Understanding the cycle of waste, citizens’ relationship with it and their threshold to participate in alleviating a city-wide problem.

Everyone is aware of the sordid state of cleanliness and waste disposal in most big cities across the world. We live in Mumbai and have often been witness to accusations of mismanagement being flung across at everyone. What role do citizens play in this, and can this big issue be addressed by small steps taken by citizens?

It is difficult to find someone who can simplify the process of handling your garbage usefully. It is difficult to find the right time to speak to the society and pitch the idea to them. It is difficult comparing the costs of various compost pits, or bins, or trying to understand how to segregate. What do you do with excess compost? Who will take the segregated dry waste? What’s the incentive for doing this?

In an attempt to understand why this was such a messy situation, we began exploring the journey of our waste. We wanted to build a comprehensive understanding of every aspect of it.

Interviews:

We conducted first-hand interviews with various stakeholders involved in the waste business: Building sweepers, local BMC SWM heads, ragpickers, NGOs working with ragpickers, private companies offering waste-management services, raddiwalas etc.

  • This is where the waste from Mumbai homes goes to first thing in the morning
  • Kanta bai, a waste picker, who is part of a collective called Stree Mukti Sanghatana
  • Satish, my building's kachrawala, who co-ordinates every morning with the BMC truck guys
  • Tiwari ji takes raddi from residential homes and sells it to scrap dealers.

Survey:

To begin to understand people’s attitudes toward waste and gauge their thresholds, we pushed out a quick survey, that saw a response of about 170 people in Mumbai.

Check out the results >>

Synthesis:

To set the ground for ideation, we laid out all our interview data, secondary research, opinions and insights and then identified patterns by affinity mapping.

Our approach, since the beginning, has been one of ‘civic engagement’. Our interviews with all the stakeholders revealed that the involvement of citizens, or lack thereof, plays a major part in the problem.

Having understood the general overview, we are now focussed on identifying citizens’ thresholds and consumption patterns in order to design a socio-culturally relevant solution. Our goal toward civic engagement is to understand people on an individual basis and change habits, not just mindsets.

Context

This project is ongoing, now under the umbrella of Mumbai Sustainability Center, of which I am a founding member, and design partner.