Mumbai: Waste crisis returns post-lockdown

Updated: 28 October, 2020 07:25 IST | Arita Sarkar, Prajakta Kasale | Mumbai

BMC resumes segregation work after noticing substantial rise in generation of solid waste after six months of lockdown

Waste processing work underway at Vijay Nagar Society, Andheri East, on October 25. Pics/Sameer Markande
Waste processing work underway at Vijay Nagar Society, Andheri East, on October 25. Pics/Sameer Markande

Mumbai is facing a waste crisis after six months of lockdown, during which the output had reduced. But with malls, restaurants and other commercial establishments reopening gradually, solid waste generation has increased substantially. Earlier this month, the BMC had set a target to reduce the amount of trash being sent to dumping grounds and ensure 100 per cent segregation of wet and dry wastes within the next two months.

Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani met with Solid Waste Management (SWM) department officials and instructed them to work towards ensuring all the waste in the city is segregated by end of 2020. He also asked them to resume solid waste management.

Waste processing work underway at Vijay Nagar Society,  Andheri East, on October 25

A March deadline

"Our focus will be segregation at source and through assistant commissioners, wet waste will be processed at the ward level or nearby facility. We have set a target of reducing the waste being sent to dumping grounds by 15 per cent by March," Kakani said. Currently, around 6,800 metric tonne of waste is being sent to the dumping grounds, he added.

"Many people in residential societies are not segregating their waste, so the workers have to separate dry waste from wet after the collection. In October first week, we sent notices to all the wards to encourage societies to start segregating their garbage and processing the wet waste as was being done before the lockdown," said an SWM department official.

Waste processing work underway at Vijay Nagar Society,  Andheri East, on October 25

Dry waste reduced in April

As the city is slowly returning to normal, the SWM department is also trying to get back on track. Many societies had developed infrastructure and started processing of waste last year, but priorities changed during the lockdown. Some societies have resumed segregation, but many are still reluctant. Monthly figures show that the average dry waste dropped to 87 kg in April from nearly 190 kg in February at segregation centres. However, over the next few months, it increased to around 100 kg.

Vijay Nagar Society at Andheri East, with around 1,500 residents, is among the first to start segregation and have been doing so for over seven years. The processing was hit during the lockdown as the workers couldn't come, said Prasad Pendse, secretary of the society. "Since mid-August, women who processed the waste in our compound started coming again," he added.

In Godrej Prime society in Chembur, Dr Vijay Sangole, who handles the waste processing, said the society is new and they had arranged infrastructure for processing wet waste. "We were ready with all the paperwork, but the lockdown came and the priorities changed. People were less concerned about segregation, but now we will start it from the scratch," said Sangole.

Lack of transport affected societies like Infinity Towers at Malabar Hill that had set up composting plants within their premises since their staff couldn't travel. Chairman Suresh Deora said they had to hire two full-time workers to run the machine. "The waste output was lower since many people were travelling or house helps were not coming. While we were running the machine five times a week before, it had come down to 2-3 times a month. But now it has come up to three times a week," he said.

With the lockdown in place, many sweepers couldn't come to work and that became a problem for some societies.

Absence of workers

Anil Joseph, chairman on Perry Road Residents Association in Bandra, said, "Waste management is a cycle and if one component is missing then the system gets affected. The sweepers didn't come for months and house helps who were throwing the waste were not mindful of segregation. When survival is at stake, people were also apprehensive about touching the bins. It will take some time, but segregation will get going again."

Jyoti Mhapsekar, founder-member of Stree Mukti Sanghtna -- a women's organisation working in the segregation and waste processing sector, told mid-day, "After the lockdown, almost every society stopped working on waste. We have resumed work in 60 per cent of the societies. The BMC should emphasis on segregation and waste processing, otherwise, the issue of garbage will once again become a challenge."

Segregation of masks

She pointed out that the handling of masks has become a concern for rag pickers and women who process the waste. People have to understand that it is hazardous and should separate the mask from regular waste.

At the ward level, civic officials are starting awareness programs. Assistant municipal commissioner of G North ward Kiran Dighavkar said in residential areas, like Dadar and Mahim, officials have started holding meetings with societies. "Many of the dry waste collectors were not working for multiple reasons. Trains were not accessible, migrants had gone back home and are returning now. We started the discussion with their association and are working towards implementing proper waste management," he said.

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First Published: 28 October, 2020 06:16 IST

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