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Bengaluru waste: Battle not so bleak as often portrayed

2nd main, 1st cross, Gowdara colony RMV2nd stage, Nagashettyhalli B94

Segregation and management of waste have always been a burden to Bengalureans. Of late, this has led to Bengaluru being referred to as the ‘garbage city’. Evidently, over 75% of the city’s waste still ends up in landfills. Despite the prevailing waste management fiasco, a sense of hope still lingers as we see some city folk dealing with trash so candidly.

Despite the apathy towards waste management, there are many successful organisations and groups in the Bengaluru that have inculcated innovative use of waste at a micro level. They are trying to preserve the value of waste from the source and connect communities, businesses, waste collectors, energy producers and recyclers, to inspire them and produce sustainable products from trash. The intent is not only to value the waste but also to create smarter, cleaner and healthier neighbourhoods.

Faridabad-based Namo E-Waste has been operating in Bengaluru solving much of the city’s e-waste pile up. Since its inception in 2015, the firm processes and recycles e-waste from electronic gadgets, television sets, refrigerators, water heaters and suchlike. “To recycle waste, understanding it at the source level is vital. We recover useful metals after recycling, in a process devoid of poisonous gases and chemical emissions. We have adapted dry separation methods that don’t require water or chemicals,” explained Ujwal Kumar, Business Head, Namo E-Waste.

The company separates repairable and non-repairable waste in its factory. “After processing, we get metals and plastic as commodities which will be sent to respective foundries, where they are transformed into useful products,” he added. As much as 10 metric tons of e-waste is processed in the factory every day.

Similarly, Bengaluru’s rag-pickers are now experiencing a dignified life through the Mindtree-led initiative, ‘I Got Garbage’ (IGG) — a cloud-based platform aimed to simplify waste management. It enables the generators such as households, apartments and offices to hire a rag-picker, who’s vehicle comes with three separate compartments for wet, dry and other rejected wastes such as e-waste. The segregated garbage then goes directly to the composting or dry waste collection centres. This way, garbage never ends up in landfills. The initiative is a result of the collaboration between Mindtree, Hasiru Dala, Waste Wise Trust and seven other social businesses operating across the country.

“Rag-pickers are our workforce. This way, they can lead a dignified life, earning more,” said Satyam Gambhir, Associate Director, Mindtree. There are many other waste management organisations, such as Saahas Zero Waste, that focus on providing end-to-end waste management solutions to bulk waste generators, and Hasiru Dala, a waste-pickers’ and informal waste collectors’ organisation that has partnered with Mindtree.

Challenges

There is much competition from other unorganised ‘kabadiwalas’ (junk or scrap dealers), who have adopted environmentally hazardous processing methods. “They recover a higher amount of material after processing, as they employ methods that are harmful to the environment. They are money-mined and look only for profits, unlike environment-friendly companies,” said Ujwal Kumar. The unorganised dealers are expected to recover 30% of the processing material unlike companies such as Namo E-Waste that recover only 5%.

Consumer behaviour is another challenge that these organisations are facing. “Only 50% of Bengalureans segregate waste at the source level. The problem lies with the next 50% that are not doing it. Unless waste is segregated at the source level, it cannot be treated,” said Mindtree’s Gambhir.

“We have employed local volunteering in our case, where they go ask people to segregate waste on a regular basis, to make sure everyone is doing it. We also make use of volunteering in educational institutions,” he added.

Of course, these organisations have to bear the brunt of local garbage mafia as well.

Can waste be tackled at source level?

There are effective solutions that can be tried on a smaller scale to solve the garbage disposal problem. Pro Waste, for instance. Some of the major garbage generating units in the city, including residential communities and hotels, are opting for this waste disposal system, in which much of the waste is turned into a resource, than ending up in a landfill. The approach involves local level efforts, starting with segregation of e-waste, bio-medical waste, organic, paper or plastic waste. Subsequently, the waste is dismantled, incinerated, composted and recycled respectively, making it environment-friendly. Nupur Tandon, Director, Pro Waste, the city-based waste management company, said bulk generators are the places to start with. According to Tandon, the Pro Waste method is suitable for the entire city, but certain practical problems are forbidding its application.

Citizens’ involvement and institutions

Many top institutions and the residents of various apartments are participating in several waste management workshops and drives to learn techniques to convert waste into useful products. Over hundreds of residents took part in the ‘Kere Habba’, organised at Kaikondrahalli Lake along Sarjapur Road, that conducted sessions on waste management recently. Many enthusiasts are seeking lessons from the workshops conducted by Swacha Graha Kalika Kendra, dubbed as India’s first solid waste management park, opened for the public at HSR Layout which is imparting education on how to convert waste in 20 different ways. Also, communities in Whitefield, Indiranagar, Koramangala, Bellandur and various other areas are inculcating waste segregation practices, strictly following techniques to process waste at a micro level.

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