Unlike several cities that continue to drown under the weight of their own waste, Bengaluru has woken up to the benefits of composting by turning its organic waste into black gold.

Quickly gaining acceptance in the mainstream through urban gardeners, composting is no longer considered a stinking, messy task. Composting organic waste at home keeps the majority of 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 significantly less dry waste and sanitary waste – both of which can be managed once every few days, by proper segregation, recycling and handing over to government approved authorities.

A range of solutions now exist that allow households, institutions and commercial entities of all sizes to compost their wet waste easily and with successful results. With present day technological advances, even making biogas at home has become a reasonable and compact process, with enough output to give up to two hours of cooking gas per home in a day.

Collective conscience

Leaf composters installed in public places and residential complexes.

To a large extent, Bengaluru’s green conscience lies with its citizen activists. Citizen-led campaigns like SwachaGraha first began the campaign to get a million pledges to compost and create a million green spots across the city. This soon gained momentum as people learnt simple and rewarding composting methods, by which they could manage up to 60 per cent of their waste at home and grow food in their own balcony gardens.

Citizen volunteers of Bengaluru’s Solid Waste Management Round Table and the Bangalore Eco Team, both non-profit organisations formed to deal with the city’s growing waste problem, approached the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike officials to try in-situ composting as a method of decentralised waste management for the city. BBMP’s Commissioner, Manjunath Prasad first started composting at home, and convinced of its advantages, implemented it at various parts of the city.

Once the BBMP was convinced, it was a matter of spreading the word to the wider public and gaining their participation on a large scale. This set the ball rolling for the launch of the Composting Santhe or composting market – an idea that fit well with the BBMP’s own Clean Bengaluru Campaign.

Composting Santhes

Composting Santhe at BBMP Head Office.

The first Santhe was held in February 2017 and gave the public a glimpse of possible green solutions for their waste. Bengaluru issued a plastic ban in March 2016, and at the Santhe, people were taught about alternatives to plastic that they could incorporate into their daily lives.

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

Dr Meenakshi Bharat talks to BBMP workers about sustainable menstruation.

At every Santhe since, attendees receive hands-on training on easy composting techniques with demonstrations of various composting and kitchen solutions. A variety of innovative household and community composting and clean energy solutions are usually on display for visitors. Gardening services are a logical addition to a Santhe, since they provide the answer to the oft-asked question: what is to be done once the compost is ready?

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

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 its frothing lakes and polluted water bodies.

An introduction to chemical-free cleaning products. Photo credit: Vani Bhaskar/Facebook

Festival season in Bengaluru now 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 regular features at the Santhes, as are vendors offering safe collections of recyclables and e-waste.

Participants of a clay Ganesha workshop.

Community affair

The Santhes have become a regular affair on weekends at Bengaluru’s different wards. They are usually held in green, public spaces, where citizens meet and interact with their ward officials and participate in workshops to learn various aspects of reducing and managing waste. 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.

Each Santhe attracts between 500 and 1000 visitors many of whom adopt composting almost immediately by buying trial kits to try for themselves.

The BBMP plans to organise Composting Santhes in all 198 wards of the city. Thus far, 26 Santhes have been organised with active support from SwachaGraha and ward-level citizen leaders. Every Santhe sees participation by the Municipal Commissioner, the Mayor, the local Member of Legislative Assembly and Ward Corporators. Admission is free.

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

The campaign has set off a chain of positive changes. Resident Welfare Associations and apartment representatives have taken advantage of the Santhes in their localities to understand composting and waste management techniques, 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 the options available to them.

Over 300 women are now participating in a movement called GreenTheRed, making the switch to sustainable menstrual hygiene products, and promoting them to friends, daughters and colleagues.

A Santhe held on March 27 at Vidhana Soudha, the seat of Bengaluru’s state legislature, began the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation’s compost-to-villages initiative, which created an urban-to-rural compost pipeline by selling unused urban compost lying in BBMP plants to rural farmers at subsidised rates.

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

The city’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.

Composting essentials. Photo credit: Vani Murthy/Facebook
Karnataka Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda attends a Composting Santhe. Photo credit: Vani Bhaskar/Facebook

A version of this article first appeared on Eartha.