Some of us residents from Bellandur Ward, representing about 19 apartment complexes, in and around Sarjapur Road, Outer Ring Road and Haralur Road have decided to work together to find common solutions to the Solid Waste Management problem. We will also work together to identify vendors and if possible, standardize process.

As I read what is written in newspapers and various discussion threads, I find a huge disconnect on one count. I believe people want to segregate provided we don’t make it sound like rocket science, which the newspapers do.

Our apartment on Sarjapur Road had initiated segregation 18 months ago with three gunny sacks in each building's basement for recyclables and a single drum in the club house for e-waste. Residents were expected to segregate the waste at source into 6 categories. Since it was voluntary, folks who didn’t want to do it, could continue to keep plastic bags outside their doors.  We expected low participation but we were so pleasantly surprised!

We had to scramble to ensure that our gunny sacks of recyclables wasn’t overflowing all the time and had to ask housekeeping to clear it twice on weekends (we had earlier expected to clear it once a week).  We launched organic waste segregation with ‘no plastic bags’ rule in January this year. 90% of our residents took to it.

An email criticicing the additional hassles it entailed was drowned by the supporting emails.  My garbage of 14 bags a week going to landfill has now become one bag a week. We are selling more than 1000 kgs of recyclables per month.  We also walk a dozen neighbouring apartments through our waste segregation process (to help get them started). We have done over a dozen of these.

What made it a success for us?

  1. Communication. We believed people would want to segregate, just make it easy for them to do it and our communication reflected that. And communication was a two-way street and we changed many things based on the feedback we received.
  2. Housekeeping staff were treated as our equal partners and their feedback and support has been critical for success.
  3. From being too complex in phase I, we have learnt to make things simpler to understand. Am hoping BBMP will also go through this learning curve.

I have small nits to pick in what BBMP has currently been proposed

  1. Current segregation proposed is too complex - A person has to look at the BBMP paper to know what goes where.  90% of garbage goes into 2-3 logical categories and that’s what they should have focused in Phase I. All the small details could be on their website. Right now, there is information overload and my sympathies are with people who are looking at segregation for the first time. Unfortunately, then there will be a cry that it is a failure as people don't want to segregate!
  2. Glass should not be mixed with anything else. Chances of it breaking would be high that would kill its value but more importantly it can hurt the person segregating further.
  3. Sanitary waste disposal method currently proposed goes against how women like to dispose it – discreetly.  Plus pet and stray dogs and cats might have a go at it, if not in a closed bin/bag.
  4. E-waste should not be mixed with other waste like paints and chemicals.
  5. Thermacol, rags, dust, etc. were listed as ‘reject’ in earlier segregation pamphlets that we adopted. Since our current recyclable vendors don’t pick these items and very few private recyclers do, this is just causing confusion in the short term.

I am sure all of these things will get sorted but at a macro level, we need two things now,

  1. We would like some standardisation across the city (country if possible, and matching with emerging global standards if effort could be extended) with a simple color code. I think of it like driving. This ensures that, while folks have to spend time to understand rules first time, they don’t do it all the time. E.g., if I see a white bin, anywhere (home, mall, office, airport, parliament etc), I know paper goes in it.
  2. Having evaluated organic waste converter (OWC) and now bio-fuel, we believe we still don’t have the perfect answer for what to do with our organic waste. OWC gives us manure but what do we do with it in an apartment complex? Greenery within cannot absorb the quantity of manure generated.  BBMP Commissioner Rajneesh Goel’s solution of farmers accepting compost is a great one. Another alternative is bio-fuels though it also needs space that is at a premium. The ROI on it for a building is 10-11 years versus 2-3 years for commercial kitchen establishments. We believe organic waste solution needs scale and hence should be a ward level activity and not contained within an individual apartment complex.