Nathan Oxley

Nathan Oxley

Impact, Communications and Engagement Officer

Nathan contributes to the impact, communications and engagement work of the STEPS Centre. He is also a web editor for the Future Agricultures Consortium. He has worked for a specialist communications agency on sustainable development, and as a web editor for a national charity in the UK.

  • Waste(d) laws in India

    Published on 18 May 2015

    by Ashish Chaturvedi
    Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies

    Last year, I wrote about the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission), launched on the anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday. As part of this endeavour, and due to the limited impact of existing regulations, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has taken the bold step of amending four different regulations on waste management in one go, and carrying out consultations across the country to seek stakeholders’ feedback.

    I recently took part in an informal meeting in Delhi with waste management experts from an environmental NGO, a bilateral agency and the largest environmental research organisation in India. We had decided to meet in order to think through the implications of the draft Rules, and realised quite quickly that we would need a number of such meetings to be able to fully understand the implications and also provide any meaningful feedback. We decided to provide detailed feedback to the Ministry but our discussion broadly covered the following issues.

    Little attention to detail and a multitude of errors in proposed waste management regulation

    First, we found that there is limited attention to detail in the draft Rules. Each section also contains multiple errors. Further, certain sections of the Rules read more like guidelines while others leave the door open for multiple interpretations. There are overlapping definitions and the roles and responsibilities of key actors have not been defined.

    No overarching framework for waste and secondary resource management

    Second, we also agreed that there is no overarching framework provided on waste/secondary resource management. Although the focus of the Swachh Bharat Mission is on Cleaning India, the focus of waste management in the twenty-first century cannot be only on end-of-pipeline solutions. Most waste is a resource and should be treated as such. The historical opportunity provided by the simultaneous revision of these four waste management rules should be grabbed with both hands and an overall framework for waste/secondary resource management should be developed.

    However, thinking about waste is a resource does not mean that waste management will necessarily pay for itself. This is a fundamental mistake in most policy discussions on waste management in India.

    To convert waste into a resource, investments has to be made. Some waste, such as paper or ferrous metals, requires less investment while others, like electronics, would require more investment. Some waste cannot be converted into a resource, for example, non-recyclable packaging like crisp bags, and is a burden on society. While drawing up policy frameworks, the government and those who support it in drafting such regulations need to be mindful of these realities and plan for each of these different waste streams.

    Waste management is not only an environmental management problem – it requires adequate infrastructure and investment.

    Infrastructure and investments should be consistent with current practices

    Third, such infrastructure and investments need to be consistent with the extant practices of waste management in some of the largest cities in the country. Most of the waste in India, especially its recyclable fractions, is managed by the informal sector. Various studies have shown that the informal sector saves a substantial amount of resources for the urban local bodies.

    While all the Rules (other than the one on E-waste) on the Ministry’s website do mention waste pickers, they pay little attention to their roles and responsibilities. Also, in spite of several failed experiences with waste to energy and large centralised contracts, the Rules do not give clear direction on prioritising decentralised solutions.

    The role of manufacturers in generating non-recyclable packaging

    Fourth, another glaring omission, especially from the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, is the role of manufacturers whose products lead to the generation of non-recyclable packaging and domestic hazardous waste.

    Globally, the best practice is to make producers responsible for the end-of-life management of waste resulting from the products they make (PDF). Maybe the Indian Government is shying away from using Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) after the miserable failure in compliance to Rules that have mentioned EPR in the past (for instance the E-waste Rules).

    Improving the Rules – (missed) opportunity for more holistic approach

    I came out of the meeting convinced that our suggestions might improve the various Rules. However, I am unsure whether these improved Rules would lead to changes on the ground.

    Although I am excited by the focus on Clean India, I am not sure if sticking to traditions like revision of Waste Management Rules will solve the waste management problem that confronts large Indian cities.

    By continuously tinkering with waste management rules, the government is implicitly acknowledging its key role in solving the waste management problem. It seems to be saying that if we have the ‘perfect’ Rules, the waste management problem would be solved. Or a milder interpretation would be that a ‘perfect’ set of Rules will create an enabling environment for waste management. Due to the contested nature of policy processes, any emerging Rule would be far from perfect. Any change in the Rules is likely to create winners and losers. However, focusing on waste management merely as an environment policy issue is unlikely to have substantial impact on waste management.

    I believe the administration has missed a big opportunity by not engaging with the issue in a much more holistic manner for example, also addressing employment generation and material recovery potential of waste/resource management. This could be initiated by facilitating a dialogue on appropriate infrastructure and capacities involving the relevant actors and interest-based coalitions who can drive the transition to a resource efficient and clean India.

    The research within the Green Transformations cluster at IDS is focusing on identifying such actors and coalitions in India and beyond.

    This article first appeared on the Institute of Development Studies website.

    Further reading

    Waste not, want not – a STEPS digital story exploring the connected lives of India’s urban waste pickers

  • Watch: Mike Hulme on climate science, values and disagreements

    Published on

    At our 2015 STEPS lecture, Mike Hulme spoke on continuing disagreements on climate change, and his thinking on how they could be addressed in ways that take account of diverse cultures, perceptions and goals.

