Years before garbage segregation and waste recycling became the buzz words, a group of nature conservationists and scientists ensured around 100 kg of compostable waste is recycled daily.
During its inception in 1995, Clean Air Island (CAI), aimed at reducing and recycling garbage. Two decades later, the NGO has executed 90 waste management projects across the city and has estimated that it has prevented nearly 8,000 tons of bio-degradable waste from going to the overburdened landfills.
“The idea was to clean up the environment and beautify the city,” said Shanta Chatterji, convener, CAI, also responsible for creating the Maharashtra Nature Park in Mahim on a former dump yard near Dharavi in the early 80’s.
“When we started CAI, our mission included — vermiculture of public waste and paper reuse, pollution free vehicles in circulation and intensive greening on arterial roads through plantations,” Chatterji added.
The group collects wet waste from four public markets in south Mumbai and four naval establishments and brings the garbage to a plot at the Colaba pumping station. The facility has five compost beds of the size 80-feet by 15-feet where the wet waste is used to create organic compost.
“While the excess compost is sold, we use most of it at the pumping station itself, which is now home to 20 butterfly species, 19 species of birds, 12 kinds of trees and 48 species of insects,” said Pravin Singh, supervisor, CAI.
CAI uses electric vehicles to transport nearly five tons of waste daily from different locations. The vehicles are equipped to water roadside plants while traveling from the collection points to the compost pits.
V Ranganathan, ex-municipal commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said, “CAI has been prompting households to segregate waste at source since 1995. They have provided a solution to treat wet waste through implementing vermiculture pits. However, the municipal corporation needs to support more such initiatives and set up similar models at the ward level.”
Between 2002 and 2004, CAI managed an environmental road, wherein a 1-km stretch at Dadabhai Naroji Road, Fort, was beautified by planting trees, along with segregation and recycling waste from the area.
This project inspired researchers from Leicester City Council, partners in the European Commission’s Asia Urbs, to replicate the project in the UK.
“The project saved 59% costs generally incurred by the municipal corporation through dispersing waste at household, slum and coporate levels,” said Chatterji.
“This committed group has been carrying out their work with perseverance and commitment over the years,” said Gautam Chatterjee, former additional chief secretary (transport and ports), government of Maharashtra.