A Bengaluru resident’s journey from food waste clean up to environmental activism

The story of how the writer innovatively disposes of his kitchen waste, and promotes recycling in the process, benefiting both humans and animals.

When I grew up in my home state, Ajmer, Rajasthan, I used to go to my grandparent’s place, a small town in Rajasthan, during summer vacations in the 1990s. This place was self- sufficient at waste disposal as I would think most of India was at that time. There were no plastic bags, plastic bottles, single use plastic cups, cutlery etc. Whatever little waste that was generated in the kitchen was diligently put in a street sink— a big stone bowl where people can throw their kitchen wet waste for cattle to eat or drink from.

The cows would come and eat it within minutes. It was a valuable source of nutrition for them. So, I decided to do the same in Bengaluru. Kitchen waste, like vegetable and fruit peels, is a valuable source of food for cattle. We often throw away the peels or use it for composting. In my childhood, I saw that there was no concept of composting and food waste was given to animals to eat.

My experience in Bengaluru

In Bengaluru, there are a lot of open spaces, where plastic bags with food or other valuables are thrown about everywhere. It gives the city a bad reputation, and many sarcastically comment that the ‘Garden City’ has become a ‘Garbage City’. This is what I want to change. With these small efforts of segregation we can do wonders with this waste. It needs just a little bit of empathy. Just like we keep our homes clean, we should keep our city clean.

During the first few weeks, I was looking for a street sink. So, when I spotted cows a few hundred metres from my apartment in Sarjapur road, I was quite happy that there were animals nearby. There are various animals like cows, bulls, dogs and even birds. After removing food from plastic bags and placing it in the bin, the animals would eat from it. Yet, I continued my search for a spot with a street sink, where animals can come and enjoy food served on a platter.

One day, I followed a few cows going inside a lane from the main road on my bicycle, which led me to a place where I saw a large street sink, just a few metres inside that lane. I was thrilled that I finally found my happy place!

Everyday, I would start cycling from my home and take my kitchen waste to dispose of there. This was my daily routine for a year or so.

However, one day, I lost my bicycle outside a lake. This disappointed me, nevertheless, I decided to carry on my routine of feeding stray animals by walking. This activity became my daily morning routine. I found that the walk towards that place has now expanded in scope and scale. Earlier, I was only giving food waste from my house to these animals. Now, it included providing food discarded along my pathway, as well as my personal food, to cattle. Additionally, it involved collecting plastic bottles and other recyclable plastic to be given to a vendor. Finally, it entailed collecting scattered non-recyclable plastic covers, placing them in gunny bags, which is collected by the BBMP pickup van.

I observed that food was regularly dumped in certain black spots everyday. I wondered why the food, which can be so easily fed to cattle, is wrapped in a plastic bag, making it challenging for animals to tear open and eat the food. This practice also leads to animals inadvertently ingesting plastic along with their food.

Slowly, I started collecting discarded food in a cloth bag and transporting it to the location with the street sink. This food had been removed from plastic covers, which was then gathered into large rice bags scattered around. Now, this has become my daily routine and my passion. I spend close to 1 to 1.5 hours daily for my 450-500 metres errand, where I segregate the waste into three categories:

  • Firstly, food for cattle
  • Secondly, plastic bottles, bins and boxes that are given to a scrap dealer
  • Thirdly, a waster plastic cover, in which the rice bags are collected and then stored in a drum. Subsequently, the BBMP van collects these items for disposal
Cattle grazing at a dumpyard full of mixed waste including plastic
Surgeries performed on animals to remove plastic from the bellies make it to the news regularly. Pic: Pinky Chandran

Read more: Escalating garbage crisis in Bengaluru’s Ilyas Nagar, residents seek BBMP action

Everyday challenges

  1. People, due to lack of a designated space, dump the garbage at some black spot/open areas without segregation. These people supposedly don’t have a BBMP pick up facility.
  2. Often, the BBMP van person and the pourakarmikas burn this waste. They are either not trained in segregation or don’t want to do it as it is a tedious process and requires time and effort.
  3. Burning of waste creates health hazards for people living around those spaces or commuting through these roads. It also adds to air pollution.
  4. I have often found valuables being thrown away by people. I have found expensive leather wallets, playing cards in good condition, hair brushes, clothes etc. in this waste. These can be easily reused or repurposed. Plastic bottles and other recyclable plastic have a scrap value.

Way forward

The onus is on citizens to help the BBMP in this process rather than just blaming them for their apathy and indifference. I would suggest that each one of us can make a difference by doing our bit, however small. It could be taking a walk around your locality and picking up some plastic scattered around and putting it in a designated place after segregation. This is called plogging, which is also good exercise. Just doing a little bit everyday can make a huge difference.

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  1. P Srinivasan says:

    I have doubts in feeding the cattle which are owned by others. I compost all of my waste since 2010. Yes we can feed the cattle with fruit peels and other vegetable waste. What about the stale food stored overnight and more? can the cattle eat that?

  2. Sumit Sacheti says:

    yes food within 1-3 days old is still quite good for cattle. when food is many days old it will produce a bad odour and it will decompose that is what should be avoided. Also all the animals have a very good senses of odour..they are generally very adept on judging what food can be eaten and what should be left out..

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