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The Covid-19 pandemic has not only burdened the health infrastructure but also put undue stress on the country’s waste management system. Covid-19 waste poses a grave danger to millions of sanitation workers in India. To help this vulnerable section of society, a Pune-based start-up has developed a compact, waste-picking machine called ‘Jatayu’. The machine allows sanitation workers to collect litter and garbage without using their hands to do so.

Abhishek Shelar, an alumnus of Harvard and IIT Bombay, who was behind the development of the machine, wanted to ensure the health, safety and dignity of millions of waste pickers in India. He created ‘Jatayu’ intending to solve the difficulties faced by manual scavengers and sanitation workers dealing with managing Covid-waste. Shear and his core team spoke to multiple manufacturers, researchers and developers to develop the machine. After long hours of consultations and feedback, Shelar managed to create the first version of the machine, named ‘Jatayu HD’, Indian Express reported.

Delhi Municipal Corporation was among the first buyers of the Jatayu machine. According to Biotic Waste Management in Delhi, nearly 7.2 tonnes of COVID-19 waste was generated each day last year, which has increased to 12.5-13 tonnes per day by the end of April 2021, Hindustan Times reported.

Machines that address roadside litter do exist in the western world but their efficacy may not be enough when it comes to treating India’s waste management problem. Countries such as the United States and Europe have addressed roadside litter with such machines. But they concentrate only on fallen leaves on the road. In India, however, waste pickers are expected to collect everything from plastic to paper to food packaging and even Covid-19 waste.

On average, Jatayu can collect about two tonnes of garbage per day. Shelar’s journey as an entrepreneur started five years ago and he has spent the past two years developing the ‘Jatayu’ machine. In 2016, he started the Pune-based start-up called ‘Spruce Up’ to ensure safety, dignity and health for the millions of sanitation workers in India. The Cleantech start-up has previously come up with machines that can spray disinfectants on garbage before and after cleaning it.

Covid-19 waste management is a major issue since the emergence of the pandemic. According to the report filed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in the National Green Tribunal in July, India generates about 101 Metric Tonnes per day (MT/day) of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste.

In Wuhan when the novel coronavirus first emerged, authorities did not build new hospitals but instead constructed a new medical waste plant first and also deployed 46 mobile waste treatment facilities.

“Handling garbage using hands endangers the safety of sanitation workers who work tirelessly under vulnerable conditions just to keep our surroundings tidy. A lot of them have lost their lives due to contracting ailments, including COVID-19, in the recent past. Through Jatayu, we want to prevent such unfortunate incidents, and restore the dignity of waste pickers,” Shelar told the media in a previous interview.

The founder of the machine says that the Cleantech startup is attempting to protect the health, safety, and dignity of the 1.5 million to four million waste pickers in the country.

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