BengaluruMoving: #COVID19 and Waste Management at Bus Depots /Shelters

Bus shelters/ bus depots and bus terminals are essential parts of any successful urban transportation system. They are part of our social infrastructure, and it is a core necessary urban infrastructure and not just a mobility infrastructure. As public spaces, they are hubs of community activity. An often overlooked feature in this built environment, is access to waste bins as a prerequisite. COVID19 has spelled out the  dire need to rethink waste disposal systems and collection differently in public spaces. On 16th June 2020, the BMTC put out a video on safe disposal of used masks and gloves, which showed the staff using separate closed bins to dispose of them, but is that enough? Is the facility uniform across the city? https://twitter.com/BMTC_BENGALURU/status/1272761170328342530

In this special series dedicated to #BengaluruMoving, solid waste management activists Kathyayini Chamaraj from CIVIC, Odette Katrak from Beautiful Bangalore, NS Ramakanth, Sandya Narayanan, and Pinky Chandran from Solid Waste Management Round Table ( SWMRT),Bangalore  discuss #COVID19 and Waste Management at Bus Depots /Shelters. 

Radio Active: As per the BMTC’s website as of March 2020, there are ten BMTC Traffic Transit Management Centres (TTMC) – Shanthinagar, Jayanagar, Kengeri, Banashankari, Koramanagala, Yeshwanthapura, Vijayanagar, Domlur, Whitefield and Bannerghatta; two major bus stations – Kempegowda Bus Station and Shivajinagar, forty five bus depots and fifty eight bus stations and employs 3333 personnel with 6161 schedules. What is the present situation of waste management at bus depots? Are bins present? 

Sandya Naryanan : I am not entirely aware of the current arrangements. I’m guessing it is largely status quo. And I’m not aware of whether there are bins present apart from the special  arrangements for disposal of  masks and gloves.

Ramakanth :In public places and nowadays even in residences the segregation is very poor. I’m sure in public places, it is worse. All the waste goes in one bin and then everything goes into one vehicle and it is thrown into the landfill. This is the system which is followed and it is completely wrong. We must take stringent action on such people because they are spreading all sorts of diseases.

 Even though I had worked diligently for almost one year and designed separate bins for dry waste and wet waste with visuals, pre-COVID times, I was unsuccessful. During the pandemic, I haven’t ventured out,  but from the information I received everything is thrown into one bin. If they eat oranges it goes into the bin, dry waste also goes into the same bin, even the masks go into the same bin. Unfortunately, the masks that are given are also disposable ones. Disposable masks are a complete no-no. As it is, we have enough waste, it should all be reusable and a washable mask. That is the present situation. I don’t think any changes have been made. 

Kathyayini Chamaraj : The practice of waste management itself is so faulty in our city, that I don’t blame BMTC if they don’t have the proper waste management facilities. Now for a bus conductor and a driver to be throwing their mask in the dustbin, it shows that we have not trained our citizens to do the actual proper packing of biomedical waste. I blame the BBMP for the lack of infrastructure for even collecting the waste in a hygienic and non-hazardous way. If the infrastructure is not in place, the third bin is not there with the closed lid, how do you expect anybody to segregate their bio-medical waste separately from the other waste! The lack of infrastructure disincentivizes the citizens,  plus BBMP cannot push for behaviour change awareness without  the third bin, as  you cannot expect people to use a third bin, if not present. From where will the citizens use it? So, it is a fault that you have not provided the systems that should have been in place to collect waste in a hygienic way. And since you have not provided the infrastructure, you cannot blame the citizens or educate them on the proper way of disposing the bio-medical waste. 

Odette Katrak:   I am Odette Katrak, the co-founder of Beautiful Bengaluru. We are a citizen initiative working for clean, green, safe cities which means we have to focus a lot on the amount of litter/waste we generate and the cleanliness of our public spaces. BMTC provides an essential service which people use to commute from one point to the other. In the context of COVID, though they are essential for people who are out travelling by buses, it’s very important that they can be guaranteed of safe travel. 

