A citizen’s initiative in waste management, which ran out of steam, provides valuable lessons for those wishing to start their own

Three years ago, Divya Nahender, a 36-year-old resident of St. John’s Cross Road and mother of two, found her patience sorely tried when she saw garbage being thrown into her well-tended garden. The patch in front of her house was attracting garbage from all the households nearby, but she was determined to have the area cleaned up.

Following the pushcarts, tempos and lorries personally gave her a complete picture of who the defaulters were, and after identifying specific problems in every lane in her area, she held a series of meetings at her place with the residents to chalk out plans to tackle the issues. After going door-to-door to meet people, she managed to coax the residents to segregate paper, plastic and wet waste.

A tie-up with ITC followed, involving collection of paper and plastic from two designated points in the area. From ITC’s collection team, Divya was able to find out which households had failed to segregate their waste, and would call them up to persuade them to do so.

Children from the Ashwini Charitable Trust opposite Divya’s house volunteered to spread awareness in the locality and answer residents’ queries on segregation, and collect paper and plastic. “They were mostly high school students who would go door-to-door in groups of three — around 75 groups in total. With gloves and other safety gear, each group was assigned a lane,” she says.

She flips through the diary in which she documented in meticulous detail the number of collections made in 2009. She also spreads out a huge map of her area with notes on the number of pourakarmikas assigned to each area and their schedules. That extensive planning and a great deal of effort went into the project is clear; however, the campaign turned out to be short-lived.

Though the initial response to the campaign was enthusiastic, August 25, 2010 was the last ITC collection recorded in her diary. The initiative hit roadblocks such as the change of the team sent from ITC; she no longer had a committed group that would inform her about households that did not segregate. The child volunteers needed an adult to accompany them for safety reasons, and the campaign ultimately ran out of steam for lack of volunteers. As it continued largely as a one-woman show, it took a toll on her health and she decided to ease herself out of it.

While the waste management campaign sputtered out, her efforts didn’t go entirely in vain. Some residents keep the flame burning: “We have pots and a small garden on our premises already where we make manure from the kitchen waste. We have hired a woman privately to segregate paper and plastic for all the houses in the apartment, which is later collected by ITC,” says Parvathi Narayanan, a resident of Grasmere Apartments.

The Annaswamy Mudaliar Road, St. John’s Road, Osborne Road and Tank Road (ASOT) Association, now renamed the Ulsoor Residents’ Welfare Association, in which Divya serves as vice-president, was born out of her initiative.

With the support of an NGO, a human chain was organised around the Ulsoor Lake in July this year for better maintenance of the lake, for which people turned up in hordes. While people were eager to extend support for a larger cause, a matter closer to home such as segregating garbage didn’t receive the sustained attention it needed.