S01Extra04: How Padma got 1300 households to compost

Interview with Padma Patil

Deepika: I met Padma Patil in Yelahanka, Bangalore a few months ago. She’s one of a team of people at her apartment complex, Purva Venezia, who has led the way in getting over 1300 households to segregate and compost their waste.

Within the first few minutes of meeting her, I was witness to calls from different people wanting to come and meet her to understand how she does what she does. As we began talking to her I began to understand why – because its not easy to do what she’s done, and to take a whole community of people along with you. What is most striking about Padma’s journey is how undeterred shes been in doing what she does in getting people to imbibe the spirit of composting and to built what she calls a ‘culture of composting’. In this conversation she explains the steps she took and continues to take to be responsible not just for her own waste but that of the 4500-odd people who live there. So here’s Padma!

Padma: My name is Padma Patil, I live in a community which houses 1332 flats. We are the premium residential apartment complex of Yelahanka. One of the famous also for the sustainability projects we have undertaken. 

It was around 2012 that newspapers were replete with so many articles about garbage lining the roads and at every street corner. Everyday, when you are looking at some news articles, you keep wondering, why is it that the government is not doing anything about it. When we do the math in our mind then today we are generating so much garbage. Where is it all going to? To a village. If that village is exhausted where will it go, to another village. After that, another village. So is it ever going to stop? It was a kind of helplessness that I felt – why is it that we are unable to find a solution to it when the problem is so evident. When there is a problem definitely there should be a solution to it.

So what’s the solution? Segregation. When I came here then it struck me that let me try with segregation, we have anyway 1332 homes which is a good impact which I can make for my environment. It started like that and we thought what is the best way forward – educating. Educating the literate people, that’s what I will tell you. They read the newspapers, they are aware, yet, we don’t know what is going to happen if we mix. So we did a project where we said, we will go door-to-door, pleading or trying to tell people why and why not for segregation. That was our first line of thought – we will do segregation first.

We started off as a team of 3 people. But then when we asked for volunteers, people were forthcoming, especially ladies. Then we made a team of 7-8. We said whichever block you are staying in, contact only them for the time being. We went step by step, saying you convince your neighbours to become green volunteers, you convince your block people, whoever you are in touch with to do segregation at source.

They have this argument, our next door neighbour in the apartment does not do, why do you want to bother about it? Anyway they are sending their waste outside. How does it matter to you? We don’t believe in all this. We don’t have time. We don’t have energy. For all the arguments we had a counter argument for everything but we never argued or made enemies out of these people who did not agree. The culture has to seep in slowly. Today, in our apartment, its a norm to segregate. If you do not you are looked upon as – “unhuh, these people don’t segregate is it? These people have come from the moon.” Today, we have swelled up to be 30 members in the green committee – its a great thing. Not all people are active all the time but it does not matter so long as they subscribe to the cause. Today or tomorrow they will have a role to play.

So what we did is we have a policy called Move In and Move Out. When anybody moves in, the first thing we give them a few documents that have rules and regulations – if you are a student you have certain rules to follow, if you are a household you have certain rules to follow. When you are moving in you can’t move in beyond 6 o-clock or before 9 o’clock you cannot move in. Certain guidelines are there. In the same way, green guidelines are there, so the pamphlet will be handed over to you. People don’t care when they are handed over. So what we do, we have the concept of Block representative, every block will have one representative who is also in charge of telling them about green guidelines. If the person doesn’t have time, security will update because there is a language barrier also so they may not know Kannada or Hindi. So they will say ‘Please see the notice board. There are certain guidelines for waste collection so please do accordingly’. Once they move in, we don’t visit them but our supervisors will take the trouble to go to their house, ring them and tell them, that when your waste comes out, it must be segregated. 

We started working since 2012, that time black plastic bag had not been banned so for reject waste we allowed it. Later on once the plastic bag rules came in place, we said no more black plastic covers. No more biodegradable covers, these green covers, they are also banned by the government order. So we shared that in our portal that we will not accept these. No plastic cover can be given as waste being tied and given out. We can only accept it as part of the waste. Now you want to throw it as waste, okay fine. You have to keep three bins separately, we will we will pick it and put it in particular bins. 

By 2014, we had about 40 tonnes of compost lying in our yard and not picked up by any farmer or anybody. Then we realised its not just good to compost and keep aside but to get the farmer to buy your product. That’s when we started going helter-skelter looking for clients to buy. Because we are a huge complex, generating so much waste and we have to get rid of the compost we make at the end of it. 

We have matured, and followed the rule now  so now next what? – that was the question we had. I could connect to a farmer who was in Nellamangala doing organic farming so I asked him to please come down, look at our compost and if you like it please take it – we’ll give you at a concessional rate. He bought about 40 tonnes of compost. We had piled about from 2011 onwards, 40 tonnes in one place and we got rid of it. Why I am saying got rid of it is that it had no value for us. Nobody knew the value of compost that time. We just produced and kept it aside but didn’t know what to do with it. Only when we are hard pressed for space, you will think, oh my god I need this space, what do I do with this? All these things came full circle for us. I put out food waste, make it into compost, give it to a farmer and use it inside for my landscape. This is one full circle for us. We focused next on dry waste. How to make the dry waste generate revenue for us. Every dry waste has got a value. Today we have graduated to 25,000 Rs/month and all of it is segregated.

Our journey which started with waste being looked upon as a problem is actually a boon because it makes us smile that we are not doing anything that is harmful, We have done our part. And today the whole of Purva Venezia feels proud that we as a community do not pollute our surroundings. 

Deepika: In Padma’s apartment complex, waste really is a boon. And I realised that when she took me to the space allocated for sorting and composting wet waste. She was greeted with immense warmth by the staff that works there and that space was just humming with activity with different people segregating things and you could see how alive it was. And what’s most striking about it is that they’ve really transformed something that is considered a dirty business to go back that full circle to the Earth again. We hope her story will inspire you to get cracking on your building societies to start segregating and composting at scale. 

If you’re in Bangalore and would like to start turning your waste to a boon, you can reach out to Padma Patil for more information. Write to us at team@thecuriocitycollective.org for more information.