Zero waste lifestyle in Apartments – Waste Management

Zero waste lifestyle

Did you know? Currently, about 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated annually with at least 33% not managed in an environmentally safe manner. An average person generates about 0.74 kilogram per day but this number ranges from 0.11 to 4.45 kilograms too. These alarming figures indicate that adopting a Zero waste lifestyle is not a choice anymore, it’s a necessity. 

Having a proper waste management system is like taking one giant step towards a Zero waste, environmentally conscious community. Systematic Waste management will drastically bring down the time and cost it takes for Local Governmental authorities to deal with the solid waste. Moreover, it makes the job of disposal workers and waste pickers easier by helping them differentiate between the degradable and non-degradable components of the discarded waste. Besides, without segregation at the source and poor management, untreated waste is likely to release harmful toxins and chemicals causing soil, water and air pollution. We reached out to Amardeep Singh from Daily Dump for their insights on how segregation and composting can be implemented in housing societies. Additionally, we give you a few tips on how you can switch to a Zero waste lifestyle in your apartment community. Keep reading! 

Segregation of Waste in India – A Simple Guide

Before the waste is handed over to the waste collector, ideally, an individual household should segregate their waste into the following 4 categories:

  1. Kitchen Waste – Peels, Leftovers, etc
  2. Dry Waste – Paper, milk packets, plastic containers, etc
  3. Toxins – Sanitary Waste, broken glasses, razors, etc
  4. E-Waste – Used batteries, phone chargers, cables etc

The waste that is segregated into the above categories can then be treated depending on each of their nature. Often, the problem arises with plastic waste. Plastic itself comes in different variants. Therefore it becomes hard to distinguish between recyclable and non recyclable dry waste.

Amardeep says, “Food from outside that comes in thin plastic bags (especially liquid foods like curries) is considered a reject. Thus, even if such things are recyclable in their previous form, once you use them with something else, they turn non-recyclable, because you can’t separate the contents from the plastic containers itself.” “Packets of chips are a good example of this. They contain plastic outside but once you open it, one can see the aluminium glazed inside. This becomes non-recyclable because one cannot separate plastic from aluminium”, he adds. 

But majority of solid Waste be recycled and wet waste can be composted. The garbage collectors (they can be vendors or housekeeping staff) come door-to-door with 4 large bags to collect them individually. Dry waste may be separated by the staff and sold off to a recycling vendor. Toxic waste is taken away by the garbage collector and wet waste can easily be composted individually in apartments or by the community. Otherwise, that can also be taken away by the staff. Segregating waste is in one of the foremost and crucial steps in leading a Zero waste lifestyle as every other step that follows is dependent on how well you segregate your waste. 

Composting in India – What and How?

According to the World Bank, 19% of dumped waste is recovered through composting and recycling. But what exactly is composting? Composting is the biological process of breaking down food and animal waste, manure leaves, grass trimmings, paper, worms, coffee grounds etc. using micro-organisms and small insects present in nature. Composting waste creates a product that can be used to help improve soils, grow the next generation of crops, and improve water quality. Did you know? If a community of 500 families composts wet waste at home, it can prevent about 18 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year? This serves as immense motivation to apartment residents to start incorporating Zero waste lifestyle initiatives in their lives.

How can you compost at home?

Amardeep Singh gave us the ultimate beginner’s guide on how composting can be done at home:

  • One needs to locate a suitable space for the composter. For instance an area with ample air circulation. Corner of a balcony, shaded location on the terrace, in the garden etc. are ideal locations. 
  • The wet waste should be collected separately in a container and added to the composter on a daily basis. 
  • All kinds of organic waste from the kitchen like vegetables, leftover foods, coffee grounds, bones, egg shells, etc can be added into the composters. It’s advisable to avoid coconut shells (as they take a longer duration to decompose) and all other kinds of fry and hazardous waste.
  • A household can choose a composter that suits the size of the family. There are several choices of composters available today and one can find the right size and material based on one’s needs. 
  • Composting can also be done at the community level. Today there are community composting options that enable apartment communities to compost at one central spot inside the community. If done correctly with the right product, community composting is very easy, smell free and rewarding. It plays a significant role in practicing a Zero waste lifestyle.  
  • Community composting can be done in open areas in the community – near the STP area, in the garden, on the terrace, near the sidewalk / driveway etc.

Click here to know about Composting in the COVID era.

