A poster presents polythene bags floating in a blurry blue sea and alongside drifts Pleurobrachia , often
acknowledged as ‘sea gooseberries’ or transparent jellyfish. The title says, “You see the difference, the
turtle does not”. This poster overflows with the barbed and hurtful realization of the fallacy of humans,
exemplar of reckless disposal of waste leading to almost all the adverse climatic changes with the
utmost narrow vision of waste being ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
It is an irrefutable necessity to find a method which is both empirical and logical to conduct waste
problems. About 1.6 billion tonnes of CO₂ emissions were generated due to improper treatment and
disposal of waste in 2016, including other health hazards, says World Bank’s ‘What A Waste 2.0’ report.
Waste management though needs focal concern attributed to the hyper consumption of resources by
the vast population. This would include managing the waste from inception to its disposal furthering its
later life. How does one follow the process if management since inception is incorrect? What is the root
cause we refer to, for the lack of improper waste management?
I say segregation at source, while many may doubt. Environmentalists globally argue to reduce waste.
Given the population surge this debate encompassing romanticism falls ill, notwithstanding the stage
where the existing trash is difficult to manage, and a monstrous amount is yet to be kicked off.
We don’t need to fight the problems if we fight the reasons. Source-segregation to be effective,
demands comprehensive strategies for public involvement. It can be a champion solution to administer
waste problems in the world. It is like dealing with the problem at the horse’s mouth.
The premise to this essay is that ‘if segregation of waste at source is an efficacious route to waste
management as well as ecological conservation’.
Although there is no data on the annual income generated from waste, it is estimated that by 2025,
Indian garbage will offer a business opportunity of USD 14 billion provided proper channels and
protocols are followed for segregation and treatments. In urban India, we have door to door garbage
collection vehicles providing separate bins for trash and yard waste, with some cities like Indore,
Mysore, Bhopal mandating to segregate even the hazardous waste like medicines, sanitary pads,
batteries, etc. Experiments show that about 13% of the Municipal Solid Waste generated contains
packaging material like plastic or cardboard, use of which is inexorable in the topical stream of
expanding e-commerce and online businesses and more than 50% is food waste.
In cases where curbside waste collection may not be available, residents also have an option to take
them to the Kabaadiwalas or Raddiwalas who have always been a significant part of the Indian societal
system. There have been many innovative startups of online scrap dealing stores including the one by
Arurag Asati in 2013 where his site also features ‘my contribution’ to signify an individual’s contribution
as a sign of encouragement as well as a reflection to the amount of recyclable waste each generates.
Besides domestic waste units, hazardous waste from sources like farms, factories, hospitals, electronic
and radioactive plants need to be fully managed and disposed of very safely too. The Biomedical Waste
Management guidelines 2016, by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change already
orders the separation of wastes in colour coded bags, and scientific incineration of syringes and needles,
equipment of which should be installed. But before that, its transportation should have special attention
to avoid threat to public health. Intentional abandoning of this waste better called ‘midnight dumping’
can be prevented if we have measures to separate at the foothill itself. Similarly, it is also suggested to
have proper guidelines for disposal of electronic and automobile waste from different sources. Rules
and policies by the government continue to have relevance only till one follows it. The situation is out of
control during the COVID 19 pandemic where the bio-waste is generated not only at higher rate but also
not managed well, leaving many at the health risk.
Coming back to the largest heap of garbage collection rules, Swachh Bharat Campaign is a lodestar
clutched by Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 stating the foremost guideline as ‘segregation of
waste by generators’ wherein it asks for generators cooperation with the local bodies to ensure proper
segregation of waste. It supremely mentions hospitality industries to certify that food waste is utilised
for composting. Other points in the guideline also include spot fines and penalties, involvement of
rag-pickers, private agencies volunteering in waste management, and considering waste reduction as a
responsibility of the generator, it dominantly asks for ‘Collect-bank’ system to be organized by brand
owners using non-biodegradable packaging materials. Many studies on this guideline reflect that the
value chain is improperly established and even though the waste is segregated at the source, it all
eventually ends up together.
Swachhta Sarvekshan by the GOI is the world’s largest cleanliness survey, covering 4242 cities in 28 days
in 2020. Indore, Madhya Pradesh has been winning the title of cleanest city since 2017. Owing to its
excellent and apposite planning of management with daily door to door services, collaborating with
NGOs, free distribution of bins, involving religious leaders, 850+ Self Help Groups, promoting home
composting, providing incentives in bills, payment on food waste, all of this very painstakingly done only
to incorporate a gene of source segregation in mass.
The spirit to waste management are those waste warriors like Nagaland’s Swachh Cop Neingupe Maru,
taking on his 28-year shoulders, the accountability of the dissolved municipal body to oversee waste
issues. An initiative by SAAHAS, an organisation in Gurugam got themselves Indian Circular Economy
Awards 2019 for their source-segregation and management program ‘Alag Karo: Har Din Teen Bin’.
The aforementioned cases prove two aspects, that source segregation is effective dramatically and
pragmatically only when it is accepted by the community highlighting the behavioral change amongst
them along with strict regulations. As growing up I have seen kabadiwalas visiting my household for
scrap collection in lieu of money, but it is almost never that we find a rupee or two in trash but are
acclimatized to random waste thrown on the streets. Why? Because a used juicebox won’t fetch us
monies, not comprehending that this will end up getting burned damaging our health at greater cost in
return. Therefore, incorporating reverse payments on packaging materials, providing incentives and pay
back methods may work excellent if we have appropriate policies. The other side of the spectrum shows
that rag pickers will pick only that from the junk, that they think will fetch them money. In Henry Ford’s
words, “if it doesn’t add value, it’s waste”. Therefore, this becomes only part of the waste management
These are several factors why source segregation continues to see a patchy success. As a responsible
citizen of the Earth, we urgently need to scrutinize the correct way of waste segregation. Major is the
insufficient availability of public dustbins, lenient rules, broken waste management chain, fourth, the
lack of awareness and education on waste management in the citizens , Whenever ‘gadi wala aaya ghar
se kachra nikaal’ plays, calling us to drop off our kachras , it is all the mixed waste that they are carrying.
Perhaps, the understanding of waste should start at the foundation of our lives, in schools! I would want
my coming generation to have experiential learning courses on what is waste and how to manage it.
Source segregation has unending benefits apart from health and environmental conservation.
Recyclables are easy to use, it reduces labour costs and increases efficiency contributing to a circular
economy. Organic waste can be used for fuel generation. Non combustible wastes, such as glass can
reduce the efficiency of incinerators. The toxicity of landfills increases due to chemical leaching only to
contaminate the ecology. Separation at generation can save.
The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it. The words by Robert Swan
give us an insight to the problems our planet is facing. Talking about increasing pollution, global
emission of gases, threat to marine animals, water table depletion, reducing soil porosity, etc. escort us
to the fact that, clean and green go hand in hand. It is more of an implied relation and that all these
jarring concerns are merely the symptoms of the root cause underlying the facet of complete heedless
and mismanaged waste.
In conclusion, instead of finding ad-hoc solutions, we need to focus on source segregation of waste and
that it is indeed an efficacious gateway to lead us out of waste problems and environmental threats.
Waste segregation also conceptualizes and gives worth to a product’s life which goes much beyond than
it simply becoming a ‘waste’. We tend to think of waste segregation as a waste of time, which actually
leads to waste of space and money. If we do not start effective source-segregation of the waste now,
we’ll soon have to create dumping grounds on Mars.