Keeping It Clean
A 'PhD' in garbage that won awards
By Sujata Devadas, January 31, 2018
Every housing unit generates garbage. Those who collect it and take it away, clean its environment. The cleaners.
Palm Meadows housing community began waste segregation in 2010. Residents put food waste in a green bag. High quality packaging material - bottles, pizza boxes, et cetera - were resold. The rest went to the landfill.
A myth exposed
3 years later, Yuvraj Bisht's videotaped school assignment smashed the well-intentioned ‘green bag’ pro-activism at source as pointless. He followed the garbage truck from his home in Palm Meadows to where the trash is dumped. All trash, he found, the green food waste bags and the rest, were tossed out together next to the International Tech Park.
4500 tons of waste was dumped daily in Bangalore’s landfill, close to Mandur village. The villagers’ health problems spiralled. Outraged, Mandur villagers blocked the trash trucks from reaching the landfill. Their protest alerted all Bangalore.
Yuvraj’s discovery became blazing news in Palm Meadows. A Green Team with Yuvraj’s mother Archana, Madhu Valluri, Nitya Ramakrishnan, Sashikala Rajamani, Srividya Shankar and Tanya Bali came into being.
“We discussed what to do” says Green Team member Srividya Shankar. “A lot of plastic covers in which grocery items are sold, ended up in the landfill, but could be recycled.
Some of us composted food waste in our own backyard with composting products like the Daily Dump organisation’s Khamba or a Leave-It-Pot, a SmartBin or the Solar Composter. I did that too. We decided to take a closer look at housing complexes practicing waste management."
Before the Mandur protest, Sangeetha Venkatesh had researched effective garbage disposal. She gave them her report.
To use or not to use
Fact-finding visits began.
Green Team members kept Palm Meadows (Owners) Managing Committee informed. Keen to make this complex a zero waste community, Committee member Suhas Nerurkar accompanied them on these visits to consider options.
Balaji Pristine’s 100 apartments shredded waste and kept it on racks in a basement room for composting. This compost was used as manure for apartment dwellers’ urban gardens.
Surplus manure was given to local parks for soil fertilisation. A vendor collected non-compostable waste for disposal.
105 acres Prestige Shantiniketan with many buildings and a lot of space set 2 rooms aside to sort out dry and wet waste for vendors to collect.
“I found TZED the most impressive” says Srividya. “A much smaller community than Palm Meadows, it composted its own food waste material and generated methane gas fuel which their maintenance staff used to make tea. They banned plastic bags and collected garbage in aluminium cans that could be washed. TZED went a step further to separate medical and sanitary waste.”
MARIDI Eco Industries picked it up for incineration, as it did with biomedical waste collected from hospitals and clinics across Bangalore.
The social enterprise Samarthanam Parisara collected TZED’s dry waste and reduced the burden on landfills. All these, however, were apartments. Palm Meadows needed a solution for villas.
Prestige Ozone villas had 4 bins and a trolley to do a door-to-door pick up of segregated waste. Their green waste was collected separately, then crushed along with garden waste before tossing it into huge composting pits.
These solutions, good indicators, crystallised a new system by 2014: plastic garbage bags could be substituted with green, red, blue and beige buckets to separate food waste, medical waste, the larger amount of dry recyclable packaging material and remaining rejects for the landfill. Buckets that could be washed and re-used for trash consignment.
Waste separation meant every item raised questions: ‘What happens to dog poo? Where does it go?’ ‘What about a broken glass bottle ? Can it be recycled? Which category?’
In her retrospection, Srividya remembers how friends poked fun at this ‘PhD in garbage’. "But we did the right thing, getting huge support from residents who wished to reduce the landfill burden" she says.
While other communities composted green waste in their own complex, Palm Meadows had no common land to do composting. This housing complex is an aggregation of private properties. The land outside this aggregation belonged to Adarsh Land Developers.
The ideal alternative ecological solution, was that each house composted its own food waste. This could not be enforced. A true overall community level solution was still missing.
