Widespread waste segregation a far cry, but citizen initiatives rising

A Citizen Matters check found out there is widespread interest amongst citizens in helping the city shake off the ‘garbage’ city tag, but there is much ground to be covered.

“We don’t want to see piles of garbage on the road when we grow up. It is our future we are looking at”, says Anugraha Anand, all of 12. Anugraha and her friends at her apartment complex Renaissance Regalia on 6th main Malleshwaram are spearheading a campaign on waste segregation and solid waste management.

“We do not want piles of garbage on the road when we grow up”, say the young children of Renaissance Regalia in Malleshwaram. Seen here from L to R – Sowmya Panyan, Srishti, Malaika Vijay, Prerna Mohan, Tanvi Kaushik, Anugraha Anand. Pic courtesy: Vani Murthy

Leading this bunch of eight children, seven girls and one boy, is 47-year-old Vani Murthy or Vani aunty as the children call her. “I got together the kids of the apartment and asked them if they would be willing to talk to the people about waste segregation. They agreed to come”, says Vani. The children, in the age group of 11 to 13, now serve as litter cops and correct people if they don’t segregate waste properly, she adds, gushing that “Regalia kids rock”.

It has been about a year and the residents of this apartment complex now segregated their waste into wet, dry, electronic and medical. Waste paper is handed over to ITC (Indian Tobacco Company) for recycling, plastic to KK Plastics (a company that uses plastic to lay roads), part of the wet waste is composted, and the remaining goes to BBMP’s pourakarmikas. Vani says that the initiative is like an activity for the kids. “People feel that if kids talk, it’ll have more impact. These kids go extempore. Best part is that we have fun”, she says.

Anugraha says that the hardest part is making people understand. “People think it’s too hard. After we explain the entire thing, they ask us, so what should we do”, she says, sounding a little frustrated. As these children go door-to-door, they come across many a roadblock, because of which they have made a list of some of the excuses people give to not segregate waste. “I don’t have time”, “I am watching a cricket match. Come later”, “All such projects will not last! People will do it for a while and then forget about it!”, “The BBMP will mix all the waste up anyway! So why should I put in the effort?”, to quote a few, reflecting attitudes of adults towards this pressing problem.

The children of Renaissance Regalia in Malleshwaram gave us a list of ‘excuses’ that adults give them when called on to discuss waste segregation.

• Don’t have time.
• The secretary is a dummy! I have already tried to get the people in this building together! It is no use!
• I am watching a cricket match. Come later!
• I am too old to do any of this now! It is your generation! So you do what you want!
• The BBMP will mix all the waste up anyway! So why should I put in the effort?
• All such projects will not last! People will do it for a while and then forget about it!
• There are other important pressing issues to deal with. So start wit that first!
•  It is very difficult to educate the maids! It is too much of a bother to constantly supervise them.
•  I do not generate much waste!
•  Why are you wasting time doing all this! First get the BBMP to pick garbage off the roads regularly.
•  Not now! We will get back to you! (and they never did)

But this hasn’t deterred these children from spreading awareness “on being responsible while managing waste”.

While these young ones are making a difference in their own way, plans are on to formulate a legislation to make solid waste management mandatory in the state, and in Bengaluru in particular. Vivek Reddy, a lawyer and Co-convenor of BJP’s Legal and Legislative Cell, explains that they have collected inputs from experts and citizen groups to draft this legislation and have begun writing out the draft. The first round of the draft is expected to be ready in about 15 days and will be circulated among NGOs for their inputs. They are looking to have a draft ready by the end of January 2010 to open it up to the public.

Reddy says that the idea arose after they conducted a mass plantation programme and a ‘Clean Nandi (hills)’ campaign last year, an initiative of the ‘Advocates for a Better Earth’ group. “We want segregation at house level – wet and dry waste. And the same thing can be used by pourakarmikas. And then we can recycle non-decomposable waste. We want the Mahanagara Palike to implement this”, Reddy says, adding that senior leaders in the party have expressed their enthusiasm towards this. Answering a question about why they were taking the legislative route, Reddy says they are planning it for the entire state, and will first push for implementing it in Bangalore.

The much touted term – ‘public participation’

Even as efforts are being made in these pockets to deal with the city’s garbage crisis, the reality is quite a mix. Take the case of RMV Clusters in Devi Nagar (in North Bangalore’s Hebbal area). Sindhu Naik, 46, a volunteer-activist and resident of this apartment complex explains how they initiated solid waste management in their apartment complex about nine years ago. They even had a compost pit constructed. Unfortunately, it was eventually discontinued.

