While driving a bike fast through the city lanes of Vietnam my Caucasian friend asked me “Why do you drive so fast? Don’t you care for other people’s life? And most of all don’t you care that you might die? Do you not feel worth for your LIFE?” This leads me into a dilemma, how did I come to this stage where I just didn’t care about someone else’s life and most of all MINE. After some soul searching I found the answer.
While I was growing up, every day I stepped out of the school bus and walked through Seemapuri dump site(Delhi, India) and wastewater discharge pumping station, I covered my nose because of the intolerable stink; I saw children playing and people picking garbage for a living. We have surrounded ourselves with ‘Kuda’(Garbage) and we live in our small little bubble, trying to ignore the reality surrounding us. Though with each passing day these things become a part of us and make us what we are. Heaps of garbage had turned into mountains and we have learned to live in the dirt- we have learned to tolerate. “Sab Chalta Hai ! Hamko Kya Lena Dena !” (Let things take its course! Why should be care !) Has become our attitude. In our subconscious minds we have decided that we are not worthy to live a good, clean life.
Management of Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW) continues to remain one of the most neglected areas of urban development in India. The 23 metro cities in India generating about 30,000 tonnes of wastes per day while about 50,000 tonnes are generated daily from the Class 1 cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Piles of garbage and wastes of all kinds littered everywhere have become a common sight in our urban life. Municipal agencies spend about 5-25% of their budget on waste collection itself. In spite of such heavy expenditure, the present level of service in many urban areas is so low that there is a threat to the public health in particular and the environmental quality in general.
India generates 960 million tonnes of municipal waste/yr, to put that into perspective of an average car weighs 2 tons, so we throw a comparable waste about 4,800,000,000 cars every year as waste. The composition of urban municipal solid waste is 51% organics (vegetable, fruits etc.), 17.5% recyclables (paper, plastic, metal, and glass) and 31 % of inert. To the average Indian mind it means “It’s not my problem; let others take care of it”. Till when, we can ignore responsibility and run way from it? What we need right now is the sense of responsibility and a sense of belongingness? The average educated Indian already knows garbage should go into the garbage bins and not on the streets. But it is a shame that educated are the source of this problem. We have made a bubble and we live inside our bubble, nothing outside it is of our concern.
The government and foreign donor agencies have invested a lot to bring in technology to treat the waste and dispose it safely but every attempt to do anything fails because we the people think it’s not our problem. Until and unless we use 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) we cannot achieve a good living standard. Segregation of waste into paper, plastic and organic matter is not a new concept to us but the bins that the government placed on the street corners have turned to popular fire cracker bursting units on Deepawali(Indian festival).
It is high time to realize that this “kuda” (garbage) will not disappear just because we keep our eyes closed and ignore our responsibilities daily. We have to realize every single piece of garbage we throw on our streets and near our houses is a nail to our own coffin we deliberately drive. So we need to wake and realize this is ‘my problem’ and it is ‘I’ who has to solve this.
There is no single solution in the world for waste management as such, but only a lot of small local / individual solutions. People and government both have to do their own part to make the system work. In Asia many countries are following 3R principles at government, private, commercial, school and household levels.
For the past 2-3 decades, 3R principles have gained momentum in waste management which consist of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle principles. This concept was first introduced in Japan and now adopted in many countries not only in Asia as well as in Europe and US. Japanese traditionally have a concept of not throwing anything before it is completely used and try to reuse even a plastic bag several times before throwing it into the garbage. 3R principles can be applied at household level/individual level. The principle of reduce emphasizes on the fact that at every level of the social structure, even at the individual level we need to focus on reducing our footprint on the environment by reducing wasteful activities eg. When we buy bread at the local store insist on not taking the plastic bag to carry it home or when we use cut vegetables and fruit not to waste excess of fruit with the peel or the outer skin or not duplicating materials which already exists at home. The principle of reuse is typically conservative attitude towards any material that comes inside the house. Finally the concept of recycle is nothing new to the common man, it ranges from selling newspapers @ 6/kg to using the same newspaper while making clay for the children to play with.
Our current society has been influenced by a new sphere of urban wasteful culture where plastic bags or any material is rendered useless after its first use. Now The Government of India passed a law that prohibits supermarkets to give away free plastic bags and to charge the consumers for the purchase of every bag. This law empowers the concept of reduce and reuse in India, but the Indian mass has taken this concept in a rather negative way by stating that it is yet another means devised by the retail outlets to mint more money. As a result of this law, people are forced to organize their shopping schedule and plan their shopping activity thus promoting the use of cloth bags before going to the mall or to a shop. In reality we know about this principle before, this is not something new, we have been using big nylon/ cloth bags when we go to shop in the vegetable/meat markets, then why not the retail shop or to the mall ? Since the law had passed there is reduction of the use of plastic bag of about 30% in the retail industry.
In the last decade the government introduced advance waste treatment technologies like, methane gas extraction from landfill, waste to energy system (incineration) which yielded in power from waste but due to lack of awareness and malpractice on public, NGO and government side, the plants failed at various sites. We have to realize again that the technologies have improved and air pollutions from these systems can be controlled to a great extent. Developed countries not only in Europe and America where we tend to look, but also Asian countries like Thailand, Singapore and Japan have used these technologies for over 2 decades. We need to realize that the waste of today is the resource of tomorrow. The world has also perfected the technology to convert plastic to oil. All these technologies are useless unless we the people co-operate with the government and local bodies. The advanced technologies are not the stumbling block of waste management rather we are the problem and from us only come the solution.
So in my opinion it is not the law or the government or the NGO’s job to keep or clean our homes, we need to accept that this land is ours, these people are ours and this environment, the cow on the street to the poor man on the pavement all are suffering because we don’t take care. It’s our fault that our people suffer; it’s our fault that from the highest mountain range of the world to the place where the ocean conjoins is filled with filth. The street, the neighbourhood- every state for this matter, is our extended home and every step each of us takes to keep our country clean makes a big impact to solve this grave problem. When every Asian takes that one step, we have already advanced 3.8 billion paces towards cleaner home - a cleaner Asia.