Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
Pune has a population of 4.5 million and generates 1900 tonnes of unsegregated waste every day, of which 50% is biodegradable. Most of this waste is dumped at a landfill site, 35 km away. This causes groundwater pollution from leachate, air pollution from methane fires and a terrible odour for the communities forced to live near the dumps. In the winters, dry leaves covering the streets, rooftops, building premises are considered a nuisance. The casual approach of burning the leaves fills the ambient air with deadly smoke. In the recent years, individual initiatives to tackle the menace of waste have provided hope.
Priya and Sunil Bhide are residents of Pune and have come to create a green roof over the last 30 years. Today they collect almost 10 tonnes of biodegradable waste annually, compost it, and use it to grow food. They have developed an in-situ method of composting that produces soil directly as planting medium and decentralizes urban waste management. By designing the containers and planting spaces with porosity, correct wetness, and ample oxygenation, the issue of bad odour is addressed. Composting of organic waste in such manner reduces the unsanitary disposal, provides organic produce, and creates niche ecosystems for microfauna, earthworm, bees, and birds in the city. Reduction in the volume of waste eases the burden on the waste collectors who participate in the process by bringing in leaf litter from sweeping the streets.They are now focusing on giving people the right tools to make them independent in handling their biodegradable waste.
Pune resident Aditi Deodhar has also developed an alternative to burning dry leaves. Through her initiative ‘Brownleaf’, she has saved thousands of gunny bags of dry leaves from getting lost. Brownleaf is a forum to connect the people having dry leaves with terrace gardeners who are in constant need for nutrient-rich soil. Gardeners can pick up the bags full of dry leaves, mulch the leaves or compost it for the purpose for adding to the soil. This not just helps avoid the problem of air pollution because of leaf burning but it also creates a circular system in which the dry leaves are not waste but valuable resources that bring the nutrients back into the soil.
During COVID, the leaf donation and leaf shredding activities had to be temporarily suspended.Being a distributive model, it was not much impacted otherwise as members of the forum continued their work on their terraces and balconies. In fact, many members who were inactive or those who wanted to start their gardens, could start it during lockdown. As forum is well-organised online, new initiatives could receive all the help they needed from other members. Also, there were so many webinars that could happen in this time and which helped the forum connect with and communicate learnings to people all over, something that was not imaginable before.
The small steps taken in the form of individual projects can readily scale up to cover the neighbourhoods or even the whole city. DIY composting models developed by Priya and Sunil Bhide are already being replicated and evolved in dozens of cities in Maharashtra. Similarly, dry leaf exchange forums similar to Brownleaf can be easily set up in other cities which face the similar issues of burning of leaves and other urban bio-degradable waste. Resilience exhibited by both initiatives during COVID should assure us that urban terrace farming and composting at home can provide a small but significant antidote to the unhealthy aspects of urban life. Both the initiatives should strengthen the efforts to create the circular, decentralized, and community-powered waste management systems as we struggle through the COVID crisis.
Priya and Sunil Bhide
Email: [email protected]
Watch a video clip on Priya and Sunil Bhide’s terrace garden
Contact person is Aditi Deodhar
Email: [email protected]
Read an older article on the Brownleaf initiative: Driven by social media, organization on a mission to make every leaf count