While binge watching Ted videos during lockdown I came across a book launch video by CSE Director Sunita Narain titled “Not In My Backyard” which begins with a facile yet deeply impactful statement that, “We should be rich but not wasteful.”
She also highlighted a very important aspect that ,”we can’t do waste management without segregation.But there’s no incentive to segregate”.
This made me realize a behavioural change or nudge is required at individual and community level.
I pondered over how this nudge can be brought in my community and came across a comparative study by Sahaas organisation which highlights that rural waste management is more efficient when compared to its urban counterpart. The reasoning for this can be discovered in Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of community ownership which is higher in villages and less in urban areas.Another possible explanation could be greater accountability inbuilt in the self-governance model of the Gram Panchayat, resulting in them working in a more effective manner.
In cities, the stakes are higher with multiple goal post for different stake holders. Thus, the ladder to better management of waste in my community lies in decentralized solutions which can lead to better visibility, community ownership and accountability. Ward Committees will need to be empowered and revitalized with greater citizen participation to make them work like Gram Sabhas.
But, let us not forget that the menace at Okhla, Bhalswa and Ghazipur is rising upto the heights of Qutab Minar due to our callousness and neglect.
To defragment this, I looked at a Social Audit of Waste that was generated by me and my community. The horizon of community here covers a broader arena. This community includes menstruating women, tech savvy youth engaged in ignorant consumerism which is running after latest trends.
My biggest takeaway after decluttering this unscrupulous waste is that the rate of waste generation is directly proportional to the rate of consumerism. Minimalist lifestyle is the solution to a majority of our problems. The general shortage caused during lockdown made people live in a less materialistic way and made people reuse items at home to some extent.
Now, coming to the tech savvy youth; the development in technology, however, is so rapid that the launch of latest iPhone product tempts us to discard the old one at the cost of making our blood overflow with hazardous toxins generated by e-waste.
There are plethora of little daily life changes that my community can undertake to reduce the waste generation such as using a menstrual cup, bamboo truth brushes, switch to glass bottles and metal straw. The switch to online education has created a huge digital divide so why not give out your old digital devices to the needy students and help them learn. This also reminds me of the chapter in Class 12th English ncert highlighting the plight of rag pickers on the outskirts of Seemapuri and the gloomy future of children in those waste piles. Children involved in waste picking are among the most vulnerable category of working children. They constantly expose themselves to the danger of accidents, injuries and disease through contacts with sharp material and poisonous substances as they scrounge with bare hands and sometimes even bare feet in piles of waste. It is high time to give them their childhood, to give them a normal life like your own and not the toxins generated by us.
While taking the liberty to digress a bit, I hereby wish to share another anecdote.
I remember that during my school days an organization called Saahas started its Alag Karo project in Gurugram with the tag line “Har Din Teen Bin.” It aimed at spreading awareness around the need for the third dustbin called Red Dustbin so that Bio Medical Waste such as broken glass, needles, sanitary napkins and diapers etc can be safely disposed in the Red Bin knowing that they will not be manually touched by the waste handlers and used masks in the time of Covid can be disposed in the Red Bin. Perhaps, this third bin has equal importance for any community right now.
The Book Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India by Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey highlights different social relationships between waste disposal, social outcastism and poverty. It’s not something unknown to us. But the social stigmas attached to waste in the embedded caste system continues to remain neglected. At the end we all belong to one single community of humanity. So, let’s liberate ourselves together by separating our waste.
Today we are busy – to earn, to excel, to succeed, to afford a better life. But what we miss in this daily grind is seeing the bigger picture. While we succeed in achieving our goals, we are leaving behind mountains of toxic waste for our next generations. We need the willingness to make little changes in our lifestyle and cut down on every unnecessary usage of plastic, one step at a time.
The same community of educated youth generating toxins also hold the potential to
provide social inclusion and formalization opportunities to the informal waste workers by setting up material recovery facilities and software platforms to support formalization.
To conclude, let me mould the statement by CSE Director Sunitha Narain, let us start by managing the waste in our own backyards and put to action the composting techniques learned since 6th grade. The challenge presented by Okhla landfill gets overshadowed by the passion and diligence I see in Ted talk and work of Ms. Nivedha RM ( founder of Trashcon Labs Pvt. Ltd. which provides a comprehensive solution to convert every bit of waste to value) .It replaces my faith in my community of humanity that we hold immense potential to transform lives of innocent kids at Seemapuri, lower the height of Ghazipur and each of us can create an impact with little changes in our daily lives.