Responsible Waste Management

In nature, nothing goes to waste. Fallen leaves, half eaten fruits, dead animals – each of these are raw materials which get composted, returning their nutrients back to the soil. However, we have interrupted this natural cyclical process and instead created landfills and waste incinerators, both of which convert precious resources into pollution.

IMPACTS OF WASTE MISMANAGEMENT ON HUMAN HEALTH

75% of the municipal garbage in India is dumped in landfills or in unoccupied lands. The mountains of garbage that we have created in our towns and  cities are ticking time bombs. As the food waste lying in landfills and garbage dumps keeps decomposing;  methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide is released. Burning of garbage in landfills and every nook and corner of our towns and cities is the third biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in India releasing poisonous gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter into the air and worsening our air pollution woes. Indians breathe the worst air in the world. 14 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. The World Health Organisation has highlighted that air pollution is responsible for causing:

  • 24% of all adult deaths due to heart disease
  • 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • 29% from lung cancer

Please see this film – ‘Air Pollution and Our Waste’ to understand:

  • What happens to our waste when we put it in a plastic bag and give it away?
  • What we as individuals and communities can do to reduce the garbage mess in our cities and improve the quality of the air that we breathe?

The answer lies in accepting the simple fact that ‘our waste is our responsibility’.

WASTE SEGREGATION – KEY TO EFFECTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT

When we mix food waste with recyclables, plastic and electronic waste items; the whole mix gets contaminated. E-waste in the form of old batteries, bulbs, wires and mobile phones accounts for almost 40% of the lead and 70% of the heavy metals found in landfills. Leachate from the rotting garbage containing these heavy metals and toxins ends up getting absorbed in our soil and flowing into our water bodies contaminating the food we eat and the water we drink. Waste workers and rag pickers who try to make a living by retrieving the dry recyclables out of the mixed garbage in our landfill sites, risk their health and life by working in such a toxic environment.

Instead, if segregated at source correctly, each of the items in our dustbin can be either returned to nature as nutrient rich compost that replenishes our degraded soil or turned into useful resources by reusing and proper recycling. This will make a huge difference in making our cities cleaner.

Waste is a Resource if Segregated at Source

On an average, an Indian family living in a city generates about 1 kg of waste every day. Segregating our waste at the point where it is generated is the first and the most critical step of responsible waste management. Almost 90% of the waste we create is of great value if separated properly at source. The below chart shows the various types of waste generated in our homes.

waste segregation, type of waste, waste sorting
Image Courtesy: http://dailydump.org/learn/sorting.html
  • Almost 60% of the waste we generate in our homes everyday is kitchen and garden waste which creates lovely compost that can go back and nourish our soil and plants.
  • About 20% is paper, plastic, metal and glass waste that has good recycling value.
  • Another 10% is electronic waste in the form of old batteries, bulbs, wires, mobile phones which contains mercury, lead and other toxic materials. E-waste should always be stored separately and given to an authorised, government approved e-waste recycler who recycles the same scientifically and in a environmentally friendly manner.
  • Finally, we are only left with 10% waste in the form of household sweepings, diapers, menstrual pads, bio-medical waste that cannot be composted or recycled, and so this reject waste has to be sent to the landfill.

Thus, effective waste management helps us to reduce our environment footprint by reducing the waste we send out of our homes from 100% to just merely 10%.

Sanitary waste which forms the bulk of the 10% reject waste can be reduced significantly if women switch to eco-friendly menstrual options such as reusable cloth pads & menstrual cups and parents use cloth diapers for their children instead of disposable, environmentally harmful diapers. The aim is to shift towards a more eco-conscious way of living based on values of refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. 

To get more information on how to sort & segregate your waste, download FridgeSheet.

Why is 3 Way Segregation Better as Compared to a 2 Way System?

In a two-way segregation system where kitchen waste is put into one bin and all the dry waste including the recyclables and the reject waste such as sanitary and bio-medical waste is put into the second bin; the waste worker has to do the dirty job of doing another level of segregation to separate the recyclables from the rejects.

The three-way segregation model, where the sanitary and bio-medical waste in the form of sanitary napkins, diapers, bandages, soiled cotton etc makes up the third category of waste is the best way to segregate our garbage as it provides:

  • More dignity to the waste workers as they do not have to sift through the dirty sanitary waste to recover the recyclable items.
  • Better recovery of recyclables as the paper, cardboard, plastic, tin and glass items do not get soiled by the sanitary waste.
  • More money obtained for the clean, unsoiled recyclables.
three way segregation
Image Courtesy: Saahas Zero Waste

How to Segregate your Waste 3 Way?

All you need to get started is 2 bins and the willingness to pay attention while tossing your waste into the different bins. It is simple. Here are some of the ways in which you can segregate your waste using the 3 way approach:

  • Using the 2 bin, 1 bag system in which the green bin is for the kitchen waste, the red bin is for the rejects and the clean and dry recyclables are kept in a reusable bag. (http://www.2bin1bag.in/resources)
  • Putting red and green stickers or markings on two already existing bins in the home and storing recyclables in the form of paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass items separately in a cupboard or some storage place.

Our blog posts will feature films and detailed case studies on how different communities have used different approaches to get households to implement segregation of waste at source. 