So, what waste is generated in buses? What are the methods to handle this waste? I have been asking people who travel regularly by bus in the past (pre-covid times) and I’m told that there is absolutely no concept of a dustbin inside a bus. If it is a conductor, then even tickets can be a waste for him.The floor of the bus is strewn with waste paper.In order to keep the bus clean, there should be a small bin, and that unfortunately  does not exist. 

But now, we are not just talking about litter, we are also speaking about waste that could be COVID infected. It could be someone who is an asymptomatic carrier, who has put on a mask and decided that they want to throw away the mask so in this context it is very important, to have if not on the bus, I don’t know whether managing it on the bus is possible. I know KSRTC has managed a small bin in every bus tied to a pole. If that can be managed in BMTC, nothing like it. If it is waste that is contaminated waste, like a mask, then the more important thing is it should be disposed of correctly. 

Pinky:  In the ‘Step-by-Step Manual to Change our Habits and Clean our Habits by Swachh Bharat,’ the documents states that ‘Bus stands should have litter-bins and throwing waste on the ground by both locals and visitors should be discouraged. Litter-bins are not preferred in many areas for fear of fires from discarded cigarettes and antisocial elements. Disallow sale of peanuts in shells and green gram on stalk etc.’

I managed to visit bus stops around Ejipura and Palace Road/Vidhana Soudha to check the facilities and found that these bus stops have been equipped with two bins, most with no instructions on what waste to dispose of in the bins. The one next to the Post office on Palace road, had a plastic bag stuffed for a week. Equally disturbing was the lack of information on sanitisation of the place.  

Radio Active: What do you think should be the approach for disposal and collection of waste during COVID19? 

Sandya : While it is recommended or it seems logical that collection and disposal should be contactless as much as possible, the practicality and the convenience of actually doing contactless and what contactless actually means, does it mean that there would be no manual handling of waste in which case, is that going to get protected through a bin to bin collection or because workers are having gloves on hands. These can be interpreted in multiple ways. And each category of waste would also merit a different kind of handling. 

Ramakanth : In bus stands, especially in bus stands like Majestic, we used to have about 2 to 2.5 lakh passengers per day so it is difficult to maintain, but still the separate bins should be kept. First of all, nobody should be disposing of masks at a bus stand but even if it is disposed, disposal bins must be separate with clear nomenclature. Those masks must be collected separately and must be incinerated, it shouldn’t go along with the other dry waste. If you send it along with the dry waste then automatically, we will be more susceptible to diseases. 

Odette : So, the first step is there has to be a process in place. BMTC has to make a process for within the bus or outside the bus, at the bus-stop there has to be a clear indicator on the bin across the city. Let’s say someone has a half-eaten apple, that should go separately from say tissue or bus tickets. I think today the whole context has changed and the focus is more on containing waste that might have coronavirus/COVID-19 on it. Therefore, I think the focus is largely on masks. I think one important thing that we can also do is encourage the public to stop using disposable masks so they have less to dispose. If everyone shifts to cloth masks or reusable masks, we won’t have masks to throw. That issue becomes less. So, Beautiful Bengaluru as a campaign we have along with many other environment groups, been reminding people that you don’t need disposable masks. Why do you need disposable masks? Instead switch to cloth masks. I think that can also be a campaign that BMTC runs. I will be very happy to draft an announcement that can be used by BMTC for all the conductors, saying “welcome aboard this bus. In this time of COVID, to be safe you should follow these 1, 2, 3, rules”.

One important point on the waste that is collected in these bins, be it at bus stops or wherever, BMTC has to be scrupulously careful on how this waste is processed. They have to tie up with empaneled ethical vendors of BBMP. They cannot directly burn it or dispose of it or give it to some non-empaneled vendor who will go and dump it in an empty plot. I think it’s important for the BMTC management to have a process in place which includes proper dustbins for collection and after that proper waste disposal. The staff handling these waste needs to be trained as well. I think the public must also  be made aware when they are travelling, of their responsibility.

Pinky: In the document My Swachh Neighbourhood – A multi-stakeholder approach towards a garbage-free society, it states the following: Since transport hubs (bus stands, auto- and taxi stands, truck stations, etc) attract large numbers of commuters and other floating population, their participation is important in making the neighbourhoods clean and hygienic for commuters. 

