Managing waste at the smallest scale

With regard to curbing the proliferation of plastic bags, implementation is where we lose the battle and give in.

Managing waste at the smallest scale

Walking by the streets and feeling disgusted at the sight of poorly managed dustbins of the municipal body inevitably leads to criticism. The first few thoughts are based on accusing the stakeholder, blaming the contributor, and summing everything up as 'expected' due to the overarching issue of corruption. Somewhere along that line of thought, we purportedly blamed everyone that crossed our head but ourselves. It shouldn't come as a surprise noticing dump yards going beyond their maximum capacity, bins left with overflowing garbage, and roads littered with the same when India generates around 1 lakh metric tonnes of garbage per day.

Waste generation cannot be stopped as the graph tends exponentially upward given our use of things with a major credit going to the non-biodegradable waste vis-à-vis plastic as the major stakeholder. In an era where plastic seems prevalent as fuel, curbing its usage stands similar to doing away with cigarettes for a smoker. The convenience it brought was overwhelming. Before we could effectively manage plastic's disposal or recycling, e-waste made its way in our lives with India generating 1500 metric kilotons of the same per annum, thereby adding to the seemingly perennial adversity. Combining that with the existing pool of waste which includes the household waste, the construction and demolition waste, biomedical waste, hazardous waste, etc., creates a sight of a mammoth level of waste with poorly implemented ways to deal with it.

If a common person is asked why she/he would still prefer taking plastic bags even when there's so much awareness about the grave consequences through active campaigns, their response would be the abundant availability of the same. The lack of a deterrence against the continued exploitation of plastic bags at the customer level is what keeps up the proliferation of the same without any scope of curbing it. Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 introduced the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for producers, importers, and brand owners to ensure environmentally sound management of plastic products until the end of their lives, but the same has been simply word of mouth and nothing concrete to take note of. Implementation is where we lose this battle and give up on the drafter's envisaged ideal situation, where the law is held and put in effect with complete dedication.

If on an individual level, the realisation to practice the 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) to any extent seeps in, then there's hope to once again bring back the times when negligible waste was produced in households. Reusing the steel bottle for carrying water and/or getting milk from the dairy. Getting necessary things from the market in one reused plastic bag and not taking more plastic bags from the market, since the chemical composition of plastic anyway was such that it would last and not wear out after several uses. In her book Let's Talk Trash, Subhashree Sanghameshwaran, compares the 80s with contemporary times and stresses on ways to reduce waste generation while suggesting eco-friendly alternatives that were once practiced. As mentioned by her, utilisation of cloth instead of paper towels for table spills or opting open markets to buy vegetables as put against supermarkets selling packaged vegetables or plastic takeaway bags reduces the personal consumption of plastic, thereby decreasing the sale of these plastic aided products in turn declining the demand for plastic by these retailers. However, realising the grievous consequences is the only way to bring motivation to do such things and abide by the "Beat plastic pollution" which was the theme for this year's World Environment Day.

Instead of heavy reliance on the authority to act on something, if the initiative could be drawn forward individually, the things we seek would feel nearer than they currently are. Something as simple as not littering the roads, where we are given to complaining how "others didn't do it so why should I", whereas the simple urge to do it yourself and let others follow could do wonders, as it could in the past and as it would in the future. To be frank, there shouldn't be any hesitation in the first place to do something that's right. Further, teaching younger generations the same eco-friendly alternatives is a way to carry this pursuit for the change ahead of our times. It is imperative that younger generations adopt such habits because as the population increases, the level of waste and related problem would also increase. Adopting 3R's has a plus in minimising the use of plastics and curbing waste generation in households. The psychology governs our approach, so a change in the fundamental level of mindset is where we can start imagining to win this battle against waste management.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Rohan Chandra

Rohan Chandra

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