Metro Matters: This clean-up season, let’s stop discarding too easily
For waste management, reduction and reuse are the next best solutions after prevention. Remember how our mothers would reuse empty milk packets, ghee containers, Bournvita tubs and Horlicks bottles? They hardly shopped for plastic storagecolumns Updated: Oct 02, 2017 13:58 IST
As the authorities launched frenzied clean-up drives ahead of the third anniversary of the Swachh Bharat that falls today, one wonders how spic and span Delhi would be if the municipalities made this effort all year round.
But instead of harping on the facile symbolism, let’s consider the primary question. Wouldn’t we have less cleaning to do if there was less garbage?
According to a recent study by NGO Chintan, 78% Delhi residents who were surveyed dumped garbage on the roadside or in open plots in their neighbourhoods. That explains the dirty, littered cityscape.
The upside is that 96% of respondents segregated certain recyclables to sell to the kabariwalas. Further retrieval by waste-pickers at community bins and landfills has been reducing the overall trash load of the city.
But if the garbage-slides at Delhi’s overloaded dumpsites are any indication, we need to do more to cut down on the trash going into the landfills. While the municipalities cannot shirk their share of responsibilities, waste management begins with the citizens.
In the waste management hierarchy, reduction and reuse are the next best solutions after prevention. Prevention requires totally giving up on certain products and is often a tough task. But we can certainly control the amount of garbage we generate by reducing what we discard. In a traditionally thrifty Indian society, that is not an alien idea.
Remember how our mothers would reuse every piece of item that made its way into the household. With empty milk packets, ghee containers, Bournvita tubs and Horlicks bottles cleaned up for reuse, they hardly shopped for plastic storage. Worn out clothes, shoes, plastic and metal were bartered for steel utensils and plastic buckets. That was how they saved up.
But post-liberalisation, as incomes grew, so did consumption. Prevalence of disposable products and the tendency to over-package and over-advertise everything created a culture where we are almost encouraged to throw away too much, too soon.
According to a study by IIT-Delhi, for example, the share of plastic in total waste generated in India went up from 0.7% in 1971 to 9.22% in 2005.
That is a 13 times jump in three-and-half decades during which period India’s urban population barely trebled.
While most of us think of recycling as the remedy for accumulated garbage, experts say that should be stage two. “Recycling is what we do when we are out of options to avoid, repair, or reuse the product first,” says Annie Leonard, the creator of The Story of Stuff, a film on the life cycle of material goods.
That is why many municipalities across the world are now persuading their citizens to throw away less. In Kyoto, Japan, they are invoking the idea of “Mottainai”, an old Buddhist word that roughly translates to “what a waste” but has now been combined with the Shinto idea that objects have souls.
The campaign tells people that one re-usable cloth bag, if used for five years, could replace 1,250 plastic and 116 paper bags; that they should carry their chopsticks and thermos, and use refillable liquid soap and shampoo containers.
The Kyoto municipality has also set up collection points for used milk cartons, bottles and even used cooking oil. It runs repairing shops for household items so they are reused, and accepts unwanted goods which they refurbish and sell for reuse.
In India, Kerala’s Suchitwa Mission is driving home the message that “your garbage is your responsibility”. In the 2015 National Games, caterers were told not to use disposable tableware, athletes were given steel flasks to refill and the Games generated 120 tonnes less trash than a gathering of such size normally would.
Since June this year, the Mission authorities have started enforcing the protocol at weddings to avoid the use of disposable plates, glasses and cutlery. At schools and offices, they are asking students and staff to go back to using fountain pens instead of more disposal ball-point pens.
Not so long ago, such practices used to be the way of life. Today, images of a steel tumbler, a double-decker lunchbox and a reused oil container either evoke nostalgia or invite sniggers.
But who said ideas can’t be recycled, and made fashionable again.