Below is a list of suggested activities that they can engage in: • Ensure provision of waste receptacles in buses and local trains, with the required security measures taken into view  • Raise awareness through dissemination of SBM (Urban) messages through hoardings / posters / LED signages at transport hubs and on modes of transport • Conduct training and orientation sessions for drivers and staff on the importance of cleanliness and hygiene  • Impose fines for littering & spitting • ULB to institute awards for the most “swachh” bus station / taxi stand / truck depot etc.  • ULB should ensure placement of compartmentalized/ twin bins (with proper signage) at all transport hubs for safe and segregated disposal of waste by commuters.

Using these guidelines, I would say that it is important for the country to introduce closed yellow bins with clear instructions in public places , just like in airports. Equally important is allocation of necessary funds for cities to be able to procure the same on priority. LED signages, training sessions are equally important.

Radio Active: What should be the approach of collection of waste from the public toilets in dus depots and terminals?Should all waste be treated under COVID waste management?

Sandya: Regarding the waste from the public toilets if the waste is handled through the conventional sanitary waste bins in any case it would be contactless. That would be the best way to do it. I don’t think any of the current bus terminals have that kind of system where they have the sani-waste bins put into place with receptacles where there is no contact. So it would make a lot of sense to change the bin design and to have pedal push bins which are sturdier and contactless where no lids need to be touched. And methods like that. And clearances of course would happen if protection has to take place through protection from the workers and through PPE and that kind of facilities. 

Ramakanth:  In public toilets, the same principle can be used. Especially in ladies’ toilets, there should be a separate bin for the disposal of medical waste, and if there are masks then it can be sent for incineration with that. It should be sent to medical waste processing companies for incineration. But, at present, I don’t think they’re doing all that. One bin is kept and everything goes there. And I tried contacting the in-charges but they are not available. Only through twitter I know that they are using disposable masks and sending it separately. In my opinion there should be separate bins for dry waste, wet waste and masks.

Pinky: Public toilets conjure up images of  leaky taps, overflowing sinks, unbearable stink, broken buckets, which also sometimes double up as dustbins, doors without locks, and whatnot. Having said this, I haven’t ventured near a public toilet in the past two years.  With all the messages around regular hand washing due to COVID 19, I think it  is  extremely important the Government takes notice and improves sanitation facilities in  toilets in all the bus stops. The cleaning staff must have the necessary PPE and all the waste from the dustbins must be treated as sanitary waste. Clear instructions on the wall, on disposal of waste such as sanitary pads, tissues, masks etc and  availability of soap for handwashing are non-negotiables. A schedule on cleaning and sanitation  of toilets must be put out regularly. 

Radio Active: Given that sanitation workers are largely invisible, what should be the worker protection methods, in place at these places?

Sandya: It goes without saying that the accepted ways of personal protective equipment so far have never so far been implemented.  It’s a must during these Covid times that it is actually implemented and every worker understands the importance of using all the PPE and good quality PPE which actually protects them is used. I have more questions, if the workers are given disposable masks are they given disposable masks every single day or if it is reusable are they being given separate pairs so that they can be washed and reused, is the question. In the case of gloves is it disposable again or reuse variety and if it’s the reuse variety are they aware of how it has to be washed and reused. Are they given visors, are they given jackets so that they don’t come into contact with the environment. These are all important things and there can be absolutely no compromise. There is also a need of training on the right  hand washing and it is important that all these are provided to the workers. 

Ramakanth: Gloves, masks and footwear, these three are very essential for sanitation workers, as they are exposed to all sorts of danger.  The newspapers are reporting that sanitation workers are acquiring COVID and unfortunately  three have died as well. It is important the supervisors and officials ensure that the PPEs are being used correctly. Similarly, at the bus stand also, if they are given these facilities, the supervising staff should see that they use it. If they don’t use it, the danger is always there. Simply giving it is not the solution. They must be made aware of the importance of using them too

Odette: I think the problem is also really acute with the waste workers of our city.  Be it the BBMP vendor who picks up waste from the apartments, the pourakarmikas who are sweeping the road, because they are picking up these masks which are littered on the road, and finally when these masks get sorted and go to dry waste collection center, the people who sort it there, they are again exposed to infected masks. So, it’s very important for all bus passengers to understand, if they are wearing a disposable mask it is a responsibility to dispose of it in a responsible way. 

