Environmentalists of the Week – Change Initiators
Environmentalists of the Week
This week’s Environmentalists of the Week are Mr. Samir Deshpande and Mr. Himanshu Nivsarkar from Chandivali, Mumbai. They have taken up the challenge of initiating the composting process in their apartment building, Frangipani. Despite the many challenges they faced while pursuing this mission, they persevered and they now have an overall successful composting process in their society.
We contacted Samir and Himanshu to hear more about their story. It is quite inspiring to hear about how many setbacks they faced yet they managed to overcome them. Instead of sitting around and waiting for the municipality to make changes, they took matters into their own hands. See below to read their story.
Earth5R: How did you get the idea to start composting in your building?
The idea of segregating waste was germinated 2 years back in our building. We are a 109 apartment building. “Frangipani” is the name of the building. The credit for beginning the process goes to the committee before our committee. We first began with segregating using black plastic bags for wet waste and white for dry and reject waste. There were multiple education sessions organised by the subcommittee comprising of ladies from the building to educate, teach the importance of segregating. This exercise was limited first to the maidservants and women in the society. The first lesson learned by us was the participation of the entire family is mandatory for the success. Changing habit takes time.
We got the Managing Committee to start imposing fines for nonsegregation but parallelly continued the education exercise. The subcommittee to recommended various options for composting from manual method to machine operating methods.
Segregation was still a challenge. The committee recommended that we distribute 3 different coloured waste bins free of cost to the members, green colour for wet waste, blue colour for dry waste and red for reject waste. This exercise was a success with 90% compliance.
Post this we debated and decided to go for a manual composting process post a presentation from Earth5R’s Saurabh Gupta. Since we wanted to reduce our carbon footprints, we chose the manual method.
Earth5R: How do you manage the composting process?
Himanshu: The first step in composting is proper segregation of waste. We have distributed 3 different coloured waste bins free of cost to the members, green colour for wet waste, blue colour for dry waste and red for reject waste.
Apart from this, we have separate bins in the lobby for electronic and medical waste.
Before implementing same, the management committee with a few members from society carried regular training for the residents to educate about proper segregation. Posters have been put on each floor with details of proper segregation.
The housekeeping staff was also trained and now is empowered to refuse to pick up of poorly segregated waste.
Next is shredding – waste collected is shredded into smaller pieces using an electrical shredder. Housekeeping staff does secondary segregation by removing any plastic / noncompostable material that may have come along with wet waste
Then composting – the third step in the process is composting done in 12 enclosed cylindrical bins. The bins have been supplied by Earth5R. Wet waste is mixed with sawdust. It takes about 30-45 days for the waste to turn into compost.
Lastly, storage and disposal – we have added 10 drums to store and dry the compost collected. These are basically standard HDPE drums of 240-liter capacity which we have modified by drilling holes for adequate aeration. Currently, we are providing compost free to the residents. We intend to start selling the same to others.
Earth5R: What were some of the challenges in getting this started and how did you tackle it?
1) Estimating capacity: We took the standard estimate of wet waste generation by families in India. It turned out to be substantially lower than an actual waste generated. We generate 100 kg plus wet waste per day and in some season goes up to 125 kgs per day (watermelons!!). We first ordered only 6 drums of 225-liter capacity. Now we have 12 drums but managing capacity is still a challenge.
2) Improper segregation: Despite repeated checks and education, waste wasn’t segregated properly by few residents. We have started imposing fines for noncompliance.
3) Manpower: Initially the housekeeping staff refused to help in the composting process as it was deemed tedious and discomforting. A few members actively participated along with the housekeeping staff. This took away the stigma and perceived difficulty in composting. We also provide an incentive in form of additional payment and ensure that the staff is treated well (provided with gloves, masks). We still face challenges in rotation of drums as the activity is physically demanding and our Hk staff which primarily comprises of women is unable to rotate drums. This has affected our composting timelines.
4) Participation: We wanted more members to contribute to managing the Composting process. Though we have housekeeping staff this is seen as “somebody else’s dirty job”. Unfortunately, that is a larger societal /class issues and unless we start taking responsibility for the waste we generate situation won’t change. Himanshu and I take pride and not shame that we have taken this responsibility. We hope more people will feel the same way.
5) Hygiene and smell issues: Because of suboptimal rotation of drums the area sometimes has a smell. Another issue is the limitation of space and challenges of the 4-month long rainy season forced us to locate a composting plant in basement parking. Ideally sunshine can take care of smell issue. We have provided fans to improve air circulation. However, it still a work in progress.
6) Disposing compost is a challenge we have not overcome till now. There is need to connect buyers of organic compost with processors like us.
Earth5R: Have most people in your building complied to the new composting routine?
We have 8 buildings in our gated community with 600 plus apartments. Only two buildings opted for processing wet waste within. Others chose to hire outside vendors and continue to add to the landfill.
Earth5R: Can you share some of your success stories in doing this?
1) In the last six months, we have processed over 15 tons of wet waste and generated 3 tons of compost.
2) The entire activity we assume has saved significant landfill area as well as 600-700 liter (rough estimate) of fuel for transporting waste.
3) The compost generated has replaced chemical fertilizer in a farmhouse of one of our residents.
4) Through proper segregation, we ensure that Municipal staff picking dry waste works in a safer environment (avoiding injury by syringe and contact with biological fluids).
Earth5R: What is your message to the citizens of Powai?
We can do our small bit by not contributing to the landfill. Manage your own waste. Ban use of any plastic in your complex. Use cloth or jute bags instead. The changing mindset takes time and we need to persist.
Handing over waste to a third party is an abdication of our responsibility. If we continue to keep filling the area around our city there will be no city left to live. Stop waiting for Municipality to change the way waste is disposed of, change the way you dispose of waste.