Before we even start talking about Waste Management, we should think of reducing the waste we generate. For us Indians, it should not be difficult at all. We just need to look back to the age old practises of our forefathers. Nothing was a waste for them. They lived completely zero waste and simple lives. And they practised eco-friendly lives too. They could draw a line between need and greed. There was nothing called disposables at that time. They always used reusables like stainless steel. If you bought it once, many generations could use the same (people didn’t mind a dent or two). Handkerchiefs were used instead of tissues; our fathers and grandfathers always carried cloth or nylon bags when they went shopping, both of which were reusable. There was no concept of bottled water. Water from railway stations was safe to drink. Biscuits were sold loose and there was not much packaged food. In that kind of life, where was the waste? People would enjoy homemade food, went for picnics carrying homemade food or cooked at the picnic spots if possible. It was so much fun because there was much camaraderie. Sharing clothes among siblings and cousins was most normal.
Today we have bottled water in various sizes, we have more disposables in the form of Styrofoam plates, bowls and glasses, laminated and waxed paper plates and cups, plastic cutlery and containers; we have tissue papers, plastic straws and the worst of course — the plastic carry bags.
Did we remain thirsty when bottled water was not available? Were we hungry before disposable utensils were introduced? Did we not shop before plastic carry bags were invented? Did we not drink cold beverages and coconut water without plastic straws? We did everything and enjoyed it too.
No doubt that the invention of plastic has been a boon to society. Unfortunately indiscriminate use of it has made it a bane.
Indiscriminate use of plastic has contaminated our oceans, rivers, soil and air. The human race has become its own worst enemy and the enemy of our planet. No other creature ever creates any trash in this world.
The shift needs to be from single-use items to everything that is reusable and will last for years, a choice best for the environment but also for our pockets.
Let us pledge to live life in harmony with other living beings — plants and animals. Believe me, life will be happier and healthier.
How do we reduce waste?
Certain wastes will still be generated. Let us understand the waste management practices to deal with them.
Let’s audit the waste that comes from our homes. We will divide it into organic waste and inorganic waste. A very simple way to understand organic and inorganic is to ask the question – is this Nature made or man-made?
Our daily waste: kitchen waste, paper, cardboard, plastic containers, plastic packets, plastic packaging, glass bottles or jars, metal from foil containers, medicines, and sometimes some electronic waste as well.
What do we do with all this waste? We collect it all in one bin (lined with a plastic garbage bag) and give it to the corporation sweeper the next day to carry it away somewhere. Out of sight – out of mind. We forget about it as soon as it leaves our home.
Waste Management in Apartments and Homes
For interest, let’s trace our garbage once it leaves our homes. It is collected by the corporation sweeper who comes to every lane every morning to clean and take away the garbage. He then puts it into a compactor to be pressed together to reduce its volume, then it goes to the landfill with the waste collected from all over the city. Kolkata alone generates 4000 tons of waste every day. Together this mixed waste generates all the greenhouse gases that we know are polluting our environment and thus affecting our health.
Interestingly, if we look at our home waste, 60% of it comes from our kitchen. Of the remaining waste 25-30 % are recyclables.
Another scenario: we can maintain three bins at home. One for our kitchen waste, the second for recyclables and the third for non-recyclables and non-compostable that will go to the landfill. Thus we can divert 90% of the waste from going to the landfill. That’s the impact our choices can have.
Now, what should one do with all the kitchen waste? The answer is compost. Composting is a natural process, but it takes some time. At home we must hasten the process due to lack of space. You just need to spare about 4 sq. feet of space and 3 compost containers (the size will depend on the size of your family and the amount of waste you are generating). The organic waste when composted at home reduces its volume by 75%. I have tried all methods of composting and in my experience, aerobic composting is the easiest for home/apartment composting. It has no foul smell and is quick; it will take around ten minutes a day. After a little practice, aerobic composting is seamless.
The ABC of composting at home
The three things required for aerobic composting are:
- Carbon (Dried leaves, paper, cardboard, coco peat, sawdust)
- Nitrogen (Kitchen and food waste, fresh flowers and grass and fresh leaves)
- Oxygen (air)
All the above materials are readily available and cost nothing (except cocopeat, which is simply an option).
You can use an earthenware or a plastic composter. Put a layer of carbon at the bottom of the composter (approx. 1”), then put a layer of the kitchen waste on it. Cover it with a layer of carbon on it. Continue to layer the compost bin alternately with kitchen waste and carbon; the top layer has to be carbon. Once the composter is full, cover the composter and put it aside. Open it every few days and turn the compost so that more oxygen can be introduced and the composting process can happen faster. While the first bin is composting, start the second bin in the same manner. Similarly, when the second compost bin fills up, start the third bin. As the third bin fills up your first compost bin will be ready to harvest.
Problems you can face:
Sometimes your bin may start to smell. The bin will only smell when the nitrogen levels are more than carbon. Add more carbon immediately and the smell will go away.
When you see that your compost bin has white worms, similarly, add more carbon to it.
The bin should not be too dry or too wet and in a span of 60 days your waste will turn into a soil amender which will provide nutrition to the soil.
What to do with this compost?
Now that your compost is ready, you have the perfect excuse to start a small balcony garden. Grow herbs at home and grow a few vegetables. If you have access to a terrace build it into a vegetable garden and enjoy chemical free food on your plate. You can also plant indoor oxygen producing plants in every room to make it healthier to breathe. Or: gift compost and plants to your green-thumbed family and friends!
As we saw earlier, there can be many things in our recyclable bin. We should look for a recycler in our cities. They usually collect the waste from homes, once one has a considerable amount. Connect with them to collect them from you, so that we do not use more virgin resources than we have to. As it is, we have used up more than we should have.
Once we follow the three bin system, the amount of waste we produce is drastically reduced. We’ve all seen the disgusting pictures of landfills across the country. On Environment Day this year, let’s all make a pledge to stop being complicit and do whatever we can to reverse environmental degradation caused by our unsustainable lifestyles.
Also, read about “Apartment Waste Recycling”
About the Author:
Mrs. Lata Bhatia is an active member of Rotary Club. In April 2016, with a group of like minded persons she has started GREEN LEGION. Green Legion aims to clean and green Kolkata through waste segregation, recycling, composting and making urban terrace gardens and vertical gardens in apartments. She is in the advisory committee of Green for Life Foundation, Joint Secretary in the Mentaid Association.
Mrs. Bhatia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for all queries on arranging a convenient waste management set up in apartment units.