Battling the Menace of Waste & Garbage in our Country

Bits of Paper,

Bits of Paper,

Lying on the floor,

Lying on the floor,

Make the place untidy,

Make the place untidy,

Pick them up,

Pick them up.

The woes of garbage disposal. Photo courtesy: analogicus

The woes of garbage disposal. Photo courtesy: analogicus

Almost each one of us would recall this nursery rhyme from our Kindergarten days. We would sing it and pick up the bits of paper, broken pieces of crayon and pencil shavings from our classroom floors and put them in the dustbin. But alas, this tiny 8-line rhyme got locked in the four walls of a classroom. It sadly made a negligible impact on our mindsets and for generations to come, as our country and the world is groping its way through pollutants and garbage disposable problems for decades. Now that it has become almost unbearable, we are waking up to cloth bags, glass bottles and bamboo toothbrushes, but is this enough?

In a detailed report in Economic and Political Weekly, How Can India’s Waste Problem See a Systemic Change?, (Vol. 53, Issue No. 16, 21 Apr, 2018) presented by Mathangi Swaminathan an alumni of Harvard University and co-director of Waste Ventures India, he talks about how – “India generates 62 million tonnes of waste every year, of which less than 60% is collected and around 15% processed. With landfills ranking third in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in India, and increasing pressure from the public, the Government of India revised the Solid Waste Management after 16 years.”

In my quest for learning more about the dangers and hazards of waste and garbage plaguing our country, I reached out to professionals, organisations and experts who are tirelessly working to make a difference.

The Lifestyle Portal is proud to present a three-part series on Waste Management in India and how we as citizens of our country can manage our waste responsibly. Starting with Part 1 – Battling the Menace of Waste & Garbage in our Country…

Collection of waste

As I am currently writing this article, the population of India stands at a whopping 1.33 crores. The numbers just go to show how this has a direct impact on the amount of waste that we generate on a daily basis. Hence, one of the major challenges that we as a nation face (apart from other impending concerns which also need attention), is the collection and processing of waste and garbage responsibly.

I spoke with Chirag Mahajan, Communications Manager of Waste Warriors, headquartered in Dehradun. Waste Warriors is a solid waste management NGO that works through a combination of direct action initiatives, awareness-raising and community engagement programs, and local advocacy and partnership events.

From Dehradun, they collect garbage from Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) which include colonies, apartments, and businesses ranging from food and hospitality to schools and malls. Waste Warriors Dharamsala collects from households, restaurants, and a variety of businesses. Waste Warriors Corbett collects from schools, forests and village communities through mentored women-led self-help groups. On average, the Dehradun team collects 1.5 tons per day of mostly dry waste. Similarly, the Dharamsala team collects 0.5 tons per day.

Photo courtesy: Waste Warriors

Cleaning up the mess we created. Photo courtesy: Waste Warriors

Chirag explains, “Our teams operate in three different project locations. Waste Warriors Dehradun operates within Dehradun’s municipal boundaries and with a few surrounding villages and resorts, catering to a wide range of active participants, from 15 participating RWAs and over 60 businesses across the city. Waste Warriors Dharamsala operates in Bhagsunag ward of Dharamsala city as well as on popular trails to Triund campsite at nearly 3000m, and Bhagsu and Gallu waterfalls. Waste Warriors Corbett operates in over 35 locations on the eastern borders of Corbett National Park, collecting from schools and village communities through trained women-led self-help groups.”

Everything Eco, is a Mumbai-based Waste Management company that was launched by Anu Pillai in September 2017. They’re primarily into the collection of plastic waste collection and recycling across Mumbai. On average, Anu shares, they collect around 5kgs to 10kgs of waste a day across the city.

How is our waste/ garbage collected?

As Chirag explains, “In Dehradun, all collected dry waste is transported by our GPS-tracked pick-up trucks and manually segregated by our Green Workers at our segregation godowns. In Dharamsala and Corbett, the waste is collected door-to-door and carried either by foot or by truck on assigned routes and manually segregated at assigned locations and at our segregation godowns and centres. All recyclables are sorted into their various saleable categories and sold to our partnering kabaadiwallas.