Convinced about the need for a better system, Nitya Ramakrishnan, founder of non-profit organisation, Whitefield Rising contested the next Management Committee election and won. She took up the environment and citizenry portfolio.
All in favour …
Bangalore’s municipality, BBMP, worked with non-profit activist organisations and published a new waste disposal legislation towards the end of 2014. V Shankar, Palm Meadows current Managing Committee President, in charge of the environment and citizenry portfolio explains, “All new housing societies received a notice from BBMP: those with more than 10 residential units must segregate waste at source and are accountable for its disposal with approved vendors. Violation incurs a fine.”
BBMP also implemented waste separation into 3 categories through 2 bins and 1 bag. Its new legislations made a sewage treatment plant (STP) in big residential complexes compulsory. All this increased compliance in Palm Meadows.
An STP existed in Palm Meadows right from the beginning. By December 2014, the first chart categorising waste into 4 bins was approved. Vendors were chosen. The final waste management recommendations came through.
Not just one email
News of a new system reached the vendor collecting Palm Meadows waste. He offered to pick up the green food waste and despatch it to piggeries. He was instructed to stop using plastic bags and buy a green drum to collect waste. Samarthanam Parisara accepted the task of taking away dry waste in the Blue Bin (or in a bag that they provided) twice a week. These two vendors worked on separate days.
‘Red’ or biomedical waste would be kept next to the community’s STP for MARIDI Eco Industries to collect for incineration.
In February 2015, the project took off in 2 lanes. A sponsor supplied bins for each Palm Meadows villa. As the garbage van entered the compound, Green Team volunteers walked along the 2 lanes ringing the bell of each house requesting their attendance at a demonstration on correct waste segregation into 4 bins. They also patrolled the street checking where the bins were kept in each property, ascertaining that the garbage was picked up from each house.
Cleaning staff Husenamma and Poojaramma at work
Evidence mounted that the green waste vendor bunked often and employed children to do the job. He was replaced with another vendor. Palm Meadows consented to his suggestion of buying its own trolleys. His workforce picked up the waste everyday except Sundays.
For smooth operation, the route was planned, more lanes added. Green Team members continued the road shows to demonstrate correct waste segregation. Neighbours helped each other understand. Schools closed and teenagers joined to help. All of Phase II adapted to the new system by April 2015.
Road shows, presentations, an Open House to answer enquiries and doubts, then a quiz. Maids attended a demo, understood and accepted the change.
Palm Meadows' Phase 1 section began practising the new waste segregation and disposal system in May. The new system was fully operational for the entire community in June.
Anand and Shiva supervised the cleaners and explained matters to confused residents. If a violation occurred, they sent photos of it to Nitya, committee member-in-charge, for further action.
Expatriate tenants, foreigners familiar with waste segregation in their own country, were quite happy to practice it. Road shows and demos came in handy for residents with limited knowledge in English and local languages.
Protecting the cleaners
Although protective clothing - gloves and face masks - are supplied to the cleaners in Palm Meadows, they considered it an undignified admission of weakness to wear it and safeguard their own health. If cleaners do their job without wearing gloves and face masks supplied to them, the vendor is held responsible. A penalty is levied on the cleaner for his or her laxity in complying to health protection.
Wrapping up the best solution
Transporting waste to another location is a very costly affair. Adarsh Land Developers imported the Reddonatura composting machine in 2015 and set it up next to the STP. The resulting manure fertilises Palm Meadows greenery.
Cleaning staff Amarappa sifts through green waste to ensure there is no plastic content, then adds it to Reddonatura, the community compost machine. The resultant manure is used to fertilise Palm Meadows greenery.
Palm Meadows won the ‘Best in Waste Management’ award in 2017 "My Place of Pride" contest for villa housing. It borrowed ideas from others, then did the best implementation.
Palm Meadows also won the first prize in ‘Best Landscape and Garden Maintenance 2018’ from Department of Horticulture (Government of Karnataka) and Mysore Horticulture society On January 24th this year.