Mumbai-based Kedar Sohoni’s decision to focus on his health has been good in more ways than one. A step he took towards living a clean and sustainable lifestyle has led to hundreds of societies across the city managing their waste better.
“About seven years ago, I wanted to lead a healthier lifestyle, so I started running. A few months later, I thought the next logical step was to move towards healthier food,” he tells The Better India.
“I interacted with farmers to learn about how organic food is grown using compost,” he says. “Since I did not have any space to practise organic farming myself, I decided to prepare compost instead. It’s chemical free and rich in microbes that help provide nutrients to plants, without needing chemical fertilisers. I thought it was an interesting way to treat kitchen waste at the source and minimise wastage.”
He understood the technicalities of composting from farmers and prepared a small batch over the weeks. “I realised that making compost was simple and healthy for the environment. I thought of implementing it on a large scale in my residential society of 220 apartments,” he says.
When he approached the management with the idea, they asked him to work alone to figure out how to do it, he says. “So I studied the waste collection process from the residences, the issues related to it, and the methods used to segregate dry and wet waste. After four months of studying and learning, I implemented the production throughout the society. I was able to help every house in the complex convert a total of 72 tonnes of waste,” says the 49-year-old.
For this, Kedar received recognition through an ICICI Bank Swachh Society award for mitigating wet waste in 2016.
He says this came as a surprise to him. “I had contributed to the bare minimum for solving waste, and did not think it was a massive feat. Then I learned that other housing societies were not taking steps regarding the issue of excess waste, and hence, my initiative was unique,” he says.
He thought that if thousands of residential societies treated their organic waste to make compost, the issue of dump yard piling could be solved to a large extent.
“In Mumbai, the dump yard that once was away from the city has become a part of it. Dumping waste away from the city is never a foolproof solution to solve the problem. It creates multiple environmental hazards. On many occasions, the waste in these dump yards is burnt, leading to emissions of harmful and toxic gases,” he explains.
Kedar adds that toxic water and liquids released from the dump yard seep into the ground and pollute groundwater sources. “It is not an environmentally sustainable solution,” he says.
For this, Kedar, who worked as an entrepreneur in analytics and research, decided to quit his job and start an NGO to help residential societies mitigate organic waste.
In 2017, he roped in a few experts from the environment and waste management field and launched the Green Communities Foundation. With this, he began approaching residential societies offering them to adopt waste management services.
“We implement aerobic composting using Effective Microorganism (EM) solution, a method widely practised in Bengaluru. This involves layering of wet waste and spraying EM to convert wet waste and organic matter such as leaves into compost and cocopeat,” Kedar notes.
He says the method requires no churning of organic matter as needed in conventional techniques. “We use a composting cage and drums to facilitate the process,” Kedar adds. “The NGO has also tied up with dry waste centres of the civic body. It is sent for recycling or to the dump yard.”
Kedar teaches housing societies how to convert their own waste into rich compost, which they can then use as per their needs. With this, he says he has helped over 220 housing societies mitigate their wastage, and converted 4,000 tonnes of waste into organic compost.
Chetan Mehta, secretary of Vasant Galaxy residential society, Goregaon, says, “I learned about the NGO after a resident’s recommendation. About two years ago, the civic body made it mandatory for large societies to treat their waste. So we decided to use the NGO’s expertise.”
Chetan says the housing society generates about 400 kilos of waste a day. “We have now successfully been able to compost the waste which works as a fertiliser in our gardens. The surplus is distributed,” he adds.
Citing another example, Kedar says, “A society of 800 apartments used to generate 1 tonne of waste per day. We helped them cut this down by 70 per cent and reduce the burden on dumping grounds.”
A collective responsibility
Kedar has also recently tied up with 30 villages around Mumbai. “Rural areas have no recycling units or robust systems to mitigate waste. On most occasions, the locals burn the waste, releasing toxic fumes in the atmosphere,” he says.
He adds, “The large corporations have placed logistics ensuring their products wrapped in plastic reach the rural masses. But there is no reverse logistics to recover the plastic waste. Hence, the issue of waste management in the rural areas needs redressal.”
Kedar has also collaborated with local gram panchayats in Mandgaon taluka to address the issue. The locals have collectively contributed to mitigating over 1 tonne of plastic waste in three months. “We started with seven villages and increased over the past weeks. We are in the process of expanding to more,” he adds.
He says that convincing residential societies is a big hurdle for his NGO. “Mitigating wet waste does not have immediate benefits for the residents. Many do not think that addressing the issue is necessary. The problem is ignored, even though it has larger environmental and human health repercussions. The concern about waste management is similar to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’, mindset. People think the problem is solved once the waste is out of their homes,” he says.
He adds, “At present, there is no penalty for non-segregation or putting excess waste in dump yards. Waste creators are not held accountable for polluting the environment. Moreover, the waste pickers are homeless and live a poor work life. We aim to improve their work conditions.”
Kedar and his volunteers create door-to-door awareness in urban and rural areas for effective waste management.
He says that humans have to see waste management as a massive problem, and everyone has to take shared responsibility for it. “We aim to make Mumbai a waste-free city,” Kedar adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu