Waste Management in Apartments and Residential Societies: A Brief Guide

Waste Management in Apartments and Residential Societies

To say that India has a garbage ‘problem’ is a gross understatement. Of the 62 million tonnes of waste urban India generates every year, less than 80% is collected and only a meager 22% is processed. Mumbai and Delhi alone generate approximately 11,0000 and 8,700 tonnes of solid waste per day respectively.

So far, dumping mixed waste in landfills has been a key part of India’s waste management strategy but landfills emit methane – a greenhouse gas roughly 21 times more potent than CO2. The fumes of landfill gas, when inhaled, cause respiratory problems, especially in children. Residents of areas surrounding landfills are forced to consume water poisoned with leachate and no water purification system can make the groundwater around such landfills potable. If we continue to dump garbage at the current rate, it is estimated that by 2047, India will need 1,400 square kilometers of landfill space (or the combined area of Chennai and Hyderabad).

Not all the blame lies on the government. We as consumers and citizens have limited civic awareness on clean living and healthy disposing. We can raise our green quotient substantially with the right education and training on waste management and ceaseless promotion of ‘trash’ talk. 
The best way to get rid of waste is to not produce so much of it in the first place. To begin with, let’s understand the categories of waste produced in housing society..

Types of household waste

1. Organic Waste

  • Liquid waste – Food leftovers, fruit/vegetable peels, waste tea powder, coffee beans, landscape and pruning waste, other green waste, processed food, raw food materials, meat and bones, food-soiled paper, eggshells, leaf plates.
  • Dry waste – Newspapers, magazines, brown paper, paper bags, paper packaging materials, ribbons, strings, leaflets, notebooks, wood, furniture.

2. Non-organic Recyclable waste (solid rubbish)

  • Plastic – Plastic bags, containers, jars, bottles, covers, caps, milk pouches, food packets, soda bottles, wrappers.
  • Metals– Utensils, batteries, pipes, nails, tools, aluminium foils, metal scraps, tetra packs, wires.
  • Glass– Bottles, plates, cups, shards, mirrors, ceramics.

3. Hazardous waste

  • Insect sprays, syringes, diapers, sanitary napkins, cleaning chemicals, bleach containers, corrosives, flammable liquids, solvent-based paint, car batteries, e-waste, bio-medical waste.

4. Inert Waste

  • Sand, concrete, clay, subsoil, rubble

Domestic waste management system in India – Rules

The usual practice in apartments and societies (also known as bulk generators of waste) is that the housekeeping staff collects garbage door to door which is then collected from curbsides by the municipal corporation or authorised waste collection agency. The ‘dump everything in one garbage bag’ approach that some people follow poses a massive challenge of waste sorting. It’s next to impossible for waste collectors to manually segregate dry, wet, and toxic waste without hurting themselves, not to mention the endless hours wasted in separating and sorting through tonnes of trash collected daily. 

In 2016, the Ministry of Environment revised Solid Waste Management Rules, whereby it mandated segregation of waste at source to turn waste into wealth by ‘recovery, reuse and recycle’. The new rule make waste management the responsibility of the waste generator so that it can be handled in an efficient, decentralized manner without overburdening the limited public resources and infrastructure. They also stipulated that within six months of the notification of the Rules, local authorities must draw up a comprehensive waste management strategy according to their State policy. Thus, the Solid Waste Management policy of each Indian city is governed by the unique bye-laws framed by its urban local bodies. The provisions of many of the bye-laws are common across states.

How do the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 apply to housing societies?

Waste generators have to segregate waste into three streams, ‘Biodegradable’ (wet), ‘Dry’ (plastic, paper, metal, wood, etc) and ‘Hazardous’ (diapers, napkins, cleaning agents, mosquito repellent, etc).

The Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 identify any entity producing more than 100kgs of waste per day as a bulk generator including housing societies with more than 100 units or communities with an area greater than 5,000 square metres. These entities must process, treat, and dispose of their biodegradable waste within their own premises through composting or bio-methanisation. This process of in-site composting, minimise the transportation costs and environmental impacts of moving organic waste.

