We are social beings. We live in a community and are members of that community. Along with enjoying the rights as an individual being and the member of a community, we also have duties towards other beings and other members of the community. As a citizen, we are members of our country, India. As a human, we are members of our planet, Earth. It is our duty to organise and behave responsibly as a member of our locality, a citizen of India and a being on the planet Earth. We, the people of India, through our Constitution, have resolved that we shall ensure harmony and brotherhood with each other along with maintaining fraternity in the society. It is applicable not only to social and economic aspects, but to environmental and ecological aspects too.
Ecology and environment are intricately linked to the social and economic realms. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is a case study in point. The effects of environmental and ecological negligence are resulting in the socio-economic challenges. This is where the importance of taking the responsibility of environment around us comes into picture. Environment around us constitutes land, water, air, soil, forest, plants, animals and the related ecology. Any substance that deteriorates the ambient quality of the environment around us is a waste which needs to be handled responsibly.
It is rightly said that the charity begins at home. If we want to take care of the environment, we need to take responsibility of the waste we generate. It can be imbibed as a motto that my waste is my responsibility. If we, as a community, take responsibility for our waste, we can make tremendous progress in mitigating pollution on land, air, water, under-water and even in space.
Solid-waste management is an essential component in addressing land pollution. If an individual does not throw waste haphazardly and randomly, and dispose it in a garbage collector only, it will address the problem of waste management. If a household segregates the waste and discards it in the garbage collector while not polluting the neighbourhood, it will improve the neighbourhood’s environment. Similarly, if a corporation or an industry does not dump its waste, rather than adopt socially conscious waste management policies, it goes a long way in sound waste disposal system. And finally, if a municipality adopts a judicious and diverse solid waste management techniques, from composting to incineration, to microbial action and to landfills, among others, it ensures a healthy and sustainable environment to its residents.
The basic principle of my waste, my responsibility helps in taking the movement achieve scale and impact with tremendous beneficial consequences.
Water pollution is another major concern which arises due to poor handling of liquid waste. As an individual, I discard waste which may affect the nearby water bodies. As a community, say as a farmer, the fertilisers and chemicals run-off and percolate the soil and gets mixed with the under-ground water table causing ground water pollution. As an industrialist, the wastes from the industry are discharged freely into the water bodies or are allowed to percolate to the ground water. Similarly, if a municipality does not have a proper sewage system, the wastes may affect the water around that area. All these actions may lead to water pollution. Hence, if different constituents adopt the motto of my waste, my responsibility, and mange their waste, the problem of water pollution can be sorted.
Similar to the arguments of land and water pollution, if the motto of my waste, my responsibility is adopted by individuals, communities, industries, municipalities and countries, we can remedy the challenges of air, sea, under-water and space pollution. It is because such an approach forces us to think of our actions from a “systems-thinking” perspective which has a feedback effect and nudges us to do good because of its easy-to-understand cause and effect relationship. Moreover, the ecological thinking framework puts emphasis on things which are non-human, like forest, water, land, etc., thus making us to realise that we are part of an interconnected web with nature, and our survival depends on them. But, if this is so straightforward and simple, then why do we deviate or overlook such a framework of interconnectedness?
There are two explanations for why we overlook the framework of interconnectedness and avoid the motto of my waste, my responsibility and act in a selfish and non-concerted manner. The first explanation is that we tend to make divisions. We separate between human and non-human. We separate between I and we, us and them. This has been put very effectively by Rabindranath Tagore in his book Sadhana. In it he emphasises that humans need to overcome the “city-wall habit” to stop wrestling and “subduing nature”. We need to overcome our “strong suspicion” of nature and consider ourselves not as a “(wo)man” but as a “(wo)man in universe”. A similar thought was expressed by Mahatma Gandhi in his book Hind Swaraj that humans need to start living in “harmony with nature”. It is this attitude which will promote the practice of my waste, my responsibility.
The second explanation is that we have become a “fast” consumption society. We are always in the look of a quick-fix solutions. The short-term solutions from the vantage of GDP-based-economy cannot be equitable and sustainable. The nature, and thus our environment, is complex which needs careful, complex and long-term based solutions. It is this “addiction” with speed and short-termism which further prohibits the basic principle of my waste, my responsibility.
Avoiding the motto of my waste, my responsibility we have become a “risk society”. It is not only socially and ecologically required to follow that principle; it has ethical imperatives too. According to Kant, it would be the right thing to do. According to Mills, it would bring in the greatest good for the greatest numbers. And also, we have obligated ourselves, like a contract, through our constitution to preserve and protect the environment, promote harmony and brotherhood and fight for equality and justice. Thus, it is imperative as a citizen, as a human being and as ethical and moral beings that we follow the ideal of my waste, my responsibility.
Following the ideal of my waste, my responsibility we can mitigate environmental and ecological challenges. It will protect the rich diversity of our planet. Socio-economic equality and justice cannot be achieved without environmental justice. Moreover, environmental degradation has negative impacts on emerging countries and weaker sections of the society. Thus, like the “butterfly effect”, a small step can bring impact at scale. Let’s take a pledge that my waste is my responsibility for an equitable, sustainable and a green future on the planet Earth for all of us and the coming generations.