Poonam Kasturi - daily dump waste management initiative

Turning garbage into compost: Solving waste crisis one dustbin at a time

Armed with the mission to change the mindset of Indians regarding waste management in urban spaces, Poonam Kasturi has revolutionised waste management through her initiative.

A clean environment is an important prerequisite for our wellbeing. When our surroundings are clean, we feel content and healthy. On the other hand, the sheer sight of garbage and stench emanating from it make us feel nauseous. But how often do we realise that we are also part of the problem? We all dislike the sight of litter on the streets, but how many of us consciously try to not dump garbage outdoors? The irony is that while we love to keep our houses spick and span, we don’t take the responsibility of maintaining cleanliness in our surroundings. Kitchen waste, rotting food, plastic wrappers, used glass bottles—we often dump irresponsibly on the streets or any open spaces without considering the harmful consequences of our actions.

Waste management is a huge crisis in India. According to the erstwhile Planning Commission, urban India generates 62 million tonnes of waste annually and it’s predicted to rise to 165 million tonnes by 2030. Another study estimates that approximately 90 percent of residual waste is dumped in public spaces. These numbers are staggering and call for urgent action to deal with the issue of waste management. This is where Bengaluru-based industrial designer Poonam Bir Kasturi comes in.

Armed with the mission to simplify urban waste management, Kasturi founded Daily Dump in 2006. Through her work, Kasturi is helping people learn the art of composting, which helps in reducing the sheer volumes of garbage in our homes. Using her design skills to solve the waste management crisis, she has created terracotta home composters with the “the primary motivation to see how design thinking could address a complex problem like waste and if anything was possible to create an intervention that could help change people’s mindset and behaviour that will benefit the whole community.”

In an exclusive interview, Soulveda speaks to Kasturi about her work and how her initiative can help us simplify urban waste management and pave the way for a greener and healthier country.

What challenges did you face while trying to convince people about the importance of composting?

The biggest challenge was dealing with the perception that it smells, it’s unhealthy, and you can’t have waste inside your home. People felt it’s inconvenient, not worth their money, takes time, and it should be the government’s responsibility.

We also did a study and found that 60 percent of the dustbins in India were organic by weight. We studied the possibility of what could be done with organic waste and composting was the immediate answer. Composting is nature’s way of recycling and putting nutrients back in the soil. But when we asked people if they knew what composting was, we got answers like ‘it’s a very difficult process, ‘it smells’ et cetera.

We addressed all these barriers through design. 15 years ago, we created a product that didn’t look like a dustbin, which you can keep in your balcony or garden. It’s India’s first home composter that would allow people to turn their waste into compost from their homes. It can even become a symbol of your pride, as it makes you part of the solution instead of the problem. We named it khamba, which is also acknowledged by the government of India as an important part of the Swachh Bharat campaign.

Tell us about the health benefits of composting and how can it improve our overall wellbeing?

It gives you a sense of satisfaction when you take the compost and grow something from it. There’s enough research to show that when you grow plants, your anxiety reduces, you are more centered, more mindful, and have a better sense of wellbeing. Composting also helps you understand the relationship between food and your health. We have seen customers, who didn’t like plants initially, slowly getting interested in the process. Eventually, this idea grows into your life and brings a sense of wellbeing.

What can be done to encourage people to take more responsibility for the environment?

In cities, we should be interested in knowing about our relationships with water, greenery, food and energy. I think if we get curious about it, we can find fresh ways to manage all the common problems.

How important is it to educate the youth about environmental sustainability?

Children understand this topic better than adults do. It’s difficult to make adults mindful of this subject if they don’t have an appreciation for it. But if children become aware of environmental sustainability, it stays with them. Many schools are involving children in this arena and their awareness is better than adults. We also have a composting and waste segregation workshop for children where they work with compost and study waste segregation. It involves storytelling and games. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of children would come to our office and attend these workshops, but that’s not happening now. We will have to wait when it becomes better to resume the workshops.

How can we usher in a change in the way we approach waste management?

Fundamentally, we have to start consuming differently. The main question is: are we ready to consume less? We consume too much because we waste too much. The problem is we don’t know how to consume and we are not aware of an elegant way of consumption. It is like consumption on steroids as opposed to consumption on whole foods. Change can happen if we consume differently, invest in something that lasts longer, and don’t want a new dress every three days.

Trash burning is still a major issue across the country. How can composting solve this issue?

Trash burning is usually done because there is no place to dump the litter and people want to get rid of it. Often, the litter has plastic and organic waste. The toxins from plastic and trash burning are quite harmful to all kinds of creatures. Composting can help if the trash has organic components. We should divert the organic amount into composting and the rest should be recycled.

As a country grappling with a waste management crisis, what role can citizens play to create a cleaner and healthier country?

There are simple ways to start. You can find alternatives for the plastic, buy mindfully, eat a plant-based diet and reduce meat products to at least once or twice a week. Walk more, use public transport, and be mindful of your carbon footprint. For instance, leaving the lights on is a significant component of CO2 emission. You can also segregate and compost waste. These are the things everyone can do. Everybody must enjoy this journey. When you start looking at your connection with the earth, you won’t think of this as a chore but an opportunity to enjoy living on it.

  • Poonam Bir Kasturi is an industrial designer, facilitator, entrepreneur and mentor. She graduated in Product Design in 1986 from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, specialising in product design. She created Daily Dump in 2006 as a way to use her innovative designs to combat the problem of waste in Indian cities. Over the years, Poonam’s social enterprise has won several awards including Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Schwab Foundation of the World Economic Forum in 2016 and the Smart Cities India Awards 2016 for Decentralised Waste Management in May 2016; and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research—for Decentralised Waste Management in September 2016.; SEED Low Carbon Award of the year 2018; Swachh Bharat Social Enterprise of the year 2018.

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