The theme for Earth Day 2018 is End Plastic Pollution. This Earth Day we decided to cover the story of a a gated community in Thane, Maharashtra comprising of around 350 families in Highland Residency which manages plastic waste in a very systematic manner. Members of the society have been instrumental in bringing a green revolution in their vicinity and have also been recognized by the local Municipal authorities for their efforts. We met with Mrs. Poornima Kagal who was very kind to gives us inputs on the work they have done.
When did plastic recycling begin in this community?
We weren’t aware of the negative impact plastic till last 3 years. It all started with waste management. We began with 3 level segregation of waste. Disposal of waste in a proper manner is very important to stop dumping in the dumping yards. These dumping yards have transformed into huge mountains today. The dumping yards are unmanageable
What is 3 level segregation?
Somone I know once said “Our definition of garbage is wrong, everything we throw away is not waste, we think of it that way”
Wet waste (can include kitchen waste) needs to be properly composted and can be returned to Mother Nature. Dry waste (cardboards, plastic, e-waste) can be recycled, dry waste usually consists of a lot of plastic. Recycling helps us reuse plastic and reduces our want for more. Reject waste (hazardous waste) is the only waste that is garbage in nature. Some people noticed this and then came up with an idea of 3 level segregation.
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What happened during the Plastic ban over here
It affected shopkeepers and customers alike. Shopkeepers were quite dejected with the ban
“We do not have an alternative to plastic bags. The authorities fine us”
Members in our group came up with an idea to convert old saris and bedsheets into cloth bags. We employed poor women to do the stitching jobs. We gave these bags to vegetable and fruit vendors. We made them aware of the problems that plastic bags bring us and insisted to ask customers to bring bags from home. They posed another problem.
“If I do not give plastic bags to customers they will go to another vendor who will give. I will lose a customer”
We then came up with another idea, we asked the vendors to lend the bags to their customers for a Rs.10 cash deposit. Many have complied to our requests, some remain adamant. But it works because of the fact that the TMC is imposing this ban.
Members of Highland Residency
Plastic Waste is collected every week
This waste is then sent to the recycling unit
What are the difficulties the society faced while implementing garbage segregation?
We did face a problem, but now 80% of the community does segregation. We recently did a survey of our buildings, a team of two members went along with the cleaning crew and made a list of flat numbers which were not segregating garbage. We all have had a habit of dumping our garbage in one dustbin, there was no segregation. Habits are difficult to change, there were problems. Issues like,
“I’ll do it, but my family members won’t be able to cope with this as I have a big joint family”,
“Why should we have two dustbins?”
“Even if I segregate, the sweeper mixes our garbage while emptying our dustbins, so what is the use.”
Then we created segregation charts and distributed to everyone. We requested them to put it over the fridge areas so everyone in the family could see. We had to convince each and every person in the society. The sweepers were also educated on handling garbage effectively, they didn’t know the difference between dry, wet and hazardous waste. At almost the same time, we started getting notices from the Thane Municipal Corporation (T.M.C). The TMC and the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) issued notices warning all residential areas to segregate waste else they wouldn’t collect the garbage. So we were on time.
It’s impressive that the local bodies are doing a good job here
Actually the local bodies are doing a good job, we the people need to contribute to their effort. We are hesitant to change. One of the TMC workers who goes with the vehicles to dump garbage in the dumping yards, heard the reaction of people who were hesitant. Some people said that “TMC is not doing it’s job, it’s asking us to do their jobs”. This is what he told me
“People do not understand, there is a huge heap of garbage collected, it now looks like a mountain. We are small compared to it’s size”
But slowly and steadily, people started cooperating and you can definitely see the change. Our society has been recognized by the TMC who has certified us as Paryavaran Mitra (Friend of Environment)
Since we are talking about segregation, I understand that wet waste will not be picked up by the municipal corporation anymore. So what are the solutions?
The best method to do this is set up wet waste management at a community level. This is highly encouraged by the local corporation. This means we do composting.
So how does composting work?
Converting the waste and given it back to nature. Rural areas have always done composting and it is new only to urban areas. Waste generated from kitchen can be decomposed and used in the soil. The items that need to be composted (everyday kitchen waste) over a layer of culture or soil.
What is a culture?
A previously made compost. We compost at home. The earthen pots that we use can take 15 days for wet waste to decompose and another 15-20 days to convert to compost. This is also known as aerobic composting. However, the whole process can be fastened with introduction of bacteria to accelerate composting.
“Our definition of garbage is wrong, everything we throw away is not waste, we think of it that way”
What are the benefits of composting?
If we compost our wet waste, the quality of soil improves and doesn’t degrade, like it happens now. This is because we are returning what we took from nature. Soil usually loses the quality over time, but composting improves the quality. The fruits, vegetables, crops grown in such soil, definitely have better nutritional value.
Where do you send the compost you create?
If the culture is good, compost is usually less than 50% of the size of wet waste that is required to make it. I use this for the plants in our garden. I have lent it out at times to friends. One of my friend, who also believes in Sustainable Living, organized a sale of home compost. The motive is to educate people to do this at home rather than throw wet waste out.
What are the precautions that need to be followed for home composting?
There should be enough aeration, less sunlight and moisture needs to be controlled. Too much moisture leads to pests like worms and also rodents. Put cardboard or paper to absorb too much moisture. Less moisture hampers the decomposition process. You can add water at that time. For faster decomposition, it’s best to chop the waste into smaller pieces. Stirring also helps in aerating the compost.
Our team congratulates the residents of the community for their effort. We wish the community success in their endeavors.
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