“It also meant that these informal waste workers would become known for their entrepreneurial abilities, as they professionalised and diversified their operations within the waste stream—including composting, managing waste at events, communicating their issues—while coming together to create solutions.”
Let’s Clean Bangalore Together screamed a mailer sent out by a group called Anonymous Indian in 2009, appealing to the patriotic fervour of citizens: “This Independence Day, let’s liberate ourselves from garbage.”
It went on to outline ambitious plans for a one-day clean-up of the city on 15 August. The brainchild of Myriam Shankar, a German citizen residing in Bangalore, who wanted to spare no effort. This included roping in Radio Active 90.4, a local community radio station that I was involved with, to ensure the participation of over 4,000 citizens.
However, this one-day drive made clear the current temperament of residents, who wanted visual cleanliness, but had no sustainable long-term solution that would actually ‘clean the city.’
Recognising the futility of a clean-up drive that did not address the root cause of Bangalore’s waste crisis, Myriam next reached out to individuals who were experimenting with segregating waste at source and home composting, along with organisations working on waste management services.
During their first informal meeting on 8 October 2009, they decided to form a group, the Solid Waste Management Roundtable, a name that stuck and came to define
the group’s vision: “SWM Roundtable is a platform to share and discuss experiences and methodologies around waste management. Our aim is to inspire and to consult individuals to introduce solid waste management practices. Our vision is to convert households, apartments and institutions into proper waste management, ideally ZERO WASTE.”
In order to make substantial changes, those of us involved in the Roundtable decided to meet every Tuesday to discuss, analyse, and strategise.
At one meeting in 2010, when discussing the need for neighbourhood recycling centres, Nalini Shekar joined us as a special guest. Initially warm and receptive, I could sense her growing discomfort as the meeting progressed. She soon started nodding her head and crossing her arms.
The meeting concluded and she stepped out to receive a call. I followed her and asked if something was amiss.
Exasperated, she said: “How can you people even talk of waste management without getting waste pickers and other informal waste collectors involved?”