoke. I am unable to put in more time into this blog as I am working on an entirely new initiative where we are creating something new for the first time - from ground up (read below). I had a similar dedication to this blog.

I started this blog because I had to share my research findings. Back then, I was learning about waste management for the first time. As part of that learning, I was bringing together lots of information and knowledge on the subject of waste management in India and I had to share them with everyone. After all, my research was partially funded by public money. If not for this blog, the only way I could have shared my research was after my thesis was published. However, I had to share my findings as they happened and that was my basic motivation behind this blog. (Read Need for a Research Blog)

After I finished this research, I continued working with the Earth Engineering Center and the Global Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council (WTERT). I was not the first person at WTERT to work on recycling, but I probably am the first person there to work on informal recycling. This was possible because of my middle income country background, where informal recycling is widely practiced. Later, I worked with the Cason Family Foundation (in a commitment with the Clinton Global Initiative) in bringing together all published resources on informal recycling to one place. Working on this, we realized it was very difficult job to do manually and we gradually moved away from it. We then worked together to start a global landfill mapping project. I was majorly involved in finding existing data and in figuring out how to use latest technology from different spheres (mainly GIS and satellites) to find landfills. We later pivoted again and set-up the Sustainable WasteResources International (www.wasteresources.org) (still in a commitment with the Clinton Global Initiative). This initiative has an enormous potential to serve the waste management industry. You can learn more from its website.

While working with SWRI, I also worked with the World Bank on developing a diagnostic framework which could be used by consultants or government officials to understand every aspect of the waste management system in their city. The framework was designed for cities in low and middle income countries. This was one of my best times, as whatever work I did could be put to great use. My time there was impactful! The framework was immediately shared with and put to use by various organizations.

With just as much dedication and time I put into this blog or some times even more, I am now working on a new initiative called Waste Wise (www.wastewise.be). We call it Be Waste Wise. This was the result of my travels in India and Ghana and a pivotal moment in Washington D.C. There is a great need for waste management expertise around the world and there is a great deal of expertise existing in the world. The existing expertise however was concentrated in small pockets. However much these experts tried, they did not have a tool or platform to reach enough audience. I have known some of the best experts in waste management in the U.S., Europe and India and they tried their best to get their information and knowledge out of their networks. Their efforts deserved more impact. I realized this while I was working on a report called "Observations from India's Waste Crisis".

It was a story that everyone in India had to know. But, I had no avenue to share it! I approached various outlets of information. I was successful to a great extent. The Hindu, India's leading newspaper - published an Op-ed on this and the Times of India, the world's largest circulation English newspaper - ran a story on the report, which together provided the best platform for the report to get to my target audience - the citizens of India. Waste & Recycling News - the best source of waste management information in the U.S. - featured this report in their May, 2013 print issue. The South Asia Journal, D-Waste, and BioEnergy Consult, all of them helped me get this report out. But, only I know how much time and effort that took.

After so much work, the impact I could create was not even a drop in the ocean. Waste management is a global challenge today. According to the U.N., it is a cross-cutting mega issue. It is one of the biggest challenges that we as a species have to address. It becomes even more complex when we realize that the solutions to this problem are based on local conditions. So, we now have a global problem with local solutions, which cannot be solved by one person or one single organization or for that matter any one nation. However, we do not have a global platform to convene leadership on this issue. We do not even have a platform where thought leaders, practitioners and communicators in waste management can share their existing knowledge and expertise. The only way they can share their expertise is through conferences or long PDF documents.

From my experience of publishing a nearly 200 page report, I know that none but fellow researchers or consultants read through such long reports. Decision makers who are confronted with unforeseen challenges on the field have lesser encouragement to go through long reports. Their preferred method of knowing about waste is to attend conferences. In today's world ruled by information technology, conferences for the sake of knowledge or expertise dissemination are inefficient. They provide great avenues for networking, which in itself drives many projects forward. But, for the sake of knowledge or expertise dissemination, they are inefficient economically, and environmentally.