As a bulk waste generator, your duties include:

  • Segregation at source: Waste must be segregated into 3 categories at the point at which it is generated before it is handed over to the collectors. The categories are: biodegradables, dry waste, and domestic hazardous waste

Rationale: To promote ‘waste to wealth’ or allow as much valuable material to be recovered, reused or recycled from the waste collected.

  • Safe disposal of sanitary waste: Residents must securely wrap used sanitary waste like diapers and pads in the pouches provided by the manufacturers of or in a suitable wrapping material. In the case of broken glass, blades, and used needles, they should be wrapped tightly in the newspaper while handing them over for collection.

Rationale: To protect waste collection staff from injuries and contact with material contaminated with body fluids.

  • Disposing construction and demolition waste: Material including sand, concrete, clay, subsoil and rubble is to be stored by the society in their premises until it is handed over to the collector.
  • Event etiquette: An event or gathering of more than 100 guests in your society requires the segregation of waste at the source before handover. (Some bye-laws require event organisers to pay a cleanliness deposit which will be refunded after the event if the concerned authority is satisfied that any waste that was generated has been collected and transported to the designated place. If the space is not clean within 12 hours of the event, the deposit will be forfeited)

Rationale: To promote decentralised waste management.

  • Spot fines: The rules prohibit the throwing, burning, and burying of solid waste on streets, open public spaces, or in drains and water bodies. Violation of these norms as well as dumping of waste in vacant plots and non-segregation of waste carry a spot fine, the amount of which is fixed by the local body

Rationale: To penalise deviant civic behaviour and reduce public littering.

  • User fees: Housing societies are required to pay a charge for availing services such as garbage collection, transportation, and disposal from their premises by authorised municipal waste collectors. City-wise fees vary based on the bye-laws of different Urban Local Bodies and municipal corporations.

Color coding waste for disposal

Each household could collect trash in different colored garbage bags or use black garbage bags with coloured strings to tie them up according to the type of trash; e.g.:

  • red for sanitory/hazardous,
  • Green for biodegradable,
  • blue/white for plastic, etc.
  • Societies should also erect color-coded receptacles in common areas, provide gloves, masks, and other protective gear to maintenance staff, and impose fines on residents who breach waste handling codes.

For a society aspiring to be more meticulous with their waste segregation, we suggest an elaborate seven bin system, i.e. black for general dry waste, blue for mixed recycling/metals, green for food and garden organic waste, red for hazardous waste, yellow for paper, purple for plastic/e-waste, grey for others. Color coding may vary according to the general consensus.

The 3 R’s of waste management  – Best practices for housing society do to comply with the SWM Rules?

Many have heard of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, but not everyone cares enough to incorporate them in daily living while some are completely uninitiated in the golden rules/guidelines for proper waste disposal. The golden rule is –  the less you buy, the less there’s to dispose.

Find some tips below to help you get started:

1. Reduce

  • Avoid disposable products like paper plates, razors, paper towels, gloves, etc. Instead, buy long-lasting items that need not be bought again and again.
  • Carry your own shopping bag or a jute bag while going shopping to avoid plastic bags.
  • Buy products in bulk and with minimal/recyclable wrapping so there’s that much less packaging to throw away.
  • Switch to digital news/content, don’t accept flyers/leaflets, use fewer notebooks and physical cards/gift wrappers.
  • Switch to organic diapers and sanitary napkins.

