According to a State of the Environment Report (ESR) published by the BMC for the year 2020-2021, 72.6% of the waste generated by the inhabitants is organic. Much of this organic waste is sent to landfills, which has caused recurring fires due to the high levels of methane it produces. Despite the BMC’s dictate of sorting wet waste at source, its implementation in buildings remains poor. The lack of incentives is seen as the main cause of the lack of attention paid to sustainable waste management.
However, not everyone shares the apathy. Surabhi Housing Cooperative Society’s “Zero Waste Project” in Charkop, officially called Charkop Atomic Energy Employees Co-operative Housing Society (CAEECHS), began as a community effort when I, along with society member Shama Nayak, j thought about composting the wet waste generated in our society. Since then, we have succeeded in reducing the total waste emitted by our company by almost 80%.
The task was daunting, but we both took on the challenge as an important project not just for the building, but for the neighborhood as a whole. This initiative on our part led to the launch of the Zero Garbage project in Surabhi in August 2017 after the approval of the committee members.
Initially, the company installed two composting cups of 100 liters each, but now we have 5 cups in total, as more and more members diligently separate their wet waste.
The company has a dedicated employee who handles all composting activities. Laxman’s job is to treat wet waste according to the prescribed process and prepare it daily for composting. Once the compost is ready after 25 days, it should be dried for 2-3 days, sifted and then stored.
This whole composting process has a monthly cost that includes the cost of labor and materials, which the company has continuously taken care of for the past five years. Project team members must constantly review the separation to ensure the composting process is working properly.
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In the event that a problem is brought to the attention of the team, immediate feedback is given to the member of the respective apartment, or an orientation meeting is held for all so that the issues can be resolved quickly. It should be noted that since August 2017, the composting project has been continuously conducted and monitored with the enthusiastic support of all members.
Our company also had the compost tested at ITALABS, Mumbai and the report showed good ratings for the compost.
We even voluntarily donated excess compost to farmers in line with BMC’s green initiative. In addition, over the past two years, the company has regularly supplied the compost to Mission Green Mumbai (Majhi Vasundhara Abhiyan).
Inspiration for others
Our committee met with many citizens who expressed an interest in learning more about the project, some even coming from as far away as Vasai. Many members of the neighboring society also came to see the project and tried to implement it in their society.
The company has been approached several times by BMC’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department to enter the Swachh Bharat Sarvekshan competitions. Members of our project team have always supported the BMC or other companies in the neighborhood to raise awareness by conducting talks and tours to support the cause of good waste management.
Property tax refund
In August 2019, the BMC introduced property tax rebate for housing companies undertaking waste separation, composting, waste water treatment and rainwater harvesting in their buildings. For those who did all three, an abatement of 15% could be claimed on the property tax. We are committed to waste separation and composting, and therefore we are entitled to a 10% discount.
We were delighted to have this program in place, as we wanted this support and recognition from the BMC, so that more companies could learn from it and be encouraged to adopt waste management in their premises.
In October 2019, we started further segregating hard plastic/soft plastic/e-waste dry waste etc. The plastic was donated to Bisleri, to make bottles and e-waste to Ecoreco, an e-waste recycling company.
Currently, the company separates dry waste into hard plastic, soft plastic, metal, glass, e-waste, paper and sends it to the 5Rcycle foundation for recycling.
Surabhi company was one of the first companies to start composting in the Charkop area and when we started sorting the waste more, the project team members had all the more hope of getting property tax refund. So, on January 1, 2020, Surabhi – CAEECHS Company submitted their application to the Deputy Engineer of SWM in their district for 10% discount on property tax for waste recycling and wet waste composting.
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Refund approval only on paper
According to BMC guidelines, a committee was to be formed in each neighborhood to periodically review the company’s compliance with the terms set out for reimbursement. The status of the company’s reimbursement would depend on the report of this committee.
7and February 2020, BMC committee members came to review our company’s waste management process and the company received a letter stating that a 5% discount had been authorized for the company for its composting initiative, for the month of February 2020 (even though we had asked for 10%). They also told us that similar reviews would be done monthly, and the refund for each month would be decided based on the review, and the final refund amount would be reflected in the year-end invoice.
To date, the discount has not been reflected in our year-end invoice. There was no repeat visit either by anyone.
At another society, the Whispering Palms Society, waste coordinator Arathi Manay handled all of the society’s waste management affairs. “BMC officials contacted me with a link to the form to fill out, to request the refund. To make it easier for other residents, I even shared a guide on how to apply for BMC officials to share with other buildings because there were a lot of bugs on the government website,” says Arathi.
However, like many other companies, Whispering Palms also did not receive the property tax refund.
To apply for the rebate, as Arathi points out in his guide, you must document the waste generated daily in a register – dry, wet, electronic waste – and then enter all the information on the website by the 5th of the following month. .
A five-person review board, who are typically from the area’s Advanced Locality Managements (ALMs) or familiar with waste management policies, will then visit your building to oversee operations monthly. However, in the case of the Surabhi Cooperative Society, we find that there was only one visit by officials.
If there are new guidelines or other processes that the company needs to complete, it has not been communicated to us clearly. Members of the project team, including the secretary and the president, expressed their disappointment at the sad state of what was considered a very good project by the BMC.
“The BMC should strive to facilitate the application process and remove any unnecessary barriers. The discount is supposed to motivate other people and companies to take the initiative. We’d love to share our experience, but when these programs don’t deliver what they promise, it’s disappointing. Others, who may be mainly motivated by the rebate scheme, completely stop waste management activities,” said Valsala Nayak, secretary of the Surabhi Society.
We are aware that the pandemic has put a lot of pressure on the BMC. The entire property tax refund program appears to have been halted due to the pandemic, and all of the companies that have applied for a refund and done their legwork are still waiting for it to be implemented. But even now, after the city has slowly started to open up, we haven’t heard of any updates from BMC officials.
However, we still believe in our dream of a zero waste society and continue to work for the cause as a torchbearer for a greener and cleaner Mumbai. That said, a little appreciation and acknowledgment of BMC’s efforts in the form of the tax refund program will go a long way in inspiring greater public participation.