From ‘city of gardens’ to ‘city of garbage’?

By Marvin Fuentes

Walk in any direction in the streets of Bangalore, and piles of it are everywhere. Stray dogs feast on it. People walk around it, ignoring its existence. It’s one of the city’s most unwelcome guests.

Garbage.

For Jean Mohan, a 28-year resident of Bangalore, the problem is best summarized in a popular phrase.

“We’ve gone from being a city of gardens to a city of garbage,” she said.

Mohan works at Daily Dump, a nine-year-old company that sells home products that convert wet waste into compost. The company’s main product, the kambha, is a cylindrical pot made of terracotta, a clay material, that Mohan hopes will attract people to a greener lifestyle with its eight-week composting process.

But it’s not about the money for Mohan.

“It doesn’t matter if you use our products. Just segregate and compost, and save your city from drowning in garbage,” she said.

Just outside of Bangalore, garbage piles by riverbank. PC Rick Ricioppo

Just outside of Bangalore, garbage piles by riverbank. (Photo: Rick Ricioppo)

Bangalore, a city with approximately 8 million residents, produces an estimated 4,000 tons of waste per day. In contrast, New York City, with a similar population, produces an estimated 12,000 tons of waste per day.

But New York has an established system of garbage management, something Bangalore is working on.

Bangalore became a victim of its own success as its technology industry exploded in the past two decades, resulting in the city’s rapid expansion. This growth has tested the city’s infrastructure.

In 2007, the city’s governing body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, or BBMP, began the controversial use of nearby villages as temporary storage sites for garbage.

At these village dump sites, contractors were to sort through three types of waste and bring them to their appropriate locations. Wet waste would go to composting centers, recyclables would go to Dry Waste Collection Centers and eventually get sold to wholesalers, and “reject waste,” contaminated by bodily fluids, would go to landfills elsewhere.

The plan was that landfills would accept only this reject waste, which makes up a small portion of the city’s garbage.

Under municipal solid waste management rules in the state of Karnataka, only 15 percent of the city’s unprocessed garbage was to be sent to these village dump sites. But the BBMP was sending almost all, about 95 percent, of unprocessed garbage to the villages of Mandur and Mavillapura, according to Citizen Matters, a public-interest news organization.

“They were not supposed to be the dump yards,” said Malini Parmar, a businesswoman turned environmental activist. “They were supposed to be the processing centers.”

Reports of water pollution and disease stemming from the waste triggered protests. According to The Times of India, as part of a truce between villagers and the government, the BBMP established a temporary health clinic, where workers found that 375 residents of Mandur had succumbed to illness, including respiratory problems, headaches and skin diseases.

Parmar recalled the story of a friend who visited Mandur’s government school to donate toys and clothes. But she left with photographs and mental images of sick children that changed her.

“She didn’t stop crying for two days,” Parmar recalled. “They were cheerful children, but every single child in that photograph, and she said every child in that school, had big sores on their body.”

A Mandur child suffering from skin disease due to toxicity stemming from waste. PC Meera Nair, 2 Bin 1 Bag

A Mandur child suffering from skin disease due to toxicity stemming from waste. (Photo: Meera Nair, 2 Bin 1 Bag)

The Karnataka High Court, through the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, has since closed the dumps in both villages, citing violations of municipal solid waste management rules and damage to the environment and public health.

But in Mandur, the problem continued. The BBMP received extensions until 2014 when nearly 500 villagers protested by blocking garbage trucks from entering their village.

For Parmar, co-founder of two environmental organizations, Kasa Muktha Bellandur and 2 Bin 1 Bag, it’s become an endless cycle.

“It’s the same set of promises, the same set of villages, and then they go find another village, and they dump the garbage there,” Parmar said. “Two years later, the villages protest and they say the same things. And the story is repeated again.”

In September 2012, the BBMP issued a public mandate that requires residents to segregate their waste into seven categories of wet and dry waste, which would be collected by contractors. The mandate was largely ignored.

Instead, “every kind of waste is mixed in one convenient plastic bag,” Mohan said. “Once you have a clean house, nobody seems to care where it goes.”

Believing that the BBMP had overcomplicated things, Parmar founded 2 Bin 1 Bag to simplify recycling by using just three categories — organic waste, which includes food products and garden waste; dry waste, or plastics, paper, metal and glass; and reject waste, or diapers, bandages and other materials containing body wastes. The goal is to segregate waste at the source and reduce the mixing that occurs at landfills.

Under this plan, the organic and reject wastes are supposed to go into the a green bin and red bin, respectively, and the dry waste goes into a bag.

The bins and bags are sold by an online retailer, Bigbasket.com, and by wholesalers in the city. The group uses volunteers to pick up waste from individuals households and small businesses.

The members of Parmar’s group fund the venture with their own money, Parmar said, and so 2 Bin 1 Bag has formed partnerships to spread its vision.

One partner is Hasiru Dala, an independent community organization of waste pickers who collect garbage from “bulk generators,” or those who create more than 10 kilograms, about 22 pounds, of  segregated waste. The pickers bring the materials to BBMP processing centers: composting centers for wet waste and Dry Waste Collection Centers for the recyclables that are eventually gets sold to wholesalers.

Garbage thrown to the side of the road. PC Diana Lopez

Garbage thrown to the side of the road. (Photo: Diana Lopez)

The reject waste goes to landfills.

The 2 Bin 1 Bag idea is slowly gaining participants. “We find a lot of people don’t know,” Parmar said. “But when we share information, we find that people do care. It’s spreading.”

Repeated attempts to contact the BBMP Solid Waste Management branch for comment were unsuccessful.

The BBMP plans to run 204 Dry Waste Collection Centers. So far, it has constructed 147, of which 70 are functional. These locations are where independent waste pickers such as those partnering with for Parmar’s group, as well as government pickers, sell their hauls after going door to door and paying people for their trash.

At a collection center in Bangalore’s Jayanagar neighborhood, four workers sat on the floor sorting through bags as flies buzzed. Beside them was a 15-foot-high wall of foul-smelling white bags full of garbage, one atop the other, suggesting that some of the waste they contained was other than clean, dry paper, metal, glass and plastic.

Sorting the garbage correctly “totally depends on common man,” said Mansoor, a city employee, who has run this location since its establishment in 2013. The 10 tons of waste he processes per month is just a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the city’s garbage flow.

But Mansoor endorsed the idea behind the 204 planned sorting centers as way of moving the city forward.

“When the waste flows from one area to another, it offends people and they start to fight,” Mansoor said. “‘Why is waste from your area flowing into our area?’ To avoid this fight, we started the waste collection.”

 

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