Soon, a zero garbage society!

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In a portrayal of what citizens can achieve, an affluent high-rise in central Mumbai has shown the way in segregating and composting garbage to an exceptional level. Sujata Sridhar, a resident and active campaigner, gives us a lowdown on what it takes to shake a people out of their stupor and achieve such miraculous results. Citizens, indeed, can!

Segregating, composting, recycling. These words were not new to us. We knew these are important for our city, our country, our world, our planet. What then was stopping us from doing it? There may be many answers to this question, but I believe most people thought it was too much work. It was just easy to put everything in one bin and leave it outside. Sorting out our garbage was always viewed as someone else’s job.

I was told that last year some high schoolers from our building Raheja Atlantis in Lower Parel, Mumbai, had put up a proposal for garbage segregation. As all of us know, the basic human instinct is to reject change if one is living comfortably in the present environment. Why would anybody want to increase their work and expenses? Their proposal was therefore not accepted.

Then we suddenly started reading articles in various newspapers about the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) wanting to make garbage segregation mandatory in large housing societies. That came as a wake-up call to us. We heard of a couple of buildings in the neighbourhood that were already segregating and composting. We visited them to see how they were doing it. We realised we would need some hand holding in the initial stages, but we decided to start. And once we set the ball rolling, there was no looking back.

In the meantime our enthusiastic youngsters had finished school and gone off to colleges abroad. As we wanted to be absolutely sure of following the right processes, we approached a few NGOs and some private companies offering help with waste management solutions. We sat through a few interesting presentations and discussions, and decided to go with Sampurnearth. 

Hard work, rich returns
For anyone who is keen on starting segregation and composting in their building, the first thing people need to understand is that it doesn’t matter how much professional help you get, you have to be prepared to work hard yourself. Every household in the building needs to start with basic segregation – wet and dry. Easy as it may sound, this does not happen just by sending messages and mails, or by putting up charts of what goes in which bin. After the initial couple of weeks, when we did not see much progress towards our goal, we conducted a training session for all domestic help in the building along with the housekeeping staff. After all, most of the wet waste coming from the kitchen, is handled by domestic help. This gave everybody a chance to ask questions and clear whatever doubts they had in their mind about wet and dry waste. For example, one person thought that a take away container should go with wet waste because it is wet from the inside. 

Though we did see a marked improvement in segregation levels after the training session, there were many households that were still not co-operating. After repeated requests, we realised that we needed to have strict rules in place. So, clear instructions were given to housekeeping staff to inspect the garbage bins and not to collect unsegregated waste. We also informed those households that they would have to dispose the waste themselves as they were not complying. We maintained a detailed register in which we marked every household that did not comply. After another couple of weeks, we had overcome the first hurdle. Everybody was segregating!

There was already an Excel composting machine in the building that had never been used. We had it serviced, bought a crusher and started composting with the help of one staff and a supervisor from Sampurnearth.

Our building generates about 80 kgs of wet waste every day. With that, we got our first 100 kgs of manure in six weeks. Our garden committee confirmed that it was of excellent quality!

A team from the BMC from our G South Ward visited our building and was extremely happy to see what we had achieved within three months. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was gathering momentum and they were able to document some initiative taken in their own ward. They sent news reporters to our building, our waste management initiative had found its way in newspapers and magazines, and we were also delighted that our efforts were being noticed and recognised.

After this first successful step, it was now time to move ahead. We introduced a third level of segregation viz., biomedical and hygiene waste. This includes soiled diapers, sanitary pads, cotton swabs etc. This is all reject waste i.e., it can neither be composted nor recycled. Some residents complained that this was getting more and more cumbersome and taking too much of their time. However, one needs to understand that once one starts segregating, it comes naturally and it is not time consuming. This is a long journey and we hope to learn with every step we take. Our aim is to become a zero garbage society i.e., a society that gives no garbage to the BMC. 

Conclusion
To me personally, it has been a very satisfying experience to see our building making its own contribution towards a greener Mumbai. We must never forget that we are all residents of this planet only for the blink of an eye, and that we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, but only borrow it from our children. For their sake, as much as for our own, I hope that other societies who want to start segregation and composting but are hesitating to take that first step, will take a leaf out of our book. We would be happy to share our experience with any society/group that wants to start waste segregation, and welcome them to take a look at our waste management programme. 

Sujata Sridhar grew up in Pune and has a Master’s degree in German from the University of Pune. She has been a German language teacher at various Goethe Institutes in India and abroad and has lived in various cities in India, and then overseas for almost 20 years because of her husband’s job. She now lives in Lower Parel, Mumbai, and plays an active role to help find solutions to civic problems in the area. She is a member of the local residents’ welfare association and is on the management committee of her housing society.


Sujata Sridhar

Sujata Sridhar grew up in Pune and has a Master’s degree in German from the University of Pune. She has been a German language teacher at various Goethe Institutes in India and abroad and has lived in various cities in India, and then overseas for almost 20 years because of her husband’s job. She now lives in Lower Parel, Mumbai, and plays an active role to help find solutions to civic problems in the area. She is a member of the local residents’ welfare association and is on the management committee of her housing society.

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