Bengaluru's Composting Santhes: A Unique Collaboration Between Citizens And Government To Create A Sustainable City

Bengaluru has woken up to the many benefits of composting thanks to citizen activists like NS Ramakanth, Vani Murthy and others across the city began experimenting with various types of composting years ago, gradually fine-tuning the process to make it easy and efficient. Today, turning organic waste into black gold or composting is no longer a stinking, messy task. It is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance. A range of solutions now exist that allow households, institutions and commercial entities of all sizes to compost their wet waste easily with successful results. With present day technological advances, even home biogas technology has become reasonable and compact, with enough output to give up to 2 hours of cooking gas to a home in a day!

 Composting essentials Image: Vani Murthy/ Facebook

Composting essentials Image: Vani Murthy/ Facebook

The city's composting revolution also owes its success to citizen-led campaigns like SwachaGraha that celebrate the garbage-to-gobra cycle. What started as a vision to get a million pledges to compost and create a million green spots across the city gained momentum as people learned simple and rewarding composting methods by which they could manage 60 percent of their waste at home and grow food in their own balcony gardens. 

Composting organic waste at home keeps majority of our waste out of water bodies and landfills where it will rot and emit poisonous greenhouse gases. It yields rich, nutritious manure that can be used to grow safe food in terrace or backyard gardens. Once a household composts its wet waste, it is left with dry waste and sanitary waste - two categories that can be managed once in a few days by proper segregation, recycling and handing over to government approved authorities.

If disposables such as plastic bottles, grocery bags, single-use cutlery and straws are cut out, the quantity of dry waste produced is further reduced. Similarly, reject waste can be managed with the use of reusable diapers and menstrual hygiene products.

 Vani Murthy introduces Bengaluru Mayor G Padmavathi and BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad to composting Image: Vani Murthy/ Facebook

Vani Murthy introduces Bengaluru Mayor G Padmavathi and BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad to composting Image: Vani Murthy/ Facebook

Armed with this knowledge, citizen volunteers of SWMRT and the Bangalore Eco Team approached BBMP officials to try in-situ composting as a method of decentralised waste management for the city. The BBMP Commissioner, Mr Manjunath Prasad himself put the theory to test. He started composting at home and was convinced about the method.

Roll out of the Composting Santhe

 Leaf composters installed in public places and residential complexes.

Leaf composters installed in public places and residential complexes.

Once the BBMP was convinced, it was a matter of spreading the word to the wider public and gaining their participation to put in into practice on a large scale. This set the ball rolling for the launch of the Composting Santhe or composting market - an idea that fit nicely into BBMP’s Clean Bengaluru Campaign. The campaign slogan ‘My Bengaluru is a Clean Bengaluru. My Garbage is My Responsibility’ seeks to achieve its goal of a clean city by combining citizen participation with government efforts to build an efficient waste management system. Composting Santhes were seen as being able to showcase the city’s achievements to the public and act as conversion points for citizens.

They provide a platform for educating citizens about sustainable waste management and offer them a one-stop shop for all their composting and gardening needs - for every family, unit size and budget. Since then, the Santhes have been a regular affair, taking place on weekends in a ward-wise manner in public places like parks. At the Santhe, citizens get an opportunity to meet and interact with their ward officials and participate in workshops to learn various aspects of reducing and managing waste.

The first Santhe, held in February 2017, gave the public a glimpse of possible solutions and Bangaloreans were able to appreciate that waste was indeed wealth! Garbage, once composted, can be used to start a fully organic garden, be it in the limited space of a balcony or a large terrace. The health benefit of organic produce, being introduced to plastic alternatives, the greening up of concrete spaces all held appeal to the attending crowds.

 Dr Meenakshi Bharat talks to BBMP workers about sustainable menstruation

Dr Meenakshi Bharat talks to BBMP workers about sustainable menstruation

The BBMP plans to organise Composting Santhes in all 198 wards of the city; 26 Santhes have been organised to date with active support from the SwachaGraha core team and able execution by ward-level citizen leaders. Every Santhe sees participation from the Municipal Commissioner, Mayor, the local MLA and Ward Corporators. Santhes are held every weekend in public places like parks where they attract wide attention and where admission is free.

Since they began, they have become a platform to create awareness about:

Waste segregation, composting, growing food and other sustainable SWM practices: At every Santhe, attendees receive hands-on training on easy composting techniques with demos of various composting and kitchen solutions exhibited by vendors.

Bengaluru’s plastic ban issued in March 2016: Citizens are given solutions to adapt to the plastic ban using plastic alternatives such as cloth bags, reusable plates, cups, bottles and cutlery that they can adopt in their daily lives.

Stalls educate citizens about the benefits to health and environment of reducing sanitary waste like disposable pads and diapers and replacing them with menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads and cloth diapers.

