The ladies in the picture appear to be enjoying a kitty party, but they are doing far more serious work. It's work that many of us ignore but which makes a huge difference to the world we live in.
These are passionate women from my apartment building who apart from managing their households, families and even jobs are taking pains to make everyone in their community realises the importance of actively maintaining a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
Meet the Solid Waste management (SWM) team at Sobha Quartz, a residential apartment complex in Bangalore. Thanks to the tireless efforts of these women, and the supportive residents, Sobha Quartz has become one of the few residential communities to religiously follow a waste segregation and management programme to reduce the pressure on landfills. The community of around 200 families have joined hands for the cause of saving our environment by being responsible residents.
Waste disposal is a big challenge in these times given the rate at which the increasingly consumerist population is growing. Last year, the Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP) issued guidelines to domestic bulk waste generators (like apartment complexes) to manage waste more effectively within their premises or risk paying a penalty. An impetus was thus created to separate waste properly and dispose it accordance with strict guidelines.
The journey of SWM at Quartz started five months ago, when resident Shubha Tripathi got in touch with the Kasa Muktha Bellandur group, which is helping implement waste segregation in the Bellandur area using their innovative 2 Bin 1 Bag method.
"Wherever you go, you will see garbage collected at road sides, empty plots or barren lands. This causes irreversible damage to our environment. Waste segregation at source, recycling and disposing waste responsibly is the only solution," says Shubha.
Within days a team of volunteers comprising like-minded friends and neighbours was formed. They decided to adopt the 2 Bin 1 Bag process, where organic, recyclable and rejected waste materials are placed in separate colour-coded bins and bag making it easy for residents (parents as well as children), maids and housekeeping staff to understand and follow waste segregation. Organic waste (green) can be composted and converted to manure and recyclables (white) can be sold to a scrap dealer. Only rejected waste (red), which is between 5 to 10% of total waste, goes to the landfill.
"They decided to adopt the 2 Bin 1 Bag process, where organic, recyclable and rejected waste materials are placed in separate colour-coded bins and bag making it easy for residents to understand and follow waste segregation."
The other important concept the team initiated was to urge residents to avoid lining their bins with plastic or even paper. The members carve out time from their busy schedules to hold meetings, discuss issues on WhatsApp and to go from door to door in order to convince more residents and monitor compliance. They send regular emails and updates to keep the momentum going in their community.
"For the first couple of months we marked the flats that were not participating in the waste segregation programme, but it did not lead to an improvement and displeased those who were being pointed out as non-compliant. However, in February, we decided to change tactics and started highlighting the residents who took the trouble to segregate well. That lifted spirits and resulted in a shift in attitude, shares Sheela, a team member.
In just one month - and after plenty of evangelism, hard work and dedication -- only 10% of the total waste generated in the building ended up in a landfill. To celebrate, the group presented tokens of appreciation in the form of cloth shopping bags to families that segregated consistently and those that turned around.
"The most amazing and heart-warming stories are of those houses which went from not knowing how to segregate to perfect segregation!" adds Sheela.
"In just one month - after plenty of evangelism, hard work and dedication -- only 10% of the total waste generated in the building ended up in a landfill."
Waste vendors charge Quartz for the red and green bins, while they get business from recyclable white bags, thus reducing the overall cost for the complex. But all this was not possible without the dedication of the building's housekeeping staff.
Anandhi, another member explains, "Communication with housekeeping was the main barrier as some of us do not speak their language and they don't read or write! We did a presentation with colourful pictures to train them so that they could spot-fix the collected waste properly. For example, soiled paper linings found in recyclables are transferred to reject waste by the maids as our waste vendor does not accept those as kitchen waste. Similarly, any clean recyclables found in organic waste are moved to the recyclables bag."
It takes the effort and commitment of a whole community to make anything like this happen, so needless to say this is a responsible society that cares about the health of environment. Hopes are high that the trend - which is a lifestyle change, in effect -- expands to all the localities in the city.
"Swachh Bharat can be achieved only when each of us realises 'my waste is my responsibility' and I will do my bit to reduce littering. We have one planet to call home so let's not destroy it with our irresponsible behaviour," exclaims Anandhi.
After all, as the saying goes, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children..."