New Delhi: On January 27, 2016, a major blaze broke out at Deonar, one of the biggest dumping grounds in Mumbai, spread across 326 acres. It took fire fighters more than a week to douse the massive fire that created a thick blanket of smog in the vicinity, making it difficult for residents to breathe. Among numerous individuals complaining of breathing issues, there was Divya Ravichandran. Now 34-year-old, back then Divya was working in a private firm and had to stay indoors for days, to protect herself from the toxic air. Recounting those days, Divya says,
The massive fire initiated the conversation around waste management and how it is in a mess. Since at that time I had severe respiratory issues and had to stay at home, I used the time to understand what happens with our waste, where does it go, among others.
Baffled and curious Divya even visited a landfill and the first-hand account was both an eye opener and a turning point in her life. The sad state of waste management in the city made Divya start taking responsibility of her waste by opting for waste segregation at source. To implement the same, Divya got a composter and started composting wet waste which majorly includes food waste. As far as dry waste like paper, plastic covers, metal, glass are concerned, the waste warrior would collect it separately to give it to the recyclers at the end of the month.
One day when I was about to go the recycler to give my dry waste, I realised it was a lot of waste. That is when I sat and studied my plastic waste generation and realised that a lot of plastic waste was coming from my kitchen in the form of plastic packaging. To reduce that, I switched to kirana store (local grocery shop) to get food items rather than ordering it online, says Divya.
Gradually, through trial, error and learnings, Divya successfully managed to send zero waste from her residence to the landfill. Today, she discards less than 100 grams of waste from her home, annually. Having achieved it at an individual level, Divya started promoting the idea in her circle and later in 2017 managed to launch Skrap, a sustainability start-up.
Skrap works with organisations, offices, gatherings and events in Mumbai and helps them implement zero waste and eco-friendly solutions. The sole aim of Skrap is to reduce waste generation and then manage whatever is generated in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Taking NDTV through how Skrap reduces the amount of waste generated at events like marathon, corporate gatherings, music festivals, and so on, Divya says,
The eight-step process of organising a zero-waste event is divided into three phases – pre-event, event and post-event. Let’s first understand the importance of being involved during the planning of an event as that is the perfect time for us to intervene. Pre-event includes working with the organisers and ‘assessing’ the kind of material to be used during the event. We identify non-recyclable items and ‘recommend’ reusable or compostable alternatives. For instance, at some event, we want to make food court a plastic free zone. We will pose questions to get the basic details like ‘how will you be serving beverage, food, water?’ Based on their initial preference, we suggest replacing plastic with reusable cutlery and tableware like steel and ceramic, if that’s not feasible, we propose compostable products – one made using areca or banana or sugarcane bagasse. Finally, we share draft ‘communications’ on zero waste for various stakeholders including attendees, food vendors and product stalls.
The second stage is the main event where the Skrap team makes an addition to the ‘infrastructure’ by setting up colour-coded dustbins for dry and wet waste, bags and signages. It is done to ensure waste segregation at source. Along with this, Skrap takes care of ‘training’ housekeeping incharge and food stall vendors on the waste segregation process. For ‘on-ground implementation’, Skrap has tie-ups with various NGOs, who with their team of waste-pickers, manage, segregate and sort the waste.
On ground, we have a waste sorting area and every waste bag is brought there. Waste pickers open up every trash bag and check the kind of waste it has. The reason we involve waste pickers is to make sure waste is appropriately segregated. Wherever there is a mix up, waste pickers sort it manually. The waste segregation also happens at two levels – first, we segregate into food waste, and recyclables. Later recyclable are further segregated into 15-20 categories like plastic, paper, metal, and glass, says Divya.
As part of ‘sustainable disposal’, while food waste is sent to biogas plants, biodegradables to composting facilities, dry waste is transported to recyclers. Also, all excess edible food is redistributed among low income communities.
We also collect cloth banners, flexes, and large wooden pieces used during an event, and contribute it to NGOs like Goonj who reuse it. Our effort is to ensure that as little waste goes to the landfill, says Divya.
A zero waste event concludes by conducting a ‘waste audit’ which is a detailed report on the amount of waste generated and treated and gives further recommendations post the event.
This way the Skrap team has successfully conducted over 40 waste free events including Bacardi NH7 Weekender – a music festival, YouTube Fan Fest 2018, Mahindra Blues Festival, and has worked with half a dozen offices and organisations like Insider.in, and MiQ.
Giving a brief on working with offices and how much of their waste is managed, Divya says,
Office projects last for months because these majorly involve creating awareness and behavioural change among employees. Offices that we’ve worked with, have around 150 employees, generate anywhere between 30-50 kgs of waste per day (depending on factors such as whether they have a cafeteria serving meals to the employees). We help our clients manage their waste by switching to eco-friendly or reusable alternatives to single-use plastic bottles, cups, among others. Also, waste segregation, composting and recycling is promoted. This process helps them now discard less than 2-4 kgs of waste each day (down from 30-35 kgs per day earlier), which means a decline in waste generation by 90 per cent.
Paytm Insider’s Mumbai office is an environmentally conscious one and with the help of Skrap, the organisation has successfully managed to bring down their waste generation by 90 per cent. Majority of the waste generated is recycled, composted within office premises, and sent to NGOs for the purpose of reuse. In their effort to manage waste effectively and have a sustainable office, the office furniture is built with recycled pine wood, tetra packs, and reused glasses.
Sharing the experience and challenges in the journey towards zero-waste workspace, Dipti Goel, Head of Human Resource at Paytm Insider says,
Of course, the first step in perceiving the idea of a zero-waste office was hard but knowing all we know about how the planet is struggling, it was necessary to take that leap of faith. And honestly, the journey that followed has been quite interesting. We expected our employees to resist the idea, considering waste segregation requires a shift in mindset and efforts from them as well. To our surprise, it was welcomed by everyone and we were able to successfully implement the zero-waste program. We did face a few logistic issues like difficulty in shipping recycled tetra pack sheets from another city to use for our new office. People coming in for specific projects to our office weren’t aware of the waste segregation guidelines, which was an initial hurdle.
Wishing to organise a waste free event and wondering how much will it cost you? Well, the scale and kind of the event and amount of consultancy required determine charges.
Waste management is not a task once you understand the dos and don’ts and why it is essential. I started from scratch and managed to implement waste segregation at my home. I believe everyone can do it and should work with the idea of ‘my waste is my responsibility, signs off the waste crusader.