RECYCLING THE DRY WASTE  

Everything that can be recycled should be kept separately and given for recycling such as:

  • paper and cardboard (newspapers, magazines, paper bills, pizza boxes, cardboard boxes, egg boxes, juice and milk tetrapacks etc),
  • metal (aluminium cans, foil, cheese tins etc),
  • plastic (shampoo and liquid soap bottles, oil containers, milk pouches, all plastic jars and packets, take away food containers, grain packets etc) and
  • glass (bottles and jars)

It is very important to wash and dry the recyclable items that contain liquid or solid food such as plastic milk pouches, cooking oil containers, cheese tins, take away food containers so they do not smell or attract bugs. This also increases the recycling value of these waste items.

ELECTRONIC WASTE MANAGEMENT 

Electronic waste in the form of old batteries, bulbs, wires, mobile phones, laptops, televisions, microwaves, geysers, air conditioners etc contain toxins such as mercury, lead, cadbium etc. This is the 4th main category of waste generated in our homes and offices. It is very harmful for human health and the health of the environment. If we throw this e-waste in our garbage, the toxins in the e-waste while lying in landfills, leach into the ground polluting our soil and water. These toxins adversely affect our skin, lungs, liver, kidneys, nervous and reproductive system.

E-waste collected by rag pickers and waste workers from garbage dumps is dismantled unscientifically using environmentally unfriendly methods such as using acids without any safety equipment. More than 60% of the informal waste workers including children handling e-waste in India suffer from health issues such as skin diseases, asthma, breathing problems etc.  In the absence of any strict enforcement, the waste workers throw the acids used for dismantling the electronic waste in the drains polluting our ground water with the toxic contents in the e-waste. Electronic waste should always be stored separately and never be given to the kabadiwalas who take our normal dry waste.

E-waste should only be given to authorised government approved electronic waste recyclers as they dismantle and recycle the e-waste using scientific methods which does not adversely affect the health of the environment and that of the waste workers.

Our blog posts will give more details on how to manage your e-waste responsibly, organise e-waste awareness and collection drives in your community etc.

E-waste

COMPOSTING – KEY TO MANAGING BULK OF OUR WASTE

Home Composting

Bulk of the waste generated in our homes i.e. almost 60% is food waste from the kitchen. So, instead of throwing this waste away and increasing our carbon footprint by paying for its transportation to another location, it makes sense to compost our kitchen waste and garden waste in our home itself. Home composting ensures high quality compost for our plants, nutrition for our soil and helps to reduce the garbage mess of our cities by almost 50%. It also makes people accept responsibility for the waste they generate making them more eco-conscious and waste wise.

Read our blog posts on home composting to understand that composting at home is not rocket science or time consuming or inconvenient or smelly or messy. We will share experiences of avid home composters giving insights into their composting journeys along with evaluation of different types of composters used by them, clear myths regarding home composting etc.

Community Level Composting 

There are many tried and tested, eco-friendly community level composting systems that have been implemented in many cities across India (Link 1, Link 2). The composting solutions for a community need to be evaluated on factors such as:

  • Space required for the composting set up vis-à-vis the space available for composting within the complex,
  • One-time capital cost for setting up the system,
  • Monthly running cost i.e. electricity cost of running the machines, labour cost, enzymes and consumables cost, annual maintenance contract cost in case of mechanised systems,
  • Carbon footprint of the solution i.e. water used, electricity used, transportation cost.

When choosing a composting solution for your residential community or office complex, one very important thing that you need to be wary about is not to go in for a mechanised system which says that it can take mixed waste in or claims that it can make compost in 24 – 48 hours or one week. These kinds of machines just function as mini incinerators which will burn your waste and pollute the air that you and your families breathe.

Our blog posts will feature films and detailed case studies on different sustainable community level composting models that include horticulture waste management as well. It is imperative for individuals and communities to compost their garden waste such as leaves, grass and flowers because if this waste is not managed at source, it ends up being burnt in open spaces adding to the already high levels of air pollution in our cities.

Two community level composting models documented on the website so far:

https://healingourcities.org/2018/11/03/waste-management-system-in-garden-estate-residential-complex-gurgaon/

https://healingourcities.org/2019/02/28/waste-management-system-in-nirvana-country-residential-complex-gurgaon/

SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT RULES 2016 – HIGHLIGHTS

Notified by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM) 2016 emphasise on source segregation of waste, composting of wet waste and recycling of dry waste. Some important points are as follows:

  • No waste generator shall throw, burn or bury solid waste generated by him on streets, open public spaces outside his premises or in drains or water bodies.
  • The rules mandate that all resident welfare and market associations and gated communities with an area of above 5,000 sq m will have to segregate waste at source into three streams – Biodegradables, Dry (plastic, paper, metal, wood etc) and Domestic Hazardous Waste (diapers, napkins, mosquito repellants, cleaning agents etc.) before handing it over to the authorised waste-pickers and recyclers or to the urban local body.
  • In case of an event, or gathering of more than 100 persons, the organiser will have to ensure segregation of waste and handing over of segregated waste to the waste collector or agency, as specified by the local authority.
  • Bio-degradable waste should be processed and treated through composting or bio-methanation within the premises as far as possible and the residual waste should be given to the waste collector or agency as directed by the local authority.

Garden Estate produces 9 tons of compost every year diverting 82000 kg of kitchen waste from the landfill annually.