Pinky:  I agree sanitation workers are largely invisible – both the pourakarmikas and the cleaning staff in the toilets. The BMTC and the BBMP must work together to ensure that regular training is conducted, on the use of the PPE. Depending on the type of PPE distributed it is extremely important to ensure regular supply of materials, in case  it is torn or soiled. In addition training must also include the correct disposal method. Now, if toilets are outsourced at bus depots, BMTC must still assume responsibility for the safety of the workers. Provision of bins, with clear instructions are a must.

Radio Active: Spitting Ban and COVID19. What are the alternatives? What should be the temporary signs and communications considerations?

Sandya: There is no alternative, it has to be banned.  Spittoons have to be removed, and there has to be a zero tolerance towards spitting. Because it is really one of the ways in which the current disease spreads. And the importance of enforcement of this particular aspect must be really really strict. And all signs and communications should have a zero tolerance approach to spitting. 

Ramakanth:  Spitting is a very dangerous thing. A separate mechanism should be provided for spitting and vomiting. Because while travelling in buses many people get motion sickness. As soon as they get down from the bus, they vomit, so that provision should be provided at all platforms. KSRTC and other places, they have taken a lot of green initiatives. But they were not very serious about it in those days. Now they should be really serious about it.

Odette: A habit which is there in our country, is to sit in your bus seat, turn over the window and spit. There are many people who said they have had spit fall on them while they were walking next to a bus because somebody spat out of a bus. People may think they are doing a good thing by not spitting inside the bus which is definitely bad, but this is also not good. And if spitting in the past was tolerated, it was a habit tolerated not for decades but for generations. But today for spitting to continue, especially in the context of bus stops, it is really asking for trouble. As it is the scenario in Bangalore, the rate at which cases are spiking is very high. A lot of controls have been put in, but at the same time, spitting is continuing. So, everyone is wearing masks on the road. I see a majority of people wearing masks. They are wearing masks because they don’t want to get COVID, correct? However, the same people lift the mask of one ear, turn to one side, if they are on the bus, they spit outside the window, put the mask back and they think the mask will protect them from COVID. So, if they are wearing the mask because they don’t want to get COVID,and if they are spitting it means they don’t understand that spitting can spread COVID. This is a very critical message that needs to go to our public, in all public places especially in public transport.

So, it is critical to have a sign put in the bus stop, “No spitting please”, that spitting will give you COVID. If the people who spit understand this, then they will realize and maybe spit less. So, I strongly believe it is possible to address this issue of spitting especially from the buses, if when people enter the bus, I don’t think all the buses have this facility of audio recording, a speaker can be given to the conductor with the messages. Don’t pull your mask below your nose, second point would be please don’t spit, spitting spreads COVID and the third point would be while disposing of the mask, please don’t throw it here or there anywhere. If you happen to have coronavirus and you are a carrier who is unaware, some pourakarmika who is cleaning or sweeping the road tomorrow may get it.

Pinky: The MHA guideline issued on 15th April 2020 and the Karnataka Guidelines on 29th May 2020, making spitting a punishable offence, under the under Section 51 (b) of the Disaster Management Act. While this is a much needed guideline, especially in the current scenario of controlling the disease, there is much to be done in raising awareness. In the past under the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Amendment Act, 2013, ‘Littering, spitting, urinating, open defecating or committing other acts of nuisance on Road, Bus Station, Railway Station, Street, Playground, Park and other Premises of Public Utility has a provision of fine  of Rs 100 for first offence and Rs. 200 for second offence. Unfortunately it remained on paper. Lack of enforcement is the major issue. Communications and enforcement go hand in hand, however it is equally important for the government to ensure that wash basins in the toilets are functional. 

Radio Active: What kind of communications, should the BMTC put in place? 

