Challenges of solid waste management in housing societies and tips for improvement

Challenges of solid waste management in housing societies

As dire as India’s waste management scenario seems, there is a tremendous opportunity for nation-wide execution of practical and scalable solutions to meet the challenges.

Municipal solid waste in India comprises more than 40-60% biodegradable waste, 30-50% inert waste and 10-30% recyclable waste. To put a positive spin on these figures, at least half of India’s waste can be disposed naturally, efficiently and collectively by waste generators like housing societies, institutions and businesses on-site.

Housing societies, being bulk waste generators, play a major role in helping the city manage its waste. With a few on-site composting solutions, or even by responsibly segregating their waste, they can greatly reduce the burden on urban waste management infrastructure.

Let’s dive deeper into the current waste management challenges faced by housing societies in general.

Challenge #1: No segregation at source

Waste collection in housing societies takes place mostly through the local government or its empanelled vendors. In most cities, the lack of segregation at individual household levels presents several major challenges:

  • Government in unable to segregate and process 100% of the collected waste
  • Segregation is done under unsafe and hazardous conditions, posing health hazards and injuries to waste collectors 
  • Mixed waste is dumped in landfills
  • Due to lack of infrastructure and poor enforcement of laws, waste piles up on the streets, in vacant sites and drains

All this begs the question,’why don’t societies segregate their waste?’

The main reasons are:

  • Lack of awareness about segregation and waste management rules
  • Habit of open dumping
  • No strict rules that penalize non-segregation
  • Availability of collectors who don’t refuse mixed waste

Tips for achieving 100% waste segregation

Select environmentally-conscious and responsible adults from the society or members of MC/RWA to form a waste management committee to conduct the following:

  • Hold (virtual/physical) demonstrations in the society for residents, domestic help and housekeeping staff to understand and practice segregation
  • Create awareness about the categories of household waste so that every home knows what items fall under dry, wet and hazardous waste.
  • Form a support group online/ on WhatsApp to answer residents queries on waste
  • Discourage non-segregation and reward residents who achieve 100% segregation

Challenge #2: Incorrect/inadequate segregation techniques

Even when residents have started to segregate waste at home, they don’t always follow the right procedure all the way to close the loop.

Wrong practices include:

  1. Source segregation without source reduction

Residents simply segregate without minimising the amount of waste generated.

Solution: Practice the 4 Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle)

2. Hazardous waste is not sealed and labeled

Waste passes through multiple hands before final disposal. If domestic hazardous waste (diapers, sanitary napkins, glass shards, chemicals,etc.) is not labelled it ends up causing illness and injuries to waste collectors.

Solution: Wrap hazardous waste securely, double bag it with a label and seal it tightly.

3. Excessive use of garbage liners/bags

Dry and wet waste are separated in two garbage bags, doubling the volume of plastic waste.

Solution: Compost wet waste at home or cover it with newspaper before dumping. Dump the dry waste directly without garbage liners in the municipal waste collection truck.

4. Incorrect disposal of e-waste

Waste such as tube lights are carelessly disposed of, often mixed with other kinds of waste. Broken tube lights are a major source of mercury poisoning.

Solution: Hand over all e-waste separately to the collection agency. RWA can organise e-waste collection drives at regular intervals.

Challenge #3: Slow adoption of in-house composting

Three major obstacles stand in the way of individual/community composting:

  1. The misconception that composting is smelly and attracts maggots and flies
  2. Lack of interest and low enthusiasm
  3. Budgetary constraints

What are the possible solutions?

Waste committee members should lead by example and start composting wet waste at home or at a smaller scale in a common area initially. Show small, incremental sprints towards successful composting to generate interest and participation gradually. Laws of collective behaviour suggest that if someone sees their neighbours doing something together, they’re compelled to join in to be socially included. Once enough momentum is gathered, the society can invest in larger community composting systems. For societies that need to compost on-site, vendor based composting solutions are an ideal first step.

Budget limitations concerning community composting can be addressed by starting low cost/DIY home composting solutions at first and scaling them up in the future.

Related reading: Everything you need to know about community composting and its benefits to housing societies

Challenge #4: Lack of monitoring in housing societies

This can be considered the most important factor that decides the success of your waste management practices. Societies are often found starting waste reduction, segregation and composting measures with enough involvement in the beginning but slowly lose interest and resort to old habits of mixing waste and producing more waste. 

