22/07/2015 10:34 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Waste Segregation: An Easy Way To Clean Up Our Act

PRAKASH SINGH via Getty Images
Heap of garbage are strewn along the roadside as sanitation workers strike in New Delhi on June 11, 2015. Sanitation workers with Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), who are on strike over non-payment of salaries for the last three months, have dumped garbage at traffic intersections. AFP PHOTO/PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

World Environment Day has become just one of those days that comes once a year as a reminder that we need to wake up before it's too late. Seminars, demonstrations, and various other programmes are arranged on this day to raise awareness about the environment by a concerned few as we have just one planet and most people take it for granted. But how long does the impression of these awareness camps last in the memories of the people is a question to be pondered. I attended one such event on solid waste management that was presided over by some well-known personalities and attended by people from different backgrounds who had come together to showcase their achievements on two levels; first, cleaning the solid waste, and, second, making something useful out of the waste (recycling the waste).

While the second aspect is taken care of mostly by trained professionals, it is the first part that we need to worry about more. The rate at which garbage is being generated every day and dumped at every nook and corner of the city is alarming, and the day is not far it would wreak havoc on our day-to-day living in ways unimaginable.

Despite the fact that city municipalities have assigned workers who pick the garbage from most of the residential areas, garbage can be found strewn just about anywhere in the city. Is there a way to change this scenario? I think we need to take these steps: first, to make sure that every household should hand over the garbage to the municipality worker concerned, and, second, the municipalities should assign watchmen to monitor the frequently littered areas and fine heavily the wrongdoers. To implement the second step, municipalities would have to hire manpower, which would in turn increase their expenditure, but the expense can be met from the revenue generated by fining the miscreants. In India, most people don't believe in leading a disciplined social life, whether it is following traffic rules or keeping the neighbourhood clean. But, most people would choose to adhere to the rules when under threat. So this should work.

The waste that is collected by the municipality trucks from various corners of the city eventually finds a resting place in some landfill. But, the exponential rate at which garbage is being generated, the municipality would run out of burial options soon. To avoid this situation, every residential colony association member will have to go on a door-to-door campaign requesting the residents to segregate the dry and wet waste. Convincing people to segregate the waste is the most difficult part, but if this can be achieved the work would be half done. Once the convincing part is done, the municipalities will have to step up their operations and will have to hire extra manpower, they will have to rope-in large number of ragpickers and send one ragpicker along with every worker who goes for garbage collection. Ragpickers will collect the dry waste and the wet waste can be handed over to the municipality worker. The rag pickers generally sell the dry waste such as paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass bottles, biscuit wrappers, chips packets, milk packets, tetra packs, etc. to the 'kabadiwallas', who in turn send it for recycling. The wet waste such as the kitchen waste collected by municipality workers can also be recycled to produce bio-gas. While it sounds easy on paper, it is not so easy when it comes to implementation. Most of the garbage produced can be recycled, but still some part will remain which will be diverted to the landfills.

In fact, some residential colonies in Hyderabad have taken the initiative and have already started segregating wet and dry garbage. Two of the women participants who had come to the seminar have tried these methods in their respective residential colonies. While residents of one apartment with over 100 houses have changed their ways and claim to be a zero garbage zone, residents of the other high-end colony are yet to mend their ways. One would think people who spend crores on buying the most sophisticated homes would believe in a clean neighbourhood, but looks like it is just a myth.