Sandya: It would be preferred if the BMTC actually minimises the waste and its handling by issuing reusable masks in pairs or more so that it becomes the responsibility of the users to wash,  wear and manage it. In the case of gloves too a study has to be made on whether it needs to be disposed of after every handling or whether it can be washed and reused. So the intention should be like in the case of conventional waste management to as far as possible reduce the use of disposables so that the hazardous nature of managing waste, multiple handling exposure of more people to that kind of waste is reduced. And the use of reused PPE appears to be a much better way to do it. And there also doesn’t seem to be any use of visors for the drivers. So all these things would reduce the intensity of the exposure. If this part is focussed then the part on training people on disposal would then become redundant because most of it would become reuse material. In the case of passengers of course there must be very strict guidelines on where masks can be thrown and special bins with signages for disposal of masks must be properly displayed.

Ramakanth: As far as communication is concerned, Odette has given a lot of posters on spitting and masks, the dangers of using disposable masks. Ready-made posters have been given. I am sure this is all being used in KSRTC because KSRTC is very strict. They have a campaign on green initiatives. BMTC at present, at least spitting, must have put up the posters. I’m not sure. Posters should be there. We have given readymade posters everywhere, but I don’t know. KSRTC is using it. In some places, posters for masks were missing but I have advised them to put it up. I have been constantly advising them during this green initiative. I even stopped mineral water bottles in luxury buses. It has been almost a year since it has been stopped.

Odette: I happen to see a video of BMTC, where they have come out with a short video for passengers, how to correctly dispose of the masks using the foot pedals so that you are not touching your hand. The mask is put directly into the bin. I think it is a good step they have taken. But is it publicized enough? That publicity if there is a gap can be rectified by the conductor and the drivers calling out to the passenger. Now I am talking in particular about contaminated wastes like masks and gloves during covid times, but even after COVID, I think we as public have a responsibility to keep our public spaces clean, which means we cannot throw bus tickets everywhere and anywhere. Bus ticket is still a piece of litter if it does not go into the bin. If you don’t see a bin, that bus ticket has to go into your pocket and then into a bin on the street when you see one or if you don’t see one then into the bin at home. But that is something that is less critical today because a bus ticket, actually no, if the passenger is an asymptomatic carrier of coronavirus, then even that bus ticket can transfer the COVID. So actually speaking, any waste that is touched by passengers, because it is not known conclusively if they are positive or not, the volume may not be high but all of that needs to get disposed of scientifically. In all of this, I have been talking about announcements, but one more I think is a very simple way, is a simple sign inside the bus. I think every person who enters can see that simple sign at the bus stop which covers these two three points of no entry without masks, no spitting, and correct way of disposal of wastes.

 So, I think of the signs, the most urgent is spitting because all of the people who wear masks and are spitting on the streets, don’t understand the relationship between COVID and spit, that it is spread through saliva. So, it is a simple one line message, no spitting please, keep coronavirus away, I think that signs coming everywhere will help. In the bus-stops, in all the BMTC offices, there should be training for all the staff, including the bus drivers and conductors, sometimes they themselves spit outside the bus. That is why it is very important to give this education and awareness to all that just wearing a mask is not enough. The other thing is the mask has to be a clean mask, it has to cover the nose fully. Wearing a mask for ten days, if you have not washed it, if it is a cloth mask is not useful. What is even more horrifying is that many people are reusing the disposable masks which are supposed to be used only for 6 hours. By doing that they could be wearing masks which are full of viruses. It doesn’t protect, it makes it more dangerous. Any user of the bus has the responsibility to protect themselves as well as protect others. When we wear a mask, we say I protect you, you protect me. And likewise with spitting; by spitting if the person is a carrier, they are spreading COVID faster. Apart from the fact that it is a very distasteful and disgusting habit that is dirty to see, it is downright dangerous today. So, it is an urgent matter that we deal with this issue of spitting across the city, across the country, but especially in buses. If somebody has spat on the bus on the ground, somebody else comes and steps on that, walks with the shoe, walks into the home, we are carrying the virus into our homes this way. So, within the bus, spitting out of the bus where it can fall on somebody, both of these considerations have to be taken into account. So, signs I think are very important.