Waste monitoring can be done in the following ways: 

  • Appoint housekeeping teams to accompany waste collectors on random days of the week to ensure that every household is segregating waste as per rules. The findings/defaulters can be reported to the MC for further action
  • Composting societies can also appoint volunteers, guards and housekeeping staff to make sure that no wet waste is being thrown into municipal waste in the absence of information and supervision.
  • Repeat offenders must be given official warning and if non-compliance persists, they should be fined according to internal policies set by the MC/RWA.

Problems faced by the government with respect to housing societies

According to the former in-charge of BMC’s SWM Project, Pundalik Awate, “There are around 40,000 bulk generator societies identified in Mumbai, of which 10-20% are following all compliances while 20% have been notified to start following Solid Waste Management rules. Some societies avoid the mandate by claiming they don’t fall under the bulk generator classification, i.e. they produce less than 100 kg of waste. Some others are in the process of following the mandate.” There’s no clarity, however, on the 60% of societies who are possibly violating segregation and in-situ composting rules or are struggling to get the compliance measures off the ground.

The municipal corporation of Mumbai has already allowed the office-bearers of housing societies to fine their residents for non-segregation. The amount of penalty is fixed after getting the general consensus of all residents and is based on the size of the society and the number of repeat offences.

According to Kamlesh Singh of Swayam Swachatta Initiative Limited (SSIL), a government empanelled waste management agency for South Delhi, gated communities here have achieved 50-70% waste segregation. However, to bring it up to 100%, RWAs must be cooperative with agencies and think of waste management as their responsibility. Residents must not see waste management as an additional unwanted chore in their routine. “Bringing about a behavioural change is a slow and steady process”, he says.

“The penalty for not segregating waste is Rs. 200 for every default whereas RWAs can also be penalised Rs. 10,000 in a month if they fail to deal with waste in accordance with the Rules. But, waste can easily be deposited in the Auto-Tippers plying on the streets as they get stationed at ‘halt-points’. For this, there are no charges to be paid by the user. This is a street level collection service provided by SDMC/SSIL.”

Bangalore has been making steady strides towards solid waste management but not without its challenges. Nalini Shekhar, Co-founder and Executive Director of Hasiru Dala, a Bangalore-based social impact organization and waste collection agency says, “Apartments that have engaged with responsible service providers who insist on proper compliance, have a segregation level of 98%. There is 60-80% segregation in most wards, with high participation in solid waste management.”

She recounts the challenges of at-source segregation, “In Bangalore, the system is set for collection of dry and wet waste separately in 38 wards and now that needs scaling up. Dry waste is collected by waste-pickers / Self Help Groups but the dry waste processing infrastructure is too small for the level of collection we are doing. Since segregation is getting better, the decentralised infrastructure should catch up. Another major challenge is that the payment for service providers is never made on time, some dry waste collectors/waste-pickers have to wait for as long as  25 months!”

Key approaches for housing societies to manage waste better

  • Consider waste management a civic duty, not a burden or a useless chore.
  • Apply strict penalties for non-segregation within the society.
  • Build awareness towards waste management by making it a priority, not an afterthought.
  • Have a budget for segregation infrastructure like colour-coded bins and awareness generation material. Start collecting funds for composting in-house.
  • Educate residents about correct classification of what is considered wet, dry and hazardous waste.
  • Have residents experienced in home composting mentor others
  • Conduct sessions on the importance of segregation through interactive measures, surveys, debates and other immersive activities.
  • Have a society leaderboard for the most efficient waste segregating households and update it weekly/monthly. 
  • Incentivise households that show positive improvement in segregation.
  • Invite local/national sustainability experts and environmentalists to speak at your society and invite neighbourhood societies as well.

StoryMJR Pearl, Bangalore turns 200kgs of wet waste into 2 tons of compost monthly

As Nalini Shekhar says, “Responsible waste management costs money but housing societies should consider it as investment for the next generation.” Waste segregation and management have not been anyone’s priority, be it individuals, residential societies or the government, which is why the progress is slow and results are unimpressive and inconsistent nationwide.

There are, however, a number of waste warriors, impassioned citizens, self help groups, environmental NGOs and even progressive housing societies who have been slowly and gradually planting the seeds of sustainable change. The challenges of waste management may be complex and bewildering for housing societies, but they are certainly not insurmountable when all hands are on board.

What do you think?