Zero waste lifestyle

Zero waste lifestyle Initiatives in Mauritius and The United Arab Emirates

Mauritius:

About 1,488 tonnes of waste is generated by the 1.3 million people of Mauritius everyday. The government spends around Rs. 1.5 billion annually on waste management including waste collection. The local authorities spend around Rs. 990 million annually on waste collection services. Materials that are recycled in Mauritius are paper, plastic, glass, textile, metals and some hazardous wastes. Government decided to supply 180,000 tons of unsorted waste to a private company for composting. With this, around 70% of waste will be diverted from the landfills. Follow the links below to know more in detail about the legal regulations, waste management processes etc. in Mauritius:

https://globalmethane.org/documents/events_land_120910_17.pdf

https://www.uncrd.or.jp/content/documents/04_BEERACHEE-Mauritius.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339821826_Solid_Waste_Management_in_Small_Island_Developing_States_Specifically_in_Mauritius

https://environment.govmu.org/Pages/swmd/SWMD-Solid-Waste-Management-In-Mauritius0206-559.aspx

United Arab Emirates:

In the UAE, waste management is coordinated through local authorities. Waste issues are handled through recycling and converting waste to energy and resources, new technologies and improved waste separation and collection systems. The federal law on Integrated Waste Management was issued by the president of the UAE in December 2018. The opening of 16 Emirates Manjam (waste collection centres) in neighbourhoods and residential areas in the UAE allowed members of the community to participate in the process of sorting their waste. To read more about the waste management initiatives taken up in the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, follow the links below:

https://u.ae/en/information-and-services/environment-and-energy/waste-management

https://integrated-waste-management-fcsa.hub.arcgis.com/

How Apartment Residents can Adopt a Zero Waste Lifestyle: 

  • “Stop mixing, start segregating!” Amardeep says. “Segregating waste is the first and foremost step towards managing waste better. It is important to not let segregation overwhelm you and make sure we are aware of the different materials present in our waste and the importance of each material.” 
  • He further stressed on the importance of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle). Before we actually start composting and recycling our waste, we need to reflect on our behaviors and choices that produce excess waste in the first place. It’s important to reduce unnecessary consumption, refuse wherever possible and reuse the materials we already have at home. 
  • Avoid using single use plastic like single use cutlery, straws, plastic bags, plastic water bottles etc. as they can actually hamper your progress in living a Zero waste lifestyle. 
  • Support the second hand markets. Shop second hand and sell stuff that you don’t use anymore. With the COVID-19 pandemic, buying essentials online has become the norm. By showing solidarity to local businesses and buying from them, we can encourage a Zero waste lifestyle. 
  • Communities also need to be vocal about waste and sustainability issues in apartment complexes. Arranging zero waste and other related workshops for the residents from time to time can create an atmosphere of empathy towards the environment. 

Frequently asked Questions about Zero waste lifestyle

  1. What can Apartment Residents do if they can’t compost in individual units? 

Besides community composting, another way to correctly dispose off wet waste is to convert it into Biogas at the site. Usually Biogas plants make sense for large communities only as it can be slightly cost intensive for smaller communities. 

In case the community feels that there is no space to do composting at all, a responsible way to dispose of wet waste is to segregate the wet waste correctly and work with a NGO/Company that collects wet waste and then centrally composts it. This can normally work out to be more expensive than usual municipality waste pick ups, but avoids the mixing of wet waste with other streams and problems associated with eventual landfilling of waste. In a Zero waste lifestyle, where there is a will, there is a way.

2. How can Apartment Residents avoid the issue of bad odour/smell from a composting pit/composter? 

  • According to Amardeep, to avoid the issue of bad smell, one needs to ensure that excess moisture is absorbed inside the pile. This can be done by adding the right amount of carbon (browns). Right amount of carbon rich material ensures the efficiency of the composting process. Adding remix powder (a coco peat based powder that Daily Dump makes) ensures the excess moisture is absorbed inside the pile, also ensures that the air circulation is adequate inside the pile and hence mitigates the smell issue. Other than coco peat, one can also add other sources of carbon like dried leaves, bits of paper, cardboard cuttings, sawdust etc. 
  • Bad smell or odour can be a rookie mistake when striving to inculcate habits that contribute to your Zero waste lifestyle. Daily Dump recommends that the households make it a habit to add the kitchen waste into the pile everyday. Keeping the waste out of the composter for more than 24 hours can lead to rotting of waste and smell. 
  • Another way to avoid smell is to make sure that food items which have a high moisture content, for example, dal, sambar, rasam etc. should be drained in the sink instead of directly adding to your composter. They can also be filtered in the sink and only the vegetables in them can be added to the composter and the water can be drained.

3. How can one reuse solid waste? 

When we order food from outside or online, it often comes in plastic containers. These are just thrown away by us absentmindedly when in reality, they make for great storage containers! One can grow microgreens in such containers. The Indian concept of “jugaad” or turning things into makeshift items for the purpose of use is something that can help too. 

What else can you do?

Apart from these, one needs to be mindful of the waste we generate by reducing the amount of packaging and consumption. From the side of governments or regulatory bodies, calling for policy changes and pushing companies for dealing with waste in an ethical and sustainable manner should also form a part of one’s overall approach to imbibing a Zero waste lifestyle.

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About the Author: Noopur