    You can watch Mike’s lecture and view his slides via the links below. This lecture is part of the 2015 STEPS Centre Summer School. (more…)

  • Stories from STEPS: Waste not, want not

    Published on 6 May 2015

    The first of a new series of digital stories from the STEPS Centre looks at the working lives of India’s waste pickers, and reveals the hidden connections within the life and politics of the city.

    Read the story now on Medium: Waste not, want not


    The story picks up themes from our ‘Pathways to environmental health in transitional spaces’ project, which looked at ways to rethink sustainable urban waste management in India. A policy brief from the project was launched at an event in Delhi on 5 May 2015.


  • 45 years of Earth Day: transitions and transformations

    Published on 22 April 2015


    It’s 45 years today since the first Earth Day. Plenty has happened since then to explore different pathways to sustainability – from big, high-profile international conferences and governance, to local activism and action, and all scales in between. This year, 2015, is a crunch year for science, environment and development agreements, with the COP21 climate conference and the launch of Sustainable Development Goals. But with so many initiatives and possibilities, and a sense of urgency, it is tempting to turn to technical or market fixes and top-down governance as the sole solution to interconnected environmental and social challenges.

    The STEPS book The Politics of Green Transformations, launched last month, addresses the debate about what kind of transitions and transformations may be needed.


  • Global Soil Week: 5 blogposts on soil by Ian Scoones

    Published on 20 April 2015


    This week, the Global Soil Week conference takes place in Berlin. It’s part of a series of activities across the globe in the International Year of Soils.

    In the past few weeks STEPS Director Ian Scoones has been reflecting on this vital resource in a series on his Zimbabweland blog. The articles look at some problems with how global soil statistics are used, the importance of context and difference, the uses of holistic approaches, some policy options and the ways forward for soil management in Africa.

    Read the posts:

    Soils for life: Some cautionary tales for the International Year of Soils

    Homefields and outfields: different sites, different response to soil management

    Why an integrated approach to soil management is essential

    Policy options for African soils: learning lessons for future action

    Soil management in Africa: ways forward

    Image: Arid soils in Mauritania by Oxfam on Flickr (cc-by-nc-nd)

  • Jeremy Allouche on BBC’s ‘Today’ Programme: Taiwan and global water reserves

    Published on 1 April 2015

    STEPS member and IDS fellow Jeremy Allouche discussed global water reserves on this morning’s Today Programme on BBC Radio 4. The discussion comes in the context of Taiwan’s planned restrictions on water supplies to two of its cities.

    From the Today website:

    “The public’s water supply in two northern Taiwan cities will be stopped two days each week from 8 April in order to relieve pressure on the shrinking reserves of the Shihmen Reservoir. Taiwan is suffering its worst drought in 10 years, and it’s thought that the reservoir has only 40 days supply left.”

    You can play the embedded audio extract above or listen again to the entire programme on the BBC website. The interview, which also includes Jessica Budd, director of the UEA Water Security Research Centre, is 55 minutes in.

  • Contested Agronomy 2016

    Published on

    Contested Agronomy 2016 is a conference about the battlefields in agricultural research, past and present.

    Date and venue

    23 – 25 February 2016
    Institute of Development Studies
    University of Sussex, UK

    For more information, see the dedicated conference website.


    Why we should argue about agronomy by Jim Sumberg, 17 March 2015

    Has the ‘impact agenda’ helped agronomy – or harmed it? by John Thompson, 27 April 2015

  • Watch video: ‘India’s Risks’ book launch

    Published on 23 March 2015

    You can now watch video of the launch event of the book ‘India’s Risks: Democratizing the Management of Threats to Environment, Health and Values’.

    The video features contributions from Professor M V Rajeev Gowda, Honorable Member of Parliament and Prof Ian Scoones, STEPS Centre Director. The launch event was held at the British Council in Delhi on 19 February 2015.

    Watch the video coverage below (if you can’t see the embedded video, you can view it directly on YouTube):


  • “Are you Reg?” The strange and mythical reality of ‘carbon’

    Published on 20 March 2015

    Last night’s “Nature As Commodity” debate in Brighton discussed what happens when we treat ecosystems as commodities and ‘carbon’ as something to be traded and offset, among other things. I won’t try to summarise the debate (of which an audio recording will shortly be released), but here are some partial and subjective thoughts that emerged – apologies for any inaccuracies.


  • Financialisation of Nature: why we need politics and theory

    Published on 18 March 2015

    Guest post by Andrea Brock and Mareike Beck, School of Global Studies, Sussex University

    5eurofrog2In recent years, a broad range of new instruments have been promoted and celebrated to tackle climate change and environmental degradation. One well-known mechanism, hailed by its proponents as the key to saving the climate while also helping to eradicate poverty, is carbon offsetting.

    The most well established market manifestation can be found in the EU, which has had an infamously dysfunctional Emissions Trading System (ETS) in place since 2005. While the EU ETS has continuously failed on its own terms, ie to ‘properly’ price carbon emissions.

    Instead of shelving the creation of markets for nature however, new concepts, programs and systems based on offsetting (the belief that you can compensate for the adverse impacts that economic activity has on the ecosystem by ‘creating’ or conserving nature elsewhere) have proliferated. Carbon offsets, however, are only one of a variety of instruments which involve framing nature in financial terms. (more…)