“When people start opposing or criticising your work, that is when you realise that you are on the right part,” begins Maria D’Souza, a retired teacher, who has successfully implemented 100 per cent waste segregation in 44 societies in Mumbai.
Unwilling to stop at that, she is now working towards making all of them waste-free through composting and has so far managed to convert 20 of them.
As the head of Advance Locality Management (ALM) number 33, the 68-year-old has faced a lot of opposition and threats from local goons, residents and even corporators for making an attempt to change the way waste is handled in a metropolitan city like Mumbai. But she has powered on, regardless.
What is Advance Locality Management?
ALM is a concept started by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) in 1997 to work in collaboration with the citizens towards a green future by forming committees.
Each zone in the city has an ALM committee, made up of residents who come together and raise local environmental issues with the municipal body. They also propose solutions which are then implemented with help from MCGM.
Maria took charge of her area in 1998. She is a resident of Vaikunth Apartments in Bandra, and the ALM led by her comprises around 44 residential societies spread across Bandra, Khar and Santacruz.
Starting Early with Impactful Change
A former teacher in Bandra’s St Stanislaus School, Maria’s journey of waste management began in the 90’s—thanks to two garbage bins outside the school.
“Right outside the exit gate of the school, there were two huge bins, overflowing with waste. Animals, flies and insects would sit on the garbage exposing the school children to health risks. As the MCGM failed to clear it regularly, at one point, the pile became ankle-deep and students would literally walk on the garbage on their way back home. I made several trips to a local corporator but to no avail,” Maria tells The Better India.
She even made the school children draft a letter to the corporator about the issue. Though he was impressed by the act, the problem still persisted.
“The issue was finally resolved after an MCGM staff member approached the school to get his relative admitted. We told him about the problem and the next day the bins were cleared,” she says.
However, the move did not go down well with the locals who started harassing Maria. “Though the harassment lasted only for a few days, people, mostly, rag pickers threw rotten tomatoes, waste food, discarded linens on me every time I passed by the exit gate. That was my first encounter with people who were apathetic about the garbage issue,” she adds.
The incident only made Maria’s resolve stronger.
“We Will Continue to Persuade Them Until we Make Our Entire ALM Zero Waste”
In the next decade, she worked on introducing waste segregation and composting in housing societies. Maria’s own society was the first one to implement segregation of dry and wet waste. Interestingly, it was also the first one to start on-site composting of wet garbage in 2013.
“The process was not easy,” says Maria, “People would give innumerable excuses to not practice segregation or composting.”
‘Why should we segregate, it is MCGM’s work,’ ‘We are paying our taxes so why should we compost our waste?’ ‘What difference is our segregation going to make when the rest of city has no clue about it?’—were some of the questions raised by the residents.
To clear everyone’s doubts, Maria and her team visited each building and conducted a presentation.
They drew people’s attention to inflammatory issues like overflowing landfills, garbage burning, rag pickers exposing themselves to health risks and finally the residents breathing in toxic gases that are released from the landfills.
After Maria’s society went zero waste by converting all the wet garbage into compost and sending dry waste to recycling centres, the neighbouring societies followed suit. Eventually, two schools and churches went waste-free.
Maria made a comprehensive list for local companies that supplied local composting units and distributed it to all the societies. Depending on the volume of waste generation, the societies installed composting units.
Most of the housing societies have composting units that convert the waste in less than a month. While some of them have trained the housekeeping staff, some have hired men to carry out the process. Maria also adds that a few societies are recovering their capital costs by selling organic compost.
After the MCGM made on-site composting mandatory for buildings producing over 100 kilos of garbage in 2018, Maria’s mission came to halt.
“Many societies that generate less waste have said they don’t fall under that bracket, so they don’t need to compost. But we are not going to stop. We will continue to persuade them until we make our entire ALM zero waste,” she signs off.
If you wish to contact Maria D’Souza, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
All images have been sourced from Maria D’Souza
Featured image credit: Karan Khosla/Homegrown
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)