One last point I’d like to add. There are some people who are habitual spitter. Because they are in the habit of eating paan or still they spit as a habit. For such people they have the awareness that spitting is not okay, incidentally spitting is now punishable, from April 15 through the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, specifically on COVID prevention measures. This became a law across the country. This was also a cause which we through Beautiful Bengaluru had pushed right through the months of March and early April to make spitting punishable. We got over 40000 signatories across the country who agreed that spitting must be stopped. By the fact that it is punishable is not enough to make those who spit stop. We have to train them to stop spitting in a bus or out of a bus. If you want to spit, please go to a public toilet and spit, pour water. 

And what if you are in a bus stop and you feel like spitting. There are some people who may have motion sickness, they come out they feel like spitting. So, one interim option is to have spittoons which we don’t recommend in the long run because they are actually a hotbed of germs. For the people who chew gutka and paan, spitting has become such a habit, so an interim measure as we phase out this whole habit of spitting through extensive campaigns like the ‘Stop India Spitting’ which is happening across the country. 

Till then we do need temporary spittoons. But till then how do we keep spittoons free from bacteria, virus or germs? This is a technology I learnt from one of our gurus of Bangalore,  NS Ramakanth. You place a tray of sand at least two inches thick and above that half an inch of bleaching powder. I think it is an effective way. If people have to spit in a public place and this is kept in a corner and they spit only into it only through the bleaching powder and all that then it can be controlled. This is one alternative that the BMTC can examine with the advice of experts and medical experts as well. But for those who cannot stop spitting overnight, some measure should be given. First would be that people stop chewing Paan and Ghutka so there’s less need to spit, less urge to spit. Second option is if they really want to spit why don’t they keep a small tin in their pockets and spit into it and keep it in their pockets only. They will not do it because they think it is dirty but for it to go out into the public spaces, they don’t think it’s dirty in the public spaces which we have a responsibility to keep clean.

Pinky: The BMTC has been doing a series of promotions on social media since March 

Some of the notable ones are: Don’t remove your mask while talking, maintain physical distance, importance of hand washing , in addition to amplifying messages from other departments.  I really liked the promos on promoting reusable masks vs surgical masks. While the digital promotions are really nice, I think it is important for the BMTC to also invest in signages, preferably outside in the bus depots/shelters/stops on the similar lines. Equally important are instruction sheets inside buses. They could also look at audio recording inside buses with key messages such as the importance of masks, correct usage of wearing wash, promote reusable masks and gloves, the correct washing technique, if disposal masks then suggested disposal method, spitting ban, etc.  I believe that the BMTC has also briefed employees early on before the lockdown through multiple modes- whatsapp, fliers and email. 

It will be helpful for the BMTC to collaborate with the BBMP and relook at waste management and invest in yellow bins

Listen in

Trancribed with minimal edits by Divina Ann Philipose and Pooja K

Anchored by Beula Anthony with assistance from Pinky Chandran, Vijaya and Usha

Edited by Manjuala and Usha

Photographs by Pinky Chandran

Creative Design: Pallavi Baasri, Purpose

References:

Step-by-Step Manual to Change our Habits and Clean our Habits by Swachh Bharat

Swachh Neighbourhood

MHA Revised Guidelines 15th April 2020

Regarding banning of consumption of tobacco products like pan masala and gutkha and spitting them in public places- Karnataka

Regarding providing special incentive for 3397 employees (group C and D) of BMTC during lockdown period from 26.03.2020 till 20.04.2020

THE KARNATAKA MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2013

Press Note: https://twitter.com/BMTC_BENGALURU/status/1282966526702661632/photo/3

Hygiene at Depots:  https://twitter.com/BMTC_BENGALURU/status/1279793698088218629

QR Code based Payment Sysem https://twitter.com/BMTC_BENGALURU/status/1279417186327486464/photo/2

BMTC bus stands and premises are cleaned and sanitised regularly.

How to clean and sanitise home made masks: https://twitter.com/BMTC_BENGALURU/status/1266018590622232577/photo/2

Reasons to avoid Surgical Masks https://twitter.com/BMTC_BENGALURU/status/1256840526508298243/photo/1

Our buses are clean for you everyday that you board them, but please help us by not littering!

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