Waste segregation begins at home

As responsible green citizens, there is one issue that needs our wholehearted and urgent attention. Managing the waste generated in our households requires more than just dumping it in the bin. In fact, if we extend ourselves a wee bit, it will go a long way in making the world a healthier and cleaner place.

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The statistics vis-à-vis garbage to be disposed of are quite alarming. Going by official figures, Indians generate 145 million tonnes (MT) of waste annually. And by 2047, it is projected that this figure will reach a staggering 260 to 300 MT per day.

Compounding the problem is the fact that not enough is being done to mitigate the situation. Data from the Central Pollution Control Board reveals that of the 117,644 MT of waste collected in a year, only 49,401 MT is currently treated. The rest piles up in city landfills as mountains of garbage. And this, unfortunately, is growing by the day.

Given the scale and enormity of the problem, what can we do as citizens? A lot. The best part is that waste management begins at home.

It starts with the simple action of segregating our garbage. For this, it is best to keep three marked bins and a big cloth bag. A large bin for the dry waste and two relatively smaller ones for wet waste and hazardous waste. Keep the big cloth bag in an obscure corner to collect plastic packaging that can be given away periodically for reuse.

Dry waste typically consists of cartons, cardboards, cans, aluminium foils, plastics, metal and
paper — all made of material that can be recycled. Glass also comes into the dry category but needs to be packed carefully to avoid breakage, before dropping into the bin. Alternatively, it can be kept separately for disposal.

Your wet waste, which needs daily disposal, will include used tea leaves, ground coffee, vegetable peels, meat and fish bones, leftover foodstuff, dried flowers and leaves. In short everything organic that needs to be thrown away and can be composted.

It could all go into an organic waste converter, if you can invest in one. Or else, an ordinary compost box would do. The waste could thus be turned into manure for your plants. If you live in a high rise, a common composting unit for the entire apartment block could be started which can generate manure for all the green areas around. Many environment organisations now actively help apartment blocks to initiate such green practices.

Going by official figures, Indians generate 145 million tonnes of waste annually. By 2047 it is projected that this figure will reach a staggering 260 to 300 MT a day.

The hazardous waste is a bit more complicated. It includes expired medicines or cosmetics, dried shoe polish, dried paint, fused bulbs, fluorescent tubes, spray cans, batteries, fertilisers, and pesticide containers. They must be collected separately in a bin and marked as hazardous before disposal. Sanitary waste including sanitary napkins also require separate paper bags for disposal.

You must be wondering what the cloth bag is for. A lot of households and building societies tie up with not-for-profit organisations that grow tree saplings, turn trash to cash, make toys or furniture for children. These outfits are constantly appealing to the public for used milk packets, strong grocery bags, courier bags and other packing material. These can be set aside in the cloth bag and handed over once a month for recycling.

Apart from this, every household generates electronic waste which needs to be disposed of in a proper manner. Be it an old mobile phone, charger, keyboard, computer mouse, mixer, lamp, iron or headphone. It is best to sell these to a kabadiwalla who knows exactly how to deal with electronic waste down the disposal chain. Of course, some brands of old mobiles and laptops can be retained to be exchanged for a discount when a new one is purchased.

It is heartening to note that many resident welfare committees have kickstarted the process of segregation by making provisions for dry, wet and hazardous waste by assigning chutes or specific space for each. They have also ensured that the waste collected reaches the appropriate destination. But it all begins at home. The simple act of segregation makes it easier to apply different processes like composting, recycling and incineration to the trash.

Segregating waste should not be taken lightly. If we do not carry out this exercise systematically in our living space then it would require an enormous effort in the future to manage the pile up at the landfills. Currently some of these mountains of garbage are mined for waste recovery and disposal at a huge cost.

Shifting to a sustainable lifestyle means following the 4Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. Basically, it advocates reducing your consumption of inorganic material, reusing what you have used before trying to recycle the object to its maximum, and recover whatever is possible from it. To discuss the 4Rs and composting techniques would need a whole new column.

 

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on environmental issues.

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