Explainer: Segregating waste manually to minimise the burden on landfills

Waste segregation

unsegregated waste in dustbins
Unsegregated waste ends up in landfills leading to harmful emissions covering surrounding areas. Pic credit: Sarah S

Being an urban citizen today involves an informed understanding of the climate crisis and its impact on our livelihoods. But beyond just the knowledge of issues plaguing the world, there are individual measures we can and must take to reduce the local impact of climate change. This is especially true since citizens, and not just corporations and governments, are also responsible for urban warming.  Segregating waste generated in our homes and residential communities could be one of the first steps we take as responsible citizens.

The majority of our waste generated goes to landfills. 70% of our garbage is wet waste, like food scraps, which are highly combustible when decomposing. The dry waste we generate, like plastics, also fails to reach the right recyclers and is often mixed with other waste. When dumping grounds catch fire, harmful gases engulf the surrounding areas. In 2016, the Deonar dumping ground caught fire and a large portion of the city was covered in toxic fumes.


Read more: Bhalswa and beyond: Why has Delhi failed to put an end to waste dump fires?


Every year, budgets for solid waste management in the city increase, with the amount of waste generated. But little is done to incentivise reduction of waste. Segregating waste is a possible solution.

Personal impact

In March, at a blood donation drive that was conducted at Octacrest building in Kandivali, I took it upon myself to segregate all the waste generated. The blood donation drive was carried out in collaboration with the Tata Memorial Hospital.

As part of the Kandivali recycling group, we are well versed with segregating waste that will enable recycling. At the blood donation drive, there were four different types of waste being produced: Coffee cups, biscuit wrappers, water bottles and medical waste. The medical waste was kept separately in yellow bags, and the hospital was in charge of it entirely. 

dry waste segregation bins
Dry waste segregation bins at the blood donation drive. Pic credit: Sarah Stratton

One may think that coffee cups and biscuit wrappers, by way of being plastic, belong in a single dry waste dustbin. Wrappers are made entirely of soft plastic, while cups are made using a combination of paper and soft plastic, and this can make its recycling more complicated. Soft plastics like wrappers are turned into smaller plastic pellets used for various purposes while coffee cups need to be recycled into products of a similar composition, or be sent to paper mills. Some plastics are even sent to concrete factories, and waste-to-energy plants, which although not an ideal solution, help reduce dumping. 

How you can reduce the waste going to landfills

In my building, I have trained the cleaning staff in segregating waste manually, after household segregation has been done. While the personal work required can sound exhausting, it is also an important step towards combating the long term impact of waste in our city. 

  • Organic waste: This goes for composting. Vegetable/fruit peels, cooked food, egg shells, chicken/fish bones, tea leaves/bags, coffee grounds, flowers (without the strings), leaves/twigs, tissue paper soiled with food. 
  • Reject & Bio waste: Sanitary napkins, soiled diapers, used and disposable masks, needles, earbuds, bandages, cotton, swept dust, hair, nails, condoms, cigarette butts, used toilet paper/tissue (preferably in biodegradable covers sealed or even closed cartons).
  • Dry waste: All items must be clean and dry. Reusable bag/bin/box to be used for collection plastic/paper food wrappers, cardboard boxes, all paper items, cartons, plastic bags/bottles  cleaned milk/curd/oil packets, cleaned tetra packs, plastic threads, cello tape, bubble wrap, cling film, cleaned shampoo and sauce sachets, metal items, cans, foil, glass bottles, thermocol, e-waste, coconut shell, coconut fibre.

There are sub categories within dry waste to be aware of. (Paper, glass soft plastics, hard plastics, e-waste, and thermocol are all processed differently. Hence, all of these need to be kept separate. Soft and hard plastics of everyday use need to be cleaned before discarding). This way, the work of waste aggregators is reduced. Waste aggregators even reject garbage that doesn’t meet their standards. From my personal experience, I have seen that there is a 50% chance that waste won’t be recycled if it is unclean, and a 99% chance it will be recycled if it is clean.

In my building, milk packets, polythene bags, (tetra packs and styrofoam) are all further segregated, and are then washed before being sent for recycling. Cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, magazines and other paper waste are given to a local raddiwala or scrap dealer. Organisations like Project Mumbai and Gunj would do an annual donation drive, where we would donate our old books, clothes, shoes and other pre-used items to communities in need.

The cleaning staff puts in all the extra work to segregate, but when you make waste fit for recycling, its value also increases, and waste aggregators pay good money to buy the plastic. Every month all the money that is made from raddiwalas and plastic recyclers is distributed among the cleaning staff. This way there is an incentive to keep the waste management systems efficient. 

Our aim is to send out the absolute bare minimum to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) truck, to reduce the amounts of waste going to the landfills.


Read more: I stopped lining my wet waste bin with garbage bags, so should you!


Challenges

We get no help from the BMC. The property tax rebate that they introduced in 2019, for buildings that managed waste on the premises, also never came in. 

We do our best to motivate people towards segregating, but it is not possible to keep tabs on each and every apartment without the civic body’s support. The cleaning staff also keeps an eye out for those not segregating, and speaks to them if necessary.

Ultimately, this should be an active choice residents make. But unfortunately only implementing official rules and penalties makes a difference, albeit a small one. This is where the BMC can come in and make stricter guidelines for all housing societies.

Recycling reduces consumption of natural resources like water and electricity that are needed to make new plastics. Making changes, even small ones, will reduce our carbon footprint substantially. Segregation, composting and recycling are the easiest things one can do on an individual level to reduce waste generation, in turn reducing emissions. 

Where you can send your waste

  • You can send plastic wrappers, milk packets, tetra packs and other dry waste to waste aggregators like Bintix. However, it requires volumes of waste for Bintix to come to your building to collect waste. That may not be an option for smaller buildings.
  • Recycling material can be sent to companies like Sampurn Earth, which handles solid waste management for housing societies and corporate offices. Sampurn Earth has now outsourced work from Bintix.
  • We send thermocol to 5Rcycle, a recycling company in Mumbai. 5Rcycle is a non-profit organisation that promotes zero waste management practices. (They also accept most other forms of dry waste including e-waste).
  • You can even get in touch with your local scrap dealers to get rid of paper, metal or glass waste.

This explainer is part of a series on ‘Explainers and Information Resources for Mumbaikars’ supported by a grant from the A.T.E. Chandra Foundation.

Also read:

About Sarah S 2 Articles
Sarah is a voice over artist who lives in Mumbai and endeavours to live a sustainable life. She is passionate about environmental issues, female empowerment and animal welfare. She is part of many waste management and social welfare initiatives.