2. Reuse

  • Repurpose broken furniture and used bottles to create new DIY products like trays, hangers, toilet holders.
  • Recreate bags, wash clothes cushion covers from worn clothes.
  • Reuse fruit skins to make face masks, and wet tea powder to fertilize plants.
  • Reuse old jars, cloth bags, metal containers, boxes for storage .
  • Make arrangements to compost organic waste in-house, sell it or use it for community gardening

3. Recycle

  • While shopping, look for recycling symbols on the wrapping that tell if the product is made of recycled material or if it can be recycled.
  • Have a monthly tie-up with a local recycler/scrap dealer who can collect dry paper, newspaper and plastic waste from the society.
  • Recycle dry cell batteries and electronic items at your local electronics store that accepts recycling options.
  • Use eco-friendly alternatives such as biodegradable decorations, cutlery and gift wrap

The question of fees and fines

The Rules say that a state government can adjust the Property Tax to incorporate SWM cess or charge specific User Fees separately. They will determine the fee based on:

  • Current number of households in each settlement area
  • Status of collection service such as door-to-door collection, community bin collection, or non
  • Frequency of collection
  • Level of service desired by the housing society; and willingness of the households to practice the 3R approach
  • Willingness and ability to pay

So it is safe to say that the more waste you generate the more you end up paying as User Fees. It’s similar to the ‘pay per use’ system, except you pay as much as you throw.

In Mumbai, the base user fee for a household producing less than 100kg waste is Rs 60. In Bangalore, residents will pay Rs 200 for door-to-door collection in addition to a SWM cess payable as part of the property tax collected annually by BBMP. The cess goes towards the overall cleanliness of public spaces in the city, including street cleaning and clearing of black spots.

The Polluter Pays Principle has been an effective way of ensuring compliance in Europe and the US. The Municipal Corporation of Mumbai has started penalising housing societies up to Rs 15,000 for non-segregation and processing of wet waste on their premises. Bulk generators may even face disconnection of power and water supply, and possibly jail time. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has also allowed societies to collect fines (as per member consensus) from repeat defaulters and households that fail to segregate.

In a different approach, the BMC Commissioner has offered 15% rebate on property tax to housing societies that segregate their waste, compost organic waste, recycle dry waste and reuse and greywater. A society following any one process gets a 5% rebate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the government guidelines for wet waste disposal?
The government states that biodegradable waste should be processed on-site through composting or bio-methanation as far as possible. New townships and group housing societies are being made responsible to develop in-house waste handling and processing biodegradable waste. 

What’s the wet waste management norm in Bangalore?
In Bangalore, the Mahanagar Palika mandated that any apartment complexes that collectively produce more than 100 kgs of wet waste per day will have to do in situ composting.

How do I process wet waste in Mumbai?
In Mumbai, BMC has made wet waste treatment mandatory according to new DCR for buildings, is charging a fee to collect wet waste and even offering tax rebates on property tax for societies who segregate and compost waste. As per rules laid down in 2017, if a complex produced 100 kgs of daily wet waste or has an area of more than 20,000 sq meters, BMC did not collect the waste. Societies have to now compost on-site.

How can I solve the wet waste problem in my society?
To reduce the load on landfills, societies must install an aerobic bio composter (organic waste converter) in their premises to recycle wet waste. Options are available between manual and automatic composting machines that can cost anywhere between Rs 25,000 to Rs 6 lakh. Alternatively, try vermicomposting.

What if I don’t segregate at source?
Non-segregation and littering can get you a ‘spot fine’, the amount of which is decided by the local body.

Can I burn waste? 
Burning waste in streets drains, open spaces, in or around the home (basically anywhere) is not allowed.

How can a society dispose of sanitary napkins safely on-site?
 Sanitary napkins incinerators are available in the market from Rs 5000 to Rs 25,000 and upwards.

How do I segregate used sanitary napkins?
They are to be properly wrapped and segregated into the category of dry waste/non-biodegradable waste.

Conclusion

It is vital that the MCs/RWAs stay updated about the latest developments in SWM Rules and Compliance by following municipal/city civic portals and MoHUA/ Swachh Bharat Mission websites. Rapid growth is projected for the domestic and global waste management markets in the coming years. Housing societies are a significant part of the landscape of any city and they play a crucial role in its waste management. It is thus important that housing societies are well informed and well-equipped to stay proactive in waste management at local, state and national levels.

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