Citing lack of interest and forgetfulness, she explains how some of the residents did not segregate the waste properly. The residents had even assigned two boys from a nearby slum to collect the garbage. “But they were unreliable and erratic”, says Sindhu. Even the garbage bin in front of their complex was broken and the compost pit in their complex has made way for a parking lot. Sindhu says she segregates waste in her house and is looking to restart the initiative in the complex.

A similar initiative down south, in Koramangala, met the same fate. In 2007, the Koramangala Initiative (KI) worked to put together an effective system for solid waste management, in coordination with BBMP. They even decided to have suchi mitras (civic-minded citizens who help ensure cleanliness in his/her locality) for each street to monitor garbage collection. Manvel Alur, an active member of the group, says there was an issue with transportation of the segregated waste. “We wanted them to take one round for wet waste and one round for dry waste. But that didn’t happen because of many reasons. As a stop-gap arrangement, the contractor was asked to put gunny bags on the tempos to collect the dry waste tempos. The envisaged step-wise approach (education, awareness, segregation, collection, and decentralized disposal) to solving this problem was delayed further, due to the garbage scam, and the lack of sustained citizen volunteers”, she says.

A recent proposal to install an organic waste convertor, in Koramangala 1st Block, has met with objections from the residents, primarily because of the location. “Most residents prefer to have such facilities away from residential areas, due to concerns related to health. This would mean transporting the waste away from the city. Transportation and indiscriminate dumping of waste is already happening in the current system, and this would defeat the purpose of decentralised waste management”. Manvel says that the residents aren’t largely against composting, but have valid concerns about the location of the compost unit posing problems. “The community is now examining alternatives, such as composting in individual households, etc”.

Panning west to Vijaynagar, the Vijaynagar Nagarikara Vedike has been allocated Rs 9 lakhs from the Community Participation Fund under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) to set up a unit for solid waste management. This was done with the help of Janaagraha, the Bangalore-based NGO that specialises in citizen-iniatives. B H Veeresha of the Association says that the money will be used to obtain a compost- making machine which costs around Rs 3.5 lakhs. The rest of the money will used to build a shed and start off the process. “Segregation will be done in the house. 300 houses (in Central Excise layout under Ward No 35) have been identified. This will be collected and brought to the unit”, Veeresha explains, adding that BBMP is yet to allocate land for the project. The residents do not segregate their waste currently.

These responses given below were compiled from the Bangalore Matters group on Facebook, which is moderated by Citizen Matters. If you’re on Facebook and would like to give us your views on stories we’re covering, we recommend you join the Bangalore Matters group and participate.

Preethy Rao Patel, Embassy Tranquil, Koramangala – We segregate waste at home. The main area of difficulty in all this is resistance to change. The mindset doesn’t seem to come easily even among educated people.

Shirish Raghu – I don’t think it is worth the effort unless we are given an option for recycle and regular garbage to be taken in differently.

Debamitro Chakraborti, Koramangala 1st Block – Segregation is not a problem. It is much simpler than depending upon municipal waste disposal system.

Adarsh Kini, Rainbow Drive, Sarjapur Road – People think it’s demeaning and that’s (segregating waste itself) where the block is. Also, it (solid waste management) is easier done at apartments, gated communities than in say BDA blocks.

Rahul Rao – If the composting does not take up too much space (I live in a pretty small house), then I’m all for it. Sounds nice to lower my contribution to the city’s garbage.

BBMP’s ‘zero’-garbage zone

While on the one hand citizen groups are taking up initiatives to check the garbage problem, the BBMP has also been making its own efforts. On August 15th this year  BBMP started the ‘No Garbage’ zone in Gandhinagar (Ward No 27) in the Majestic area. A brain-child of the Joint Commissioner (West) Ikkeri, this ward was chosen as it “is the gateway of Bangalore”, says M Rajanna, Senior Health Inspector, Gandhinagar. This is basically a commercial area, so there is more of dry waste than wet waste. We are building compost pits to do composting. Right now the wet waste is taken to the landfills”, says Rajanna.

BBMP officials supervising a pourakarmika near Janatha Bazaar in Gandhinagar. The BBMP has initiated the ‘No garbage’ zone in Gandhinagar. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

A total of 160 workers (both BBMP’s pourakarmikas and private contractors) work through three shifts in a day – 8 AM to 1.30 PM, 2 to 8 PM and 8 PM to 2 AM. These workers constantly move around the area, picking up litter, explains Rajanna. On asking him why they have pourakarmikas work round the clock, instead of just asking people to stop littering, he replies, “There is a floating population. So they will just throw and go. People are not bothered”. But he claims he does fine people like shopkeepers, if they throw garbage on the streets.

