For Shefali Dudhbade, managing her household waste is not an option, but a way of life.
A freelance architect by profession and an environmentalist by heart, the 46-year-old from Nagpur is setting an example for ordinary citizens who believe that municipal corporations are solely responsible for dealing with garbage.
“It takes 15 minutes to treat my kitchen waste, which comprises 60 per cent of my household waste,” Shefali tells The Better India, dispelling the time-consuming myth.
Now, imagine if 50 per cent of the households in the country dedicate a few minutes for on-site composting, India can significantly reduce its annual wet waste.
Shefali credits her upbringing for her pro-environment choices.
“My grandfather would often get litter from outside and make something useful out of paper or plastic. He always said that if we are so conscious about keeping our homes clean, then why leave our surroundings dirty? This simple thought made me a minimalistic person,” shares Shefali.
She is also a founding member of Swachh Association that works in collaboration with the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) to raise awareness on waste management in the city. Since the last ten years, she has been treating 90 per cent of the waste, while only a fraction goes to the landfill.
Isn’t this amazing?
Shefali lists out five hassle-free steps to help you cut down your waste.
1. Waste Segregation
Segregate waste into five categories:
a) Non-recyclables: Used paper towels, hazardous chemical or food containers, foam materials, and dishware are a few examples of waste that cannot be recycled or reused. Shefali hands this type of waste (that amounts only eight per cent of her total waste) to the NMC.
b) Recyclables: PET bottles, plastic carry bags, newspapers, shoes, table cloth, glass, plastic cups are some items that if segregated properly, can be prevented from being sent to the landfill. Shefali gives these to plastic recycling centres in the city or creatively converts them into useful products like pen stands, containers, plant pots, and so on.
c) Wet: Shefali composts all kitchen and garden waste.
d) Sanitary: Keeping aside sanitary pads is the most crucial aspect of segregation as it can prevent ragpickers or waste collectors from exposing themselves to health risks.
e) E-waste: She maintains a carton where all electronic waste like batteries, remote controls, and wires are collected. Once every year, she sends them to the local electronic waste collection centre.
2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Refuse
‘Jaadu ka Pitara’ (magic box), is how Shefali’s friends refer to the bag she carries every time she steps out of her house. It includes a steel bottle, cloth or paper bags, paper straws and a box so that she can refuse anything that contains plastic.
“Eliminating plastic is not possible, so the next best thing is to refuse. Begin by carrying a cloth bag as it occupies very little space in your bag. Be conscious of your routine and the places you regularly visit. Gradually form your own jaadu ka pitara,” she says.
As for recycling or reusing, she makes paper bags from newspapers, pamphlets and distributes them for free in medical and general provision stores. It takes as little as five minutes to make a paper bag. Learn how to make one here.
She also gives paper cuttings to vegetable and flower vendors, “Now with the plastic ban, newspaper covers come handy for them.”
Shefali has dug a small composting pit in her backyard. All kitchen and garden waste is first dried on a newspaper for 2-3 days before being added to the pit.
It takes close to 45 days for organic waste like flowers, leaves, fruit peels, vegetables, eggshells, coffee or tea powder to be converted into fresh organic compost, which is used in her terrace garden.
4. Medical Waste
Shefali and her daughter make sure their monthly sanitary waste is properly wrapped in a newspaper before giving it away to the waste collector.
The most important step, she says, is to mark this medical waste with a red dot.
“Ragpickers or waste collectors rummage through waste on landfills so that they can earn money by selling dry garbage. Some even go through the waste pile to find leftover food that is usually inside a newspaper. Often, they open the newspaper with their bare hands to find a used sanitary pad, and nothing can be more inhumane than this. It is our responsibility to ensure they are not exposed to such wastes by simply putting a red dot with a marker on the paper,” informs Shefali.
5. Fallen Hair
Have you ever come across or heard of a person who collects their own fallen hair and washes them?
Sounds unusual, right?
Well, Shefali collects fallen hair while sweeping and stores it in a container. Once or twice every month, she washes it with shampoo and hands it companies who deal with recycling of waste hair.
Managing Your Own Waste Is A Matter of Pride
With the depletion of our natural resources, fuming landfills and burning of forests, environment degradation is inevitable.
As individuals, we may not be able to stop or reverse the imminent crisis. What we can do, however, is to prevent the environment from further degradation by focusing on our actions.
You can start by managing your own waste or cut down on garbage generation with citizens like Shefali proving that it is not a challenging task.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)