Waste disposal in communities: Bengaluru needs simple practical solutions

Renuka Mani shares the sad story of waste management in her apartment complex, after reading our story on BBMP's garbage expenditure over the years. The story throws light on the problems faced by communities.

RMV Clusters residents participating in a spot fix. Pic: Renuka Mani

This is a story of how active residential complexes are basically left to fend for themselves in light of the gross mismanagement of garbage by BBMP, and sometimes callous attitude of the officials, leading to utter failure of the entire GMS (Garbage Management System).

RMV Clusters Phase 2, Lottegollahalli, Ward-8, Kodigehalli, comprises about 240 residential units/ flats. We, the residents have taken an active interest in garbage management and have been trying to find solutions to their issues for the last 2.5 years. We, as active and concerned citizenry, have cleaned up neighbourhoods physically, beautifying it with rangoli, co-operating and extending support to the local Corporator Ashwath Narayan Gowda with door-to-door campaigning of wet waste (including spending our own money on bi-lingual posters to go to every establishment and requesting them to restrain the use of plastic bags) and so on.

Settling for a waste management solution was not easy. We had to go and examine bio-gas plants at the Indian Institute of Science. Waste management vendors were called to the complex for an awareness campaign and exhibition for residents.

We examined composting solutions, such as vermicompost and daily dump. We visited huge complexes such as Prestige Kensington, Godrej apartments, Vaishnavi apartments, including Vani Murthy’s apartment in Malleswaram to understand their waste management solutions.

Waste management solutions that did not work

Finally we settled for something that was feasible and marginally more affordable and suitable for the space available in our complex.

We invested in Byo-bins that basically helped compost our kitchen/ wet waste. We tried a couple of cycles and it turned out well. But we ran out of money to invest in more bins as each bin costs Rs 15,000. For apartments like ours, we need at least 12 bins for continuous composting. (There is monthly cost incurred for the catalyst called Composorb that we need to purchase and utilise for the speedy composition process). However, that process came to a standstill as we ran out of funds to invest in all 12 bins and so the private contractors (who mixed everything despite segregation or refused to take only wet waste), were continued with.

We have written to our local MLA. We have interacted with Assistant Engineers and Corporators, sat for hours at the Corporator’s office and invited him over for discussions. At one time we were told, “what can we do ma’am, the garbage mafia is too much.” The government officials have at some point given up and let us down and have been happy for us to go it alone.

After interacting with Dr Sandhya, Medical Officer at BBMP sitting in the Amrutahalli office, we were directed to engage with BBMP’s empanelled vendors for Dry, Wet and Sanitary waste. For e-waste, no specific vendor was mentioned.

These vendors do not seem to be reigned or controlled or governed by BBMP in any way, while contractually obligated to serve citizens. MSGP, one such vendor firm, once decides to charge per kg and another time per apartment. Once we are told they will collect only wet waste and the next time we are told “give everything, we will take everything, as long as it is segregated. We will not take sanitary or e-waste.”

Nesara has been contracted for Dry Waste now by our apartment. They are supposed to (if I’m not mistaken) take dry waste for free because these are recyclables and they make money from the waste anyway. However, we are paying them for collecting dry waste.

Semb Ramky charges for collecting sanitary waste are expensive, but do we have a choice? And Semb Ramky won’t take sanitary waste in regular plastic bags – they will take sanitary waste wrapped in paper, dumped in KPSCB-approved yellow plastic bags available at Rs.2.85 per bag. This cost is in addition to the monthly charges for collecting waste which have slabs minimum being 100 kgs. Of course, they do give us the option of procuring “yellow bags” only (as per some official directive) from the market.

Now coming to wet waste, since MSGP was expensive, Dr Sandhya suggested we try giving our wet waste to the bio-methanisation plant which was under-utilised to the tune of 1.5 MTPD. We agreed. After trying this out for 3-4 days the bio-methanisation plant did not accept our waste.

Our observations on the crores spent on BM plants are as under:

1) Segregation at source of wet waste is not enough, apparently we need to ensure that secondary level segregation is also conducted. This means we incur additional expenditure for a special segregator as housekeeping staff are reluctant to conduct this level of segregation.

2) The BM plant will not accept: Eggshells, roots of coriander leaves, coconut shells, mango seeds, minute dust, human hair, etc. It will accept only rasam, sambhar, perhaps rice – mostly really fine wet waste.

3) Large bins are unwieldy and not acceptable—only 50 kg bins are preferred because the helpers cannot tip it into their trucks. Really? Who bears the additional cost? The bulk generator of course, in this case, our complex.

Questions raised:

  1. Bio-methanisation plants : Does anyone from BBMP conduct a due diligence on the type of bio-methanisation plant that would be practical, feasible, perhaps scalable, before signing off tax payers’ money to execute them?
  2. If BBMP has spent crores investing in these plants and given statements in public as to how this will reduce the wet waste in Bangalore, one needs to conduct an audit of how many of the 16 biomethanisation plants are operational and if it is running at full capacity.
  3. What kind of bio-methanisation plants are these that are so restrictive in what is acceptable as wet waste? If it accepts only liquid waste or cooked food, then would items like cauliflower, potatoes, soppu be acceptable? And what is one supposed to do with that kind of waste? Are already resistant citizens actually supposed to segregate waste at that level? Where in the world is this done?
  4. Why is BBMP collecting SWM cess in property tax if citizens have to basically sort out the mess themselves?
  5. Piggeries: Has BBMP ever made the citizens aware of piggeries? Have they mentioned that pigs won’t eat wet waste that is mixed with tea and coffee from households?

Finally, it seems that the issue is so complex, so layered, like our waste really, that the government makes the right noises, issues notices, empanels vendors but ultimately the citizen is left to fend for himself.

My questions are simple, while the answers, I’m sure, are complex.

  • Is Bangalore comprised only of rich techies who can somehow afford to live in gated communities which have the space to provide for waste treatment facilities?
  • What happens to the aam aadmi, the hoi polloi, those who don’t have the funds or the space?
  • What happens to those who live in big bungalows?
  • Are any waste management systems in gated communities being audited?

At the end of the day, citizens like me and like-minded active neighbours realise that we live in a dysfunctional apathetic city. Citizens don’t bother to segregate. They genuinely think it is their god-given right to litter everywhere and shrug their shoulders. In our complex we have gone door-to-door in groups, urging, requesting, and educating people on waste segregation. Many do compost at home, but most nod their heads in agreement, or pass the buck to their maids. We have literally put our hands in people’s garbage bins to show what kind of waste is wet, dry or sanitary but people continue to remain stubborn and adopt a tough stance.

The government has basically thrown its hands in the air and is collecting cess, saying that they are bankrupt, while corruption continues unabated. Dozens of articles are written, SWM notices are put out, but life continues as usual. We all continue to live another day. Yeh hai India meri jaan.

Citizens who do, are in a minority and suffer. Because the majority says, “chuck it”. Why can’t citizens come together for “Manage Garbage” movements? Are they waiting for an epidemic to hit the state? Are they waiting for miracles to happen? Maybe political honchos should call priests to do a yagna for a miraculous solution and not just for votes when elections near.

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