Waste management: Gurugram housing societies show the way

From segregation to recycling to making compost, residents handle the waste responsibly and ensure that it does not end up at Bandhwari landfill

Omaxe Nile, a group housing society with 400-odd flats in Sector 49, Gurugram, generates around one tonne of solid waste, including 350 kg kitchen waste, every day. But unlike many other societies, residents here make sure that all of their waste is recycled and does not end up at Bandhwari landfill on the outskirts.

It all began three years ago when Jagriti Jagat, an interpersonal skills trainer, who had practised waste segregation at her house for over a decade, and her educator friend Mandeep Bakshi, decided to turn this into a campaign, involving all residents of the gated community. The duo is helped by Tarun Lakhwani, a member of the residents’ welfare association (RWA).

Besides the usual wet and dry waste, the residents segregate the hazardous and e-waste and hand it over to different agencies for recycling as per the norms. The wet waste is made into a compost.

“Many agencies approached us offering to pay ₹3,000 to ₹4,000 per month in return for collecting our dry waste. But we found that these agencies took out a portion of the waste for recycling and dumped the rest at Bandhwari. So, we refused. The agency now hired for collecting the dry waste, though free of cost, ensures that it is all recycled and reused. What’s the point in putting in so much effort, if the waste eventually ends up at the landfill?” Ms. Jagat asks.

Representatives of Ecogreen, the waste collection agency appointed by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, also approached the society many times, but failed to meet its criteria.

But the journey has not been easy. To being with, the trio, with support from the RWA, conducted training sessions in waste segregation for all domestic helps, went from door to door to explain the concept to the residents and the need to do it. Regular audits are now conducted to ensure that the directions on waste segregation are strictly adhered to. The society imposes fines ranging from ₹50 to ₹150 per day on those not falling in line.

‘Waste reduction’

Going beyond the routine waste management, the society now focuses on “waste reduction”. The residents are not allowed to use the liners (garbage bags) in the dustbins; the gardeners, security guards and the housekeeping staff have been provided jugs and glasses to minimise the use of disposables; and the shops in the society have been directed not to use polythene bags. “Disposables are not allowed at the community functions inside the society,” Ms. Jagat says.

Meetings with residents and campaigns involving children are held regularly for constant motivation.

But all this activism comes at a cost, says Ms. Bakshi. “People mock at you. You earn a bad name for constantly nagging them. It is a thankless job, but the passion continues to drive you,” she says.

Ms. Jagat regrets how several group housing societies, the bulk waste generators, surrounding them are completely indifferent to waste segregation. “Creating awareness and motivation does not work for all. Enforcement by the authorities is all needed. But it is completely missing,” Ms. Jagat says.

Residents of The Castle, another group housing society with 40-odd flats in Sector 56, were forced to turn to waste management during the COVID-19-induced lockdown. The waste collection by Ecogreen became erratic during the lockdown and the piling of garbage inside the society led to foul smell and attracted rodents.

Practice becomes passion

“We took up segregation of waste and composting to deal with the problem of growing waste in the society. But now it has become a passion for us. And no one is willing to go back to the earlier method of waste disposal,” says Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajan Prabhakar, the force behind the initiative.

Mr. Prabhakar also involved the neighbouring housing society, Mariners Home, to make the project cost effective. “Being an Army man, I look for workable and not theoretical solutions. The simple and cost-effective solutions are sustainable, unlike the complicated methods. Instead of segregating the waste in four ways, we just segregate it as wet and dry,” says Mr. Prabhakar.

For less than ₹2,000 per month, the society manages to make compost from the wet waste and hands over the dry waste to an agency for recycling. “We have stopped giving our waste to Ecogreen. It is a monthly saving of ₹1,500 levied by the agency towards collection charges,” says Mr. Prabhakar. Into the bargain, the society makes a few hundred bucks by selling the compost and the leachate.

Though Mr. Prabhakar is all set to hand over the baton to new RWA by the end of the year, he hopes the new committee would continue with the waste segregation. “I believe people have adopted waste segregation. It is a cleaner and more responsible way of handling waste. Still, if the new RWA reverts to the old system, they will have to undo a lot of things done over the past one year. It will not be easy,” says Mr. Prabhakar.

Spread across 37 acres with 1,500 flats and 37 villas, Orchid Petals, one of the largest group housing societies in the Millennium City, has been successfully practising waste segregation for more than four years now.

Organic compositing plant

“We generate around 1.5 tonnes of wet waste daily and have achieved 85% segregation at the source. With increase in waste generation over the years, we upgraded to better technologies for composting and set up our own organic compositing plant. We hand over our dry and hazardous waste to different agencies making sure that nothing lands up at Bandhwari,” says Sachin Gupta, a board member of the Orchid Petals Residents Association (OPRA).

Rajiv Asthana, general secretary, OPRA, says the society took up waste segregation out of its concern for the environment, but there were challenges. “Being a big society, it took us almost six months to conduct training for the domestic helps, housekeeping staff, and residents before we could introduce waste segregation. We also incurred an additional monthly cost of around ₹1 lakh on account of hiring nearly half-a-dozen housekeeping staff, and also spent on procuring equipment and machines for composting,” Mr. Asthana says.

The efforts of the society in waste management were also lauded by the district authorities at the Republic Day programme last year.

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