 An introduction to chemical-free cleaning products Image: Vani Bhaskar/ Facebook

An introduction to chemical-free cleaning products Image: Vani Bhaskar/ Facebook

The Santhes have seen enthusiastic participation from all quarters. Several campaigns that address various aspects of sustainable waste management are regulars at the Santhes. 

2bin1bag encourages 3-way source segregation of waste and provides information on Bangalore’s plastic ban and how to adapt to it with eco-friendly alternatives.

Green The Red - a countrywide movement to promote sustainable menstrual hygiene.

SwachaGraha volunteers educate the public about simple composting methods.

Trashonomics, a comprehensive book about waste management for school children is also part of the showcase stalls. Stalls promote the brewing and usage of bioenzymes or natural, chemical-free multi-purpose home cleaning solutions - a sure way for Bengaluru to do away with frothing lakes and polluted water bodies.

A variety of innovative household and community composting and clean energy solutions are on display for visitors. Gardening services are a logical addition to the Santhe since they provide the answer to the oft-asked question: what is to be done once compost is ready? Festival season sees the introduction of eco-friendly, festival specific products such as clay Ganesha workshops and biodegradable cutlery. Stalls promoting the repair and reuse of electronics, clothing and footwear are also regulars at the Santhes as are vendors offering safe collection of recyclables and e-waste.

 Composting and gardening workshops for children are a hit at the Santhe Image: Vaijayanthi Madabushi/ Facebook

Composting and gardening workshops for children are a hit at the Santhe Image: Vaijayanthi Madabushi/ Facebook

Changed cities, one ward at a time

While the Santhes are executed according to a standardised format, each Santhe is lent a unique flavour with the showcasing of relevant local initiatives like street theatre and children’s composting and gardening workshops.

 

 Karnataka Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda attends a Composting Santhe Image: Vani Bhaskar/ Facebook

Karnataka Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda attends a Composting Santhe Image: Vani Bhaskar/ Facebook

Needless to say, the campaign has set off a positive chain of change. Each Santhe attracts between 500 and 1000 visitors many of whom adopt composting almost immediately by buying trial kits to try for themselves. RWA and apartment representatives have taken advantage of the Santhe in their localities to understand composting and waste management and carry the information back to their communities. Since it is now mandatory for bulk generators and apartments above 20 units to instal in-situ wet waste management solutions, this platform gives RWA representatives a clear understanding of options available.

Over 300 women who have understood the mission of the GreenTheRed campaign have made the switch to sustainable menstrual hygiene products, and are driving it through their circle of influence - friends, daughters and colleagues. Interest in the campaign has come from apartments and corporates, initiated by women who successfully made the switch. Currently, trainers are taking more than 3 workshops a week across the city!

 MLA NA Haris tries his hand at composting Image: Stonesoup/ Facebook

MLA NA Haris tries his hand at composting Image: Stonesoup/ Facebook

All the social media pages of the various campaigns have seen positive spikes after the Santhes began. Renewed interest in composting and sustainable waste management has sparked conversations and interactions in local communities. A temple and a church in Bangalore that received a gift of a garden composter have successfully started composting their garden and flower waste on their premises instead of throwing it away or burning it, as was the practice in the past. School children who visit the Santhe take back valuable learnings and often write about their experiences in their school newsletters.

The positive impact of the campaign is not lost on ward officials and Corporators. There has been a surge in demand for Santhes in every ward across the city. Currently, weekend dates are booked up until December 2017 and more bookings come in every day. Many officials who are trained in simple home composting share pictures of their success stories with the organising team.

 Composting Santhe at BBMP Head Office

Composting Santhe at BBMP Head Office

A Santhe was held on 27th of March at Vidhana Soudha as part of the flag off ceremony for KCDC’s compost-to-villages initiative which creates an urban-to-rural compost pipeline by selling unused urban compost lying in BBMP plants to rural farmers at subsidised rates,

 Participants of a clay Ganesha workshop

Participants of a clay Ganesha workshop

Recognising that decentralised waste management is a significant component of the vision for a sustainable future, the government is promoting ward-level bio-methanisation plants, large scale community composting, and auto tippers for wet waste collection.

With more changed communities and homes, the success of the Composting Santhe concept has been an acknowledgement of the collective efforts of citizens for over a year to showcase and promote a vision of a sustainable Bengaluru. Composting is the way forward as it allows waste to be managed locally, reduces the burden on landfills and allows citizens to grow their own safe food in kitchen gardens. Today, Bengaluru's Composting Santhes are an example of how a sustainable model of waste management can be achieved when citizens and vendors actively collaborate with the municipality and elected representatives of the government.

Featured Image: Vani Murthy/Facebook