Digital communication and behavioural change in the Indian waste management sector since Covid-19
Disclaimer: This news piece was authored* by the NAMA Support Project (NSP) “India – Waste Solutions for a Circular Economy”.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a surge in the use of digital technologies with social distancing norms and nationwide lockdowns that came into play. People and organisations all around the world have begun to adjust to a new way of working and living: the digital way.
When the pandemic hit India in March 2020, the social sector, like any other field, was strongly affected, as face-to-face communication with stakeholders came to a standstill. But thanks to the already popular digital stride across India, digital communication emerged as one of the primary modes to reach out to a huge national population of over 1.3 billion. From policymaking and capacity development training shifting from meeting rooms and training centres to platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to public communication happening over Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and social media, almost everything went digital. Be it in health or education, climate finance or international development, the adoption of digital tools for communication and implementation has been very significant. Likewise, the waste management sector adapted to digital modes of communication. Waste management practitioners like Vani Murthy and Vasuki Iyengar, who are members of the SWMRT (Solid Waste Management Round Table) Bengaluru, among others, made use of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook Live to continue promoting sustainable practices, e.g. home-composting and lane-composting. SWMRT is a collective of SWM practitioners working since 2009 for the adoption of suitable waste management practices by citizens and municipalities.
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH as the implementing agency of the NAMA Facility-funded ‘Waste Solutions for a Circular Economy in India’ project, also referred to as ‘Circular Waste Solutions’, has begun posting live and recorded training programmes on source segregation and composting to reach out to stakeholders. The Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have initiated online photography and art competitions to create awareness among the students about low-carbon waste management solutions. Such measures due to the presence of digital media proved to be of huge benefit at a time when otherwise, things would have come to a complete halt. It helped the NSP in building an online community of environmentally concerned people, which is only growing with every passing day. The use of popular features such as live sessions, stories, polls, and reels on Instagram and Facebook came in handy for the NSP to create engaging content for the promotion of low-carbon waste management solutions.
The use of LinkedIn has also helped the NSP in creating a strong network of entrepreneurs and professionals, many of whom have expressed interest in the NSP, particularly in the Risk Sharing Facility (RSF) – which is going to support waste management enterprises. In the days to come, measures like these combined with on-ground interventions will drive more people towards climate action. So far, the NSP has reached out to over 0.6 million social media accounts organically, and the number is growing. With the NSP’s tweets on key events like COP 27 being shared by the official handle of Swachh Bharat Mission (under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs), the NSP has also been able to find mention in platforms popular among the Govt. and other bilateral and multilateral agencies.
However, as convenient as a medium may have proven to be for the waste management sector and in general, those households not connected to the internet faced total digital divide. With strict social and physical distancing measures that came into place, new routines required stable access to the internet for most services. Hence, those with limited access needed special assistance like facilitating trainings for informal waste workers through common devices provided by the ULBs. The divide has emerged out of many reasons: limited technological infrastructure, internet bandwidth, skill gap in online teaching and learning, the shortage of digital skills and skilled workers, unaffordable access to devices or internet, content relevance and lack of access to remote learning platforms, among others. Even though support came from concerned individuals and organisations in form of donations of phones, internet packs, and free wifi access-, overall support did not suffice in meeting the demand of such a large segment of society.
The key focus areas to enhance digital connectivity among social sector stakeholders require improving digital literacy, , internet infrastructure, and access to affordable internet and equipment. The public, private, and social sectors should partner to make better use of each other’s resources. While young people are targeted by many development partners, training for adults of working age receives much less attention despite its importance from the perspective of lifelong learning. The focus should not only be on school-to-work transitions but also on work-to-work transitions and the upskilling and reskilling of young people and adults.
With the pandemic slowing down and life getting back to normal, information technology, particularly the internet, will remain one of the important modes of communication. However, face-to-face working, learning, and development should be prioritised, especially for the youth and informal waste workers. A balanced use of traditional and digital media will ensure that stakeholders of the waste management sector are duly benefitted.
Rittyz Kashyap, Communication Advisor, Waste Solutions for a Circular Economy, GIZ India
Siddhant Malhotra, Junior Technical Advisor, Waste Solutions for a Circular Economy, GIZ India
Jai Kumar Gaurav, Senior Technical Advisor, Climate Change and Circular Economy, GIZ India
The NAMA Facility is a joint initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK), UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Utilities (KEFM), the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the European Union and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).