But not everyone agrees with BBMP’s Gandhinagar ‘experiment’. Wilma Rodrigues of Saahas says, “We have been speaking to BBMP that zero-waste is not sweeping 24 hours. People participation is crucial. You can’t just dump garbage on the road and then the BBMP collects it”. Saahas is a Bangalore-based NGO that providing solutions to problems related to solid waste management in the city.

Almitra H Patel, the pioneer who had filed several petitions in the Supreme Court to stop open dumping of garbage across cities, says BBMP’s initiative is not zero-garbage but zero-litter. “It means people are still chucking waste and the BBMP is picking after. The waste still goes to the outskirts where it is burnt or stray dogs come”, she says. Almitra is also founder-member of Swabhimana, a Bangalore-based NGO working on citizen participation and convenor of the INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Waste Network.

N S Ramakanth of the Kumara Park Residents Welfare Association, also agrees. He says he advised the Commissioner (West) during meetings against the idea to have the streets swept for 24 hours. “But he just wanted this to be a starting point”, says Ramakanth, adding that he did not want to discourage BBMP totally. “But they don’t bother about segregation”, he admits. Ramakanth has been leading a campaign on solid waste management in Seshadripuram. Along with Malleshwaram Swabhimana, they have gotten a number of residents to segregate waste. Plastic and paper are collected and stored in a godown, which is later handed over to ITC and KK Plastics. Wet waste is handed over to the pourakarmikas.

 A pourakarmika segregating waste in her pushcart on SC Road in Gandhinagar. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

Ramakanth and Dr Meenakshi Bharath of Malleshwaram Swabhimana, along with some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are in talks with BBMP zonal commissioners to identify sorting stations in each ward across the city, so that waste can be collected and segregated. Both Ramakanth and Meenakshi are members of the Lok Satta political party which was recently launched in Bangalore, and are aspirants of the upcoming city council elections.

What will work in Bengaluru?

A combination of efforts is going into making Bengaluru garbage-free. On the one hand preparations are on to bring out a legislation. On the other hand, citizen groups and NGOs are working in selected communities. Individuals are also making their own concerted efforts. And then there is BBMP, using brute government force to creating a zero-garbage zone in a commercial hub, Gandhinagar. So what will it take to get waste segregation adopted by families across the board?

Wilma of Saahas says there should be a clear community policy from BBMP on the guidelines that apartments and independent houses must follow. “There should be pressure from the government”. Almitra states the example of how a municipal school in Salem (in Tamil Nadu) collected 1.05 tonnes of plastic in ten days for a “plastic-roads” demonstration through individual rewards, by offering one free pencil (worth Rs 1) for 1kg plastic, one free notebook (worth Rs 5) for 5 kilos of plastic.

For Almitra, the answer is simple. “Just remove your plastic. The other waste will be taken by BBMP and it will decompose. Just collect all your plastic in a bag and give it to your area raddhi-wallah. There is no excuse for not doing this”.   


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  1. Srikanth Parthasarathy says:

    Excellent article and a very uplifting story to begin with. As it is meant in the last couple of paragraphs, there are many stakeholders who are contributing their talent and time to make Bengaluru a zero garbage zone. And like the way Anugraha and team are working for not to see the garbage when they grow up, it is every individual’s responsibility to make it happen. Just by listening to the awareness campaigns, one cannot contribute. We will need to act upon it and make it work.

  2. Pramod Naik says:

    Excellent article and hope that the lessons from these efforts are nailed into the unwilling brains of those who refuse to help out with the garbage issue. As the Hebrew saying goes “Change is very easy, it’s the resistance to change that takes a lifetime to achieve.” The idea of ‘someone else’ cleaning after is deeply deeply ingrained in our society and it’ll take Herculean efforts to even sort wet and dry garbage for our citizens. They’d love to give endless discourses on everything else on the planet, except their own backyard.

  3. Puneet Duneja says:

    I read through most of the articles here. Past ten days I have been struggling to get one empty site in BTM Layout to be cleaned by BBMP.For everyones information This empty site is near house number 911,9th Main 4th Cross BTM II nd Stage .

    Below are the list excuses I have heard from BBMP officials :

    1) They can clean that site but people will again use it as garbage point.

    2) They are anyways getting garbage lifted every morning.

    3) We can stand near this empty site complete day to stop people from throwing garbage.

    I liked this concept of segregating garbage : To keep it simple for every one to understand as it is mentioned already keep plastic material separate rest give it to BBMP they will recycle it.

    Few suggestions from my side :

    a) there needs to be dustbins in BDA areas. Dustbins should be separate one one for plastic wastes and other for rest.

    b) There needs to be people employed to fine who through garbage on empty site or urinate in public places.Rather than employee many people to collect garbage from empty sites.

    c) Spread aware among people in residential areas.

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