All posts by Gunjan Zutshi

Taking a systemic view to change – A case study in waste management

As an OD practitioner, I am fascinated by change processes and what it means in practice to manage change. One such change has been the effort to segregate waste at source in our apartment complex. Its not a massive change and yet what happened in the process has many learnings and this case study is an attempt to capture that.

Our desire for change We are a small community – 120 apartments – in Bangalore who have been trying to manage our waste to ensure that other than rejects, no waste goes to landfills.

Starting conversations It started with a group of residents raising their concerns over the challenge that we as a city were facing on garbage management and what could be done about it. We spoke to some people who were already segregating garbage at source and decided we must do 2 bags, 1 bin – here’s the solution to our garbage woes!

Getting started We formed a group of volunteers, got the other residents together, called an expert to talk to them about need to segregate at source, distributed the bins and bags and we were confident that we will solve the problem.

Reality bites It was easier said than done! The garage was still mixed up as people, the house keeping staff and house hold help were not clear on how to segregate it. We also realised that people were finding it difficult and not wanting to take the extra effort. Good intentions weren’t enough!

Rethink We did training for housekeeping staff and house help, reinforced communication by visiting households door to door and saw a marked improvement.

Reality bites V2 The agency which was collecting segregated waste was dumping it all together post collection! It was being back to square one and residents were angry at having to take the extra effort when in the end it was not having the desired impact.

Change some structures and processes We started looking for a partner who will collect waste and help us compost the wet waste, recycle dry waste and manage rejects. We found one partner but it was more expensive to work with them and not everyone was in agreement on increased cost. Not only did we have to take help of the fact that it was by now mandatory to segregate waste at source, but also to appeal to a higher purpose of keeping our city clean and not polluting the environment to bring agreement. With the right partner, our efforts took wings and we were able to get to 90% effectiveness in segregating waste.

All was well for few months till we started receiving complaints from our partner that garbage is getting mixed. We found out that the house keeping staff had changed and there were also many new tenants who didn’t understand the system. We realised that this will have to be continuous and ongoing effort and constant communication is required. We also decided to do refresher training for housekeeping staff and ensure that new tenants are spoken to by one of the volunteers.

Outcome Gratification came recently when after 2 years of continuous effort, we got a mail from our garbage management partner that we achieved zero waste for the month! And as I write this, we are doing an e waste collection drive and the work continues…….


  • Think systemic and involve all sub systems that are likely to be impacted or impact the change.
  • Look at processes, working methodology, structures, communication and all aspects that have  impact. Changing one may help but is never enough.
  • Keep at it – early set backs only mean that some part of the system has not been addressed.