Despite new regulations and sporadic campaigns by the civic body, drains and sewers continue to wheeze from the mounds of plastic that clog them.
The implementation of laws and rules has been infrequent; anti-plastic drives have been conducted at the whim of officers. The added power that came from the Plastic Waste (management and handling) Rules in February 2011, has hardly made a dent in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) efforts to reduce the menace.
Of the 450g of garbage that a Mumbaiite generates every day, 10% is plastic, 52% wet waste, 13% dry waste, 15% sand and soil and 10% paper. While statistically, plastic looks like a tiny part of the items we trash, its widespread use and consumption has made it the bane of the city’s drainage system.
“In our area, segregation of waste happens smoothly, but we have to sell plastic items such as buckets and pet bottles ourselves,” said Rajkumar Sharma, member, Advanced Locality Management and networking action committee of Chembur.
“Manufacturing giants should be pressurised to fulfil extended producer responsibilities. Plastic waste is the best raw material, but companies hardly do anything to collect it once we’ve used their items.”
A no-plastic drive in Vile Parle (East) market, which vendors and shop-keepers started about a year ago, was met with stiff resistance. But pressure from citizens groups and special drives by the BMC and the local police helped.
“Even today, some shoppers get annoyed when we refuse to give them plastic carry bags. But we continue to, else we pay a hefty fine,” said vendor Ramayan Yadav.
BMC officials said citizens should share the responsibility of disposing of plastic waste equally with them.
“Residents across sections have to consider waste as valuable, only then will they try to deal with it conscientiously. Plastic as a resource should be reused and recycled,” said Seema Redkar, officer on special duty, solid waste management department, BMC.
Citizens from a few ALMs have taken the lead to reduce plastic consumption drastically. One such example is the Mahavir Nagar federation from Kandivli (West), where the ALMs have distributed cloth bags in the locality.
“We have handed out around 2,500 bags in 35 buildings and are also making people aware about the environmental hazards of plastic through street plays. Presently, we are looking for land to start a compost pit,” said Sujata Chaturvedi, member, Mahavir Nagar Federation.
In certain ALMs such as the Perry road citizens’ association, members have been educated about the types of waste and the correct disposal mechanism for each.
“We have monthly meetings where we update people about waste management plans and monitor their functioning. We have also held outreach programmes for the sweepers who work in 47 buildings in the locality,” said Anil Joseph, chairperson, Perry Road Residents Association.
“Since the waste changes hands at their level, ensuring they pass it on for correct reuse or recycling is also crucial.”
Consumption is up, so is waste
With environment issues coming into sharp focus, phrases such as carbon footprint have now become commonplace, but the term ‘garbage footprint’ is still a mystery to many.
In plain words, it refers to the amount of waste individuals or families generate every day.
Every Mumbaiite generates 450g of garbage a day, which for an average family of four, works out to 1.8kg.
The challenge is to reduce this footprint so that the total amount of garbage generated in the city declines. “Compared to global standards, our waste generation is not that high, but our consumption levels have traditionally been low, so this increasing figure reflects the changing consumption levels,” said Nikhil Khedekar, 27, an advertising professional from Mankhurd.
Experts said the increase in volume of waste can be linked to changing "dynamic" lifestyle patterns, "Marked changes across stratas of society have increased garbage generation. Spending time at malls, shopping, frequently eating out means we generate more garbage outside as well at home,” said Geetanjoy Sahu, assistant professor, centre for science technology and society, school of habitat studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
“In wards where people are better-off than those in others, one finds more recyclable waste in the bins, indicating a tendency to use and trash items rather than reusing them."
Some citizen activists said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) lack of cooperation and irregularity in sending vehicles to collect dry waste is one of the key problems.
“Advanced Locality Management (ALM’s) groups have spread awareness about reducing garbage and segregating it properly. But the BMC on its part has no will to extend its hand and has strangled ALMs,” said Rajkumar Sharma, member of an ALM from Chembur.
Many said changing lifestyles and dependence on big retail outlets have increased the city’s consumption levels.
“From collecting more plastic as we finish shopping in a department store, to eating packaged foods and buying more things, higher consumption is linked to increasing volumes of waste in the city. We want every item to be safe and clean, so we add another layer of wrapping to it,” said activist Rishi Agarwal.
Reusing and recycling the garbage generated will help reduce the amount sent to landfills. But, here the BMC seems to fall short. Seema Redkar, officer on special duty (solid waste management) said, “I agree that the BMC needs to push for a larger campaign to reach out to more people.”
She added, “When the BMC assigns vehicles to collect segregated waste for the day, we don’t manage to collect enough to justify the transport charges. Often, wet and dry waste pile up together.”