This is when we started Waste Wise. We are organizing online video panel discussions between the best in waste management. These panels will be broadcast live and our audience can interact with the panelists using the Twitter hashtag #wastewise. They will also be available for future viewing along with a full transcript of the panel, a summary and an opinion article based on it.

We are convening leaders around global issues with local relevance. For example, we have Prof. Nickolas Themelis, Prof. Paul Brunner, Perinaz-Bhada Tata and Prof. Morton Barlaz to talk about Solid Waste Management and Climate Change. There are very less people who can match the caliber or depth of knowledge of these professionals. Prof. Paul Brunner is called the father of material cycles in Industrial Ecology and Urban Metabolism. Prof. Nickolas Themelis probably had the most impact on the waste-to-energy industry world wide. He founded the Earth Engineering Center and the Global Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council, which has sister organizations in 14 countries, a feat for an academic organization in such a niche subject.

Shawn Otto (author of Fool Me Twice: Fighting Against the Attack on Science in America and Co-founder of the U.S. Presidential Science Debates) will be talking about the Compatibility Between Recycling and Waste-to-Energy. His work on science education as an author, speaker, filmmaker, screenwriter and co-producer is unparalleled. On this panel, we also have Dr. Eileen Berenyi and Dr. Scott Kaufman (who was my lecturer of Industrial Ecology and Life Cycle Analysis at Columbia University), both Earth Engineering Center's Research Associates who have years of work on recycling and waste-to-energy in the U.S.

We have Dr. Samantha MacBride (author of Recycling Reconsidered) and Tim Brownell (President of Eureka! Recycling) to discuss Recycling in North American Cities. North America, especially the U.S. achieved less than 30% recycling after more than 40 years of consistent education programs. Recycling needs discussion in the U.S., more so these days with increasing quantities of waste. On another panel called Integrating the Informal Recycling Sector, we have Jane Olley and other employees of the Inter-American Development Bank, which has been the most active multi-lateral development organization in improving the lives of informal recyclers in Latin America.

I am not going deep into other panels, (you can find more here). We are closing our first series of panels with a very special discussion called Working together to Solve the Global Waste Management Challenge. Whether you have been in waste management for some time or had even inkling interest in it, you would have definitely watched Mike Biddle's TED Talk. He, along with Dr. Luis Diaz and Dave McCarthy will be moderated by Jill Boughton, the President and CEO of SWRI. Dr. Luis Diaz authored more 350 publications and numerous books on waste management and was a pioneer of integrated waste management, which is not the standard anywhere in the world. We are also bringing communicators - speakers, writers, cartoonists, photographers, and infographics designers together. We already have 4 cartoonists and three writers. We already brought together organizations with a social media reach of more than 600,000.

It gives me immense pleasure that they have all agreed to come together to discuss and share knowledge about one of our world's biggest challenge. I thank the technology (Google+ Hangouts) which made it possible to need only 45 minutes of the time of such busy people to make an impact on this scale. I thank the team which is generously donating their time.

After we finish our first series of 7 panels, we will have just started, but our efforts will not suffice the enormity of the problem. We are planning to expand the topics and the number of panels rapidly for our forthcoming series.

Our initiative is infinitely scalable and our plans are implementable, which makes our work even more important. For this reason, which I hope you can all understand and support, I am unable to update this blog. I will post sections of my thesis here and finish the blog soon.

I thank you all for your wonderful readership. This blog is one of the top resources for waste management in India on Google searches, it is a recommended reading for a sustainability course in University of Minnesota, and has been cited numerous times. Thanks to you. Hope we can be more useful with Waste Wise.


CH4 Methane
Carbon Dioxide
Government of India
INR Indian Rupee
JnNURM Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
LFG Landfill Gas
Mechanical Biological Treatment
MSW Municipal Solid Waste
NEERI National Environmental Engineering Research Institute
Refuse Derived Fuel
SLF Sanitary Landfill
SWM Solid Waste Management
USD United States Dollar
WPs Waste Pickers
WTE Waste-to-Energy
WTERT Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council