Self Managed – Waste Management System By Reena Sahu

Background, Existing Status & Limitations

Waste management has been a challenge for many years given the remote location of the school, the kinds of waste generated by the residents, the system of disposal, the number of people and lack of understanding about the need of a proper disposal system among the residents. However, there have been various measures that have been taken over the years at different levels as mentioned below.

There are numerous links from the source of generation of waste to the final collection point which are difficult to tap/manage if there are different people working in this system. At each link, from the source to the final point, training with regard to the system becomes essential. For many years, door-to-door collection has been employed on the campus, wherein the cleaning staff is supposed to collect the waste from different points and deposit at the main waste collection area. The residents (adults and children) have been consistently informed every term about keeping the wet (food), dry and sanitary waste separately. However, not everybody would separate the wet and dry waste in their households. The house maids also needs to be trained to dispose of the waste separately. Often, the teachers would be in class when the waste is collected from homes and some would dispose mixed waste in the street bins. Even the person who collects the waste would often mix the dry and wet waste and also the sanitary waste collected from the dorms and residences. As a result, he wouldn’t be able to separate it and most of the mixed waste has to be incinerated along with sanitary waste. For many years, a lot of mixed waste has been burnt on campus and many things such as glass, metal, plastic wrappers & plastic containers would also be part of it. As of now, there are no takers of glass and plastic wrappers, however, hard plastic, paper, cardboard and metal is given to an authorised vendor for recycling. We have also been able to meet the requirement of notepads in the school by reusing the remaining paper from the notebooks. E-waste and other hazardous waste (CFLs, broken glass) being in large quantities also needs to be disposed of responsibly.

Since the waste comes in a mixed form, even if there are certain things that can be recovered, it gets difficult. Also, over the last few years, the variety of articles that children bring to school has been increasing, including the packaged food items. This adds to our existing problem of managing the plastic waste (wrappers) on campus.

Many initiatives have been taken to reduce the plastic waste on campus. Quite a few articles (buckets, mugs, bottles, tiffin boxes, stationery) are now available in steel in the tuck shop and some of the items (hand-wash, toilet cleaners) are ordered in bulk so that it can be refilled in small containers. Also parents have been requested to provide children with essential items that are not made up of plastic. However, most of our packaging nowadays comes in different forms of plastic. Tinker shed is a space in the school wherein certain kinds of discarded material gets utilized. Recently, a project of building a mud house was undertaken with children, which could use bottles (tightly filled with wrappers) as building blocks. During the last term, segregation of waste was tried out in five dorms but the set-up at the other end was not ready. An E-vehicle along with a hand cart was provided for collecting waste from residences to accommodate more time for segregation at the final point. But the waste continued to be burnt in mixed form, probably too large a task of segregation of waste to be done by one person. It has also been recognized that we need to keep in mind dignity of labour when it comes to the support staff in school and take the responsibility of our own waste.

In order to manage wet waste, vermicompost and biogas plant were installed which could take only certain kinds of food waste. Disposal of large quantities of cooked waste from the DH has always been a great challenge. Usage of large open pits would attract scavengers such as rats, dogs, crows etc. which at times has also posed threat to the residents. There has been consistent monitoring over the leftover cooked food waste in order to have just enough quantity of food cooked for each meal. With trial and error, along with certain systems in place, recently, we have found out a way of disposing wet waste in a better manner. The fruit & vegetable peels either go to the cowshed or to the farmyard and the left-over cooked food waste is mixed with soil & jeevamrith to be deposited on the farm plots.

Work undertaken in recent past

During the lockdown period (summer vacation), a lot of the waste kept getting piled up with us as the vendor who would take certain things (cardboard, hard plastic, metal etc.) didn’t collect it. The land care group along with many other teachers had to get down to cleaning up and segregating all the mixed waste that children had left behind in the dorms. Though children are expected to segregate their waste in given categories before leaving for vacation, most of the seniors often do the packing in a hurry and leave behind a lot of mixed trash. While cleaning up, it was noticed that a lot of containers, stationery etc. could have been easily recovered if they were left in a clean state. However, a lot of containers, glass bottles got picked up by teachers to be reused.

Over a period of one month of involvement with the waste on campus, the long pending idea of a self-managed waste segregation unit re-emerged as a way forward, as there are many limitations in the existing system. Initially, for a short period, specific days were assigned for collection of certain kinds of dry waste from homes. This system would still require one person to manage the waste at the end point. Since we were understaffed during the lockdown period, the person would keep changing & it was difficult to follow-up with the instructions for waste collection. Hence, the door-to-door collection has been stopped and wet & dry waste should be deposited in the designated places by the residents themselves. As of now, there are two temporary units for dry waste with 17 categories (posters attached) and residents are expected to bring their dry waste & deposit in the respective bins. The wet waste needs to be disposed in the DH or in the small compost pits next to each residence. The main collection area has been cleaned up for its better usage and the incinerator would be used only for sanitary waste, non-usable cloth and paper. Large quantities of paper, books, cardboard, E-waste to be deposited in designated places on campus.

The same system (no. of categories may vary from place to place) would be replicated in the dorms, staff quarters, guest house, study centre, academic block, dhobi ghat, temporary laborers’ residents. In order to take this forward, monitoring of the existing dry waste segregation unit is being done by the residents with the support from the land care group. Keeping this as a model, the idea is to train all the staff in the school so that the system gets inculcated as a routine.

Shared by Reena akka