There is this single dustbin in every house which has to handle all of the waste alone. No extra help from fellow dustbins. Why, you ask? Because the owners didn’t buy any fellow dustbins. Why, again? Because they thought there is no need. To them and many others with a similar mindset, all the waste generated in the house belongs to a single dustbin, which would then go on the journey of being buried or recycled, depending on it’s fate; that they don’t care about.
What if we break it to them that their lack of curiosity is doing serious harm to the environment? Well, its high time. So let’s tell everyone. All the waste that you throw in the dustbin is not going to share the same fate. Some might get lucky and be recycled and reused. Some waste materials might be beyond the concept of reusability and would need a deathbed to finally be buried.
It is very important to know why we need to segregate them in order to keep this habit alive and thriving. Depending on the type of waste, they can be handled in different ways. Say for example, you threw the plastic bag in the wet trash. It might get soaked up and might end up in a landfill, waiting to be buried and decompose, for hundreds of years. That’s right. Plastic waste such as bottles and diapers take around 450 years to decompose. Those thin plastic sandwich bags that you ignore so casually can take up to 1000 years to decompose.
However if they had been collected separately, they could have got recycled. There are many ways to recycle different kinds of plastic materials. The easiest and most common plastics to recycle are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Soda and water bottles, medicine containers and many other consumer product containers are made of this material. If segregated properly, the plastic waste can be recycled to make plastics as good as ‘new’ plastics, and this would mean that a lot of resources were saved that would otherwise have been used to make the new plastic material. This recycled ‘new’ plastic can be used in indoor insulation, concrete, carpeting, bricks, PVC windows, ceiling, roofing and floor tiles etc and would not be sitting in the landfills for a few more years, waiting to be decomposed.
Many companies are actively using recycled plastic to make their products such as Adidas, Nike and Timberland to name a few. Some companies have even started this trend of collecting used clothes to make recycled clothes from it. Cool, isn’t it? Well it’s a trend these days.
Now you may argue that if they are going to recycle it, they better segregate it themselves. Segregating thousands of tonnes of waste every day is not an easy task. That too when it has been soiled up due to wet stuff. However, it won’t be so difficult to segregate it when its not mixed up already, would it? That brings us to the possibility of segregating at home. Since the amount of waste produced everyday isn’t so much, this possibility might not be so bizarre to execute. On the contrary, it is in fact better, more reliable and hassle-free. It would be so much better if we segregated these at home instead of mixing it up with regular trash and reducing the possibility of them reaching their correct place.
To help everyone segregate properly, let’s differentiate these waste materials based on certain criteria. The most commonly used segregation criteria is wet and dry. Everything that is organic is wet waste. Yes, even those dry leaves and coconut shells, because they are organic. All the wet waste and other soiled items that would not contaminate the recyclables can be collected separately at home (or whatever their place of origin is). Everything else can be collected as dry waste, whether its recyclable or not. Some common examples can be newspapers, brushes and plastics.
Some other criteria for segregation can be hazardous household waste, sanitary waste and e-Waste. To remember these better, lets name some. A broken thermometer, toilet cleaners, empty insecticide and mosquito spray cans, repellents bottles, old paints, fluorescents and other medicinal discards can be hazardous to handle and mix with normal waste so they should be disposed off separately. Diapers, sanitary pads and cloths, syringes and bandages are part of the sanitary waste collection. Printer cartridges, broken electronic watches, batteries, CDs and other electronic items fall under the category of e-Waste (or electronic waste, as the name suggests).
Now that we know how to separate the waste materials collected, it is time to understand what to do with the collected waste. The wet waste can be decomposed into compost by making a small dumping hole in the backyard or by using aerated containers and letting the waste decompose over a few months. This compost can be used for the garden plants. The dry waste can be collected over several days. For this, we must ensure that the dry waste is thoroughly cleaned and dried of any leftover organic wet waste attached to it. This is to ensure that our waste is not attacked by vermin and does not stink. Once they are collected in good quantity, they can be exchanged for money with the scrap dealers (kabadi walas). Getting money to get rid of your waste, it’s a win-win. Some of the dry waste materials can be used to make DIY things and decorative pieces or for school projects.
Store the e-waste in separate container which is kept closed, away from moisture and regular trash. Keep the hazardous and sanitary waste wrapped in paper and stored separately, marked with a sign. Hand over the sanitary waste and the e-waste to the municipal corporation vehicle that comes to collect waste or visit a collection centre yourself to deliver the waste. For the hazardous waste, call a collection centre for pickup or visit one yourself, with proper measures to ensure safety.
Now that we have segregated our waste materials properly and disposed them off safely, we have fulfilled our duty of being a responsible citizen. We have not only reused a lot of material, but have also helped in recycling of a large portion of our waste. We have also saved energy and resources that would have been wasted in making brand new things, instead of recycling. We have also disposed of the hazardous waste separately so the environment is less exposed to its toxic contents.
The importance of these basic every day steps is tremendous when one looks at the larger picture. Less waste ends up in the landfills. Air, water and land pollution is reduced and a large amount of the waste is reused. So what is stopping you from being a hero? Start your habit of segregating at source today and teach it to as many people as you can, to ensure a better environment.