Friday, September 11, 2009

Towards zero waste

In our relationship with the environment, the real power does not lie in the hands of technologists or politicians or directors of multinational corporations. It is individuals like you and me who make the final decisions about what is bought and sold in the stores, how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere, and what is dumped into the sea. Each of us can begin to heal the environment right away by changing our daily habits.
- Eknath Easwaran


On Earth Day this year, Bangalore was battered by a tremendous wind and rain storm that caused trees and electric poles to keel over. The worst of the all-round mayhem was the sight of all the tattered white plastic covers, flushed out from the bowels of the city and spewed around by the storm to drape itself over absolutely every surface the eye fell on - on the road, footpath, drains, even over trees. It was as if the Earth was sending out an urgent graphic SOS message to her children on the day designated as Earth Day. That awful sight jolted me into finally doing something about the simmering unease I'd been feeling everytime I threw the garbage out, plastic and all.

Back when we lived in Seattle, there used to be a separate section for disposing recyclable dry waste(paper, plastic, glass, etc.), and another for general garbage. But here everything, recyclable or not, is just dumped into one common garbage area, from where the garbage truck picks it up only to dump it in turn into unofficial landfills. Apparently, these "landfills" are located in the outskirts of the city near various villages. And the un-segregated waste that has been dumped there has been decaying and releasing toxic sludge into the water bodies which are used for drinking and agriculture, causing several health hazards to the villagers such as such as diarrhea, bronchitis, cough and respiratory infections. Isn't it a crying shame?

People in general seem to feel that it is the responsibility of the municipal department to manage proper disposal of waste, but in the absence of conscious responsible co-operation on part of the each citizen by way of segregation of recyclable and other waste, what can the government do? There should be a joint initiative from both people and the government to address the problem, but there only seems to be apathy all around. Unfortunately, in the end, the people who suffer from this selfish irresponsibility are the poor and the helpless - and Mother Earth.

I found out that an NGO called Saahas - www.saahas.org - works with issues related to the management of solid waste in Bangalore. I visited their office and was very relieved and happy to learn that they have well-structured programs for dealing with recyclable waste, which they call dry waste. Now, all my junk mail, food covers, stray plastic and paper, bottles, packaging material and other clean dry waste all goes into a separate trash can which eventually finds its way to Saahas where the waste is sorted and recycled at the nominal cost of Rs. 35 per contributing household per month. To see the details for participating in this program, check the images at the end of this post.

Saahas also has a program for e-waste, which includes batteries, floppies, and CDs. They have placed free public e-waste disposal containers at various points around the city - there is one at GK Vale, Jayanagar, and one at Fitness One, Jayanagar, where small e-waste like batteries, floppies, CDs, etc. can be disposed. Bigger e-waste like printers, keyboards, mouse, monitors, etc. will have to be dropped off at their office.

So now I'm only left with wet waste from the kitchen that I throw out as garbage. While my household still generates some waste that contributes to the villagers' misery, my conscience is largely assauged by the recycling of dry waste that I found a way to do, thanks to Saahas. Ideally, the organic waste from the kitchen should be composted and converted into manure that can be used for growing plants, potted or otherwise. But living as I do in an apartment, no corner of which escapes my toddler's investigations, composting is not a viable option for me right now - but hopefully, some day it will be. And then, perhaps, I can dream about a zero waste household...