How to Manage your Household Waste under COVID-19 Conditions

With our cities winding down under the COVID-19 induced pandemic, it should be expected that our urban services will come under unprecedented pressure. In this situation, municipal staff and infrastructure will be working at reduced capacity. Consequently, the collection and disposal of garbage could breakdown at any time. At the same time, housekeeping teams at large townships, apartment complexes will also be forced to work with limited, if not no staff. It is quite probable that your garbage will not be picked up in the next few days if this lock-down continues.

Our Prime Minister urged citizens to show “Resolve” and “Restraint” in dealing with this crisis.

Here’s how we can show “Resolve” and “Restraint” in managing our household waste in these emergency conditions when there is no one to pickup our waste.


We’re all aware how we need to segregate waste into 3 categories. In emergency conditions like these, it is even more critical to do this right. The objective is to find ways to hygienically store as much waste as possible at home. This means, what is clean and dry needs to remain so. Dry waste which is soiled with food or other decaying substances will need to be rinsed and dried. If you don’t have bins, look for shopping bags, laundry bags, shelf space, pots, cardboard boxes or something in the waste itself. Anything that can store dry materials in a neat and clean way. Sort materials like paper, plastic packaging, plastic containers, glass bottles, juice packs and store them in separate containers. Watch this for more details. Keep vessel or container temporarily only to collect all kitchen waste. Do not use any plastic liners in this case. Keep a third container for sanitary waste and hazardous wastes, if any. Above all, make sure that sanitary waste is wrapped securely in newspaper and marked with a “red dot”. You’ll need to find ways to keep this waste to a minimum in such emergencies.

Do Not Dispose, Instead Store

First of all, you’ll need to plan to keep clean and dry materials stored for a few days. So look to open up cardboard boxes and flatten them out, find ways to keep them neat and tidy. Save space while you do so. Assign places and containers that allow you to store this in a neat and tidy way for up to a week or more. For more on how to handle dry waste watch this video.

Compost all Kitchen Waste

With everyone at home and all the restaurants closed, you’re going to have to cook. So expect a lot of wet waste to pile up. While chopping vegetables, don’t find a bin to throw them away. Keep all these precious raw materials in a kitchen vessel or plate and accumulate them until all the cooking is done. Make sure while chopping that you cut scraps and ends into small pieces. In this way, it will decompose faster in an odour free way.

Transfer the scraps into a bucket or container and make a base. Ideally use a breathable material such as an earthen pot, if you have balcony garden. Once lunch or dinner or any meal is over, gather any leftover scraps and add them into the container. If you have access to dried leaves gather enough of them to last you for a few days. Crush the leaves by hand and mix them up with the day’s waste. The volume of dried leaves should roughly match the volume of kitchen waste. While mixing, you could also add a handful of garden soil, if you have a balcony garden, to give the whole mass some uniformity and texture.

In emergency situations, you may not have access to compost microbes. In this case add some sour curd or buttermilk to the mixture. Anything you can find in your kitchen that is used for fermentation could also do the job. Jaggery or a small teaspoon of wine or beer could also do the trick. While adding any liquids make sure the composting mass does not become too soggy. It should have the consistency of a well done bhel puri. If things get too soggy, dry it up by adding more dry leaves, coco-fibre, soil or even some waste paper shredded into small bits. Once done, make sure none of the fresh waste is exposed. Use some more garden soil to cover it up. Close the container with a lid or cover.

Continue to do this for as many days as you need. Keep a close eye on moisture levels. Never allow the medium to get soggy or too wet. You’ll notice this waste doesn’t stink at all. For more guidance on the process of composting, watch this video. There are also a lot of resources available online for home composting.

You may just find that this is the most beautiful activity you’ve engaged in, in a long time. In this case, make it a permanent habit and find ways to make it more efficient.

Stop Using Disposables, Minimize Waste Generation

While it’s great to follow this at the best of times, it is of particular importance to stop generating unnecessary waste in these difficult times. Try and keep waste quantities down. Consume consciously. It’s especially important to minimize or eliminate difficult wastes which have to be collected and disposed outside the home, such as household bio-medical waste. Try cloth diapers for babies. Find washable and re-usable alternatives. Ladies should look for the opportunity to shift to sustainable menstrual products like cloth sanitary pads or menstrual cups.

Take special care with soiled masks, paper napkins, disposable towels, etc. in these conditions. Dispose them with close attention so that collection staff and waste pickers don’t come into physical contact with them. Wrap such materials securely in newspaper and mark with a “red dot“, so that it is not handled by waste workers. For more exhaustive details on handling sanitary waste, please read our other blog article on this

If you’re under home quarantine, its critically important to dispose your waste with special care. Your waste will be considered infectious and hence gets classified under Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules. In this case, pack and deliver ALL your waste with special identification in yellow bags normally provided to hospitals. You will need to get in touch with the local municipal ward sanitation officers to source these bags. These yellow bags are to be secured and handed over only to authorised agencies specified by the municipality. It is not be handled in the way normal waste is dealt with. Be transparent and inform all those who may come into contact with your waste to deal treat it with utmost care. More details on regulations are here

Engage with your Housing Community or Welfare Association

Garbage left uncollected can be frustrating. Find out if your neighbors in the housing community are facing a challenge. Your committee members may need your support to find solutions. Make a Whatsapp Group and share your thoughts, ideas and strategies to fight the emergency. Help your neighbors, calm nerves, stop the panic. If necessary, solve the issue at the community level. Some problems which are challenging at the home level may have good community solutions. E-waste, Construction Demolition waste can be stored for some time in the community. Look to start up a community composting project if you already have garden space or compost pits or a machine that is not in use.

Cooperate with Waste Workers and Municipal Staff

Waste pickers, waste workers, waste processing staff and municipal sanitation staff are going to be bearing the brunt of this situation. Look to be supportive and offer constructive cooperation. Understand that these workers will also need to keep to social distancing norms. They will be most vulnerable, not just due to administrative and infrastructure shortages, but also since they are more prone to exposure to infections as a result of their working conditions. Support those waste workers who come into contact with you and help them protect themselves with simple measures. Offer trainings and awareness to them if possible.

On Sunday March 22nd, all citizens have been urged to stay indoors for 14 h from 7 am to 9 pm. “Janata Curfew” or self-induced lock-down, is meant to encourage people to practice social distancing.  By looking out for ourselves, let’s help our respected Swachhta Karmacharis to stay safe and practice the Janata Curfew on Sunday. Let’s also keep them in our hearts at 5 PM when we show gratitude to all those people who struggle to keep us safe and secure in these difficult times.

At the end of this crisis, hand over all the stored and clean dry waste to the collection staff in sorted condition. Try and continue your home composting habit and make it a permanent fixture at home. If we’ve helped you with some sound guidance, make independent waste management a lifestyle choice. Call us and we’ll help you find ways to do this better in the best of times. You will never face an emergency of this kind again!