Tiles created by using recycled plastic. Photo courtesy: Everything Eco

Tiles created by using recycled plastic. Photo courtesy: Everything Eco

What happens to the waste after it is collected?

“The Plastic waste that we collect is combined with fly ash (waste from thermal power plants and sugarcane factories) to make eco-friendly durable low-cost roofing tiles. What makes these tiles unique is that once converted from plastic waste, these roof tiles can last for up to 25 years!”

The extent of Waste Warriors’ current operations capacity is currently limited to collection, segregation, storage, and transportation of dry recyclables. However, they do try to ensure that the kabaadiwallas they’ve partnered with are correctly processing the recyclables and transferring it up the value chain to industrial scale recycling facilities.

Will changing the way FMCG products are packed help us reduce the generation of waste & garbage?

As I walk through the aisles of a supermarket, I cannot fail but notice how most of our FMCG goods come in plastic and paper packaging. Be it tubes, bottles, wrappers, sachets, containers, our food and other FMCG products come packed in plastic and paper. I posed this question to our waste management professionals whether other forms of packing such as Tetra Pak would help and this is what they shared.

“Changing packaging from plastic containers to Tetra Pak would not necessarily impact the environment in a positive way, and it might actually be worse. This is because of the way Tetra Pak’s proprietary container is made. Each container has tight thin layers of polyethene, aluminium, and paper. The ability to fully separate and recycle these layers is enormously difficult and requires specialised recycling facilities that need Tetra Pak’s own proprietary technology. Such facilities are expensive and hard to implement in countries where the collection value of such potentially recyclable material is already so low. It doesn’t help when the only alternatives for such material are instead to repurpose them to make other items, like chipboards made from post-consumer Tetra Pak. Ideally, there should be no plastic packaging at all, but it is an inescapable biological challenge to prevent edible items from being contaminated by bacteria and fungi. In countries where the value chain of plastic containers is much higher (not multi-layered packaging, which is another massive problem), it would probably be slightly better for FMCG’s to transition to plastic containers that have a high recyclable value chain, like PET, PE, and PP, so that those can be segregated and processed to already existing facilities,” explains Chirag.

Well, that's the mess created by us! Photo courtesy: Prylarer

Well, that’s the mess created by us. Photo courtesy: Prylarer

Anu pitches in,” Packaging does have an impact on waste generation. However, the real test lies in seeing if the packaging is disposed off properly. Also sometimes, not all supposedly eco-friendly packing is ‘green’. For e.g.: Paper bags (not the newspaper ones) have higher carbon footprint resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.”

How can we as citizens of India help?

I’ve often noticed how people often blame the civic authorities for not keeping our cities clean. The truth is, it starts with us, from our very homes, by teaching our children and our domestic help. We can’t depend on others to keep our cities clean, it starts with one small act of learning to dispose off our garbage more responsibly.

Chirag shares, “Yes, people are equally, if not much more, responsible for what they purchase and consume and the resulting waste that is generated. However, mismanagement of waste is a complex problem that has risen from systemic issues, from poverty to flawed education to consumerism and even from politics to administrative services up to the judiciary. So it does not help to point fingers to blame the public or the governments that they elect. Even if seemingly strong policies are made, from rules to acts to laws, the mere presence of them is not enough to deter individuals and businesses from breaking them. Those have to be accompanied by well thought, large scale IEC (Information, Education, and Communication) campaigns that can not only reinforce those government policies but also encourage and trigger the right desired actions from individuals themselves.”

“In my opinion, Mumbaikars are extremely conscious and proactive when they had to make the switch to eco-friendly products to diligently segregating waste. The challenge though is most people aren’t aware of genuine organisations where they can give their e-waste or their plastic waste for recycling. If there is more awareness, I’m sure the goal of achieving zero waste society would be possible,” adds Anu.

When citizens lend a hand for responsible garbage disposal. Photo courtesy: Waste Warriors

When citizens lend a hand for responsible garbage disposal. Photo courtesy: Waste Warriors

This is a 3-part series on the responsible garbage disposal and recycling in our country by The Lifestyle Portal. If you too would like to share your views on waste management and garbage disposal, drop us a line at contact@tanyamunshi.com.

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