ATREE’s Workshop on Bulk Waste Generators

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop hosted and organised by ATREE. It centred around a report they recently completed about the status of decentralised solid waste management policy innovation in Bengaluru, with a special focus on residential bulk generators. I had hoped that they would be highlighting at least one case study on Daily Dump’s Aaga community composters, but they focused on buildings using other systems instead.

I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about the state of waste in Bangalore at present as there were people from the BBMP and others actively involved with cleaning up the city who spoke throughout the day. One of the most fascinating things I learned, which explains why my garbage is not getting picked up at my house as it should be, is that there is a garbage mafia in the city. These are the people who are supposed to pick up the reject waste from our house and haul it to the landfill. The contractor is charged with collecting and transporting this waste from individual houses like mine. But there is a nexus between the contractor, the BBMP, politicians that is preventing this from happening. For one thing, the trucks get paid by the city, but also based on the tonnage that the haul to the dump site. For another thing they get to double dip by skipping houses and going to apartment complexes instead because they can fill their trucks up more quickly and get the apartment complex to pay them in addition to the city. The other main problem is that many trucks are not driving the 80 kilometres to the landfill; instead they just dump it in random places.

But the main subject of the day was the research about the bulk waste generators, which means those communities producing more than 10 kilograms of waste (malls, wedding halls, apartment complexes with more than 50 units). These entities must process their wet waste on site or pay vendors to take it away. Plus there is also the mandatory segregation of their dry waste according to the 2 bins 1 bag rules. These rules began in the courts in 2012-2013 that helped to change BBMP policy. While the laws have not yet been implemented fully, as in there is no penalty or regulatory body checking as to whether or not Bangaloreans are segregating their waste and making compost, there are some buildings (mostly apartment complexes) that have begun to make a difference by composting. And that is what the study was about. Dr. Megha Shenoy, the lead researcher on this project, shared 4 case studies based on legal compliance: 2 that compost on site, 1 that uses and empanelled vendor (a biogas facility), and 1 that gave to a BBMP contractor (which is illegal). For each building there is an expenditure per house, per year (in case 1 it was ₹1850, the 2nd case₹2000) to set up and maintain a compost facility to treat wet waste in your apartment. In addition to that, case 1 earned ₹85 per year, per house from selling dry waste and compost.

It is unclear how much opportunity the residents of these buildings have to engage with the composting process, but it seems like most of it is getting farmed out to building staff and housekeepers that the individual families tend to have. And this, I think, is a mistake. I think those of us active in waste campaigns–especially those related to composting–should try to relay the fact that interacting with compost, with soil is such an important part of life. It’s a great learning activity for children and it’s a great way to remind adults about their own participation in the cycle of life. Plus, it’s fun! And I think these aspects of our campaigning and education need to emphasise that more.

Another tidbit I learned that was quite interesting was how Germany managed to change its plastic packaging. Apparently, it is ordinary people who refused to take plastic covered food, for example, and forced the vendors, in this case supermarkets, to deal with the plastic. Because so many people did this, the supermarkets had to contact the producers and push them to come up with a plan to reduce packaging. That’s an amazing learning that certainly can be replicated if enough people are committed.

There were a couple of other speakers, one from Mumbai and one from Bubaneswar, each of whom talked about how they are dealing with waste in their cities. But I actually would have preferred to hear more about the study, especially other methods used for composting, what people are doing with that compost, and other aspects of it. But in general it was an interesting meeting and one that had relatively little waste. No plastic bottled water or plastic pens on the tables, although there were these little plastic nuisances on each table:

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