Think waste

24th December, 2016

An article by sridhar in Deccan Chronicle.(24 Dec 2016)


My Waste My Responsibility !! Lets get that into our minds !!

We have a peculiar scenario in the State. As a community, known to be cleanliness conscious, we have quite strangely messed up our handling of discards, so much that the State Government had to actually float a major campaign flagship project for reinstating the paradigm back into the minds of the people. Its the Haritha Keralam under the Nava Kerala Mission.  

But thats todays story, and its a story that may eventually end up as another well meaning, but miserably tragic one. And thats because the script could soon be re-written by the sceptical citizens of this State – the elite, upward and west moving Malayalee, contributing so much to global thinking, but stuck with local inactions ! Nevertheless,  even in this bleak world of inactions, we have a few islands of hope – the various initiatives of the Suchithva Mission or an Alapuzha waste management process getting global recognition, or the post-alapuzha attempts of a passionate Economist Finance Minister and team trying to build a campaign around waste, through which perhaps the last of the hopes, the Haritha Keralam also emerged. Then, the question is, what are we going to do about it ? Do we, as citizens, have a role ? Are we even thinking of playing one ? Do we feel we should participate and make it a success.


Lets think Waste. And lets take three families.


Family 1 - “The Conscious” - Bala and Jaya’s family practices segregation. They have their home in a residential association in Vattiyoorkkavu. Paper, Plastics, other recyclables, all are separately collected from each of their rooms, as a practice in the house, and all the fruit, vegetable, kitchen food waste have a separate bin. The family is passionate about their garden and hence the organic waste ( which incidentally constitutes 70% of their waste) is composted. The recyclables, disposables etc are simply  handed over to a nearby discards shop ( in Malayalam, “akkri kada”), sometimes directly and sometimes as a collective effort of the residental association. Some of the discards get good returns, and some they give away free. Now, this residential area is more “conscious” and hence does not burn their waste, and makes sure that the akkri kada periodically collects the discards and sends it for recycling. 

Family 2 - “The Indifferent” - Ranjan & Janaki, both Government servants, living in a residential association near Kowdiar, have no time, or so they feel. And hence, the sanitational activities of segregation, proper disposal etc do not get priority. They do have bins to collect waste, but their household, with the parents, two children and a grandmother, simply dispose of all their discards into the bin. This mixed waste then gets tied up in a neat little plastic cover, and then they wait for the “waste picking women” mostly from the Kudumbasree to arrive. This “waste bag” is then handed over to the woman. For the family, the story ends there. On a side, we also observe that its mostly the women in the household who is called in to hand over the bag to the “waste picking woman” ! The men are neatly saved from this dirty job !  Now where does this waste bag travel ? From the women, it gets into a little push cart, and from there to a corner of a side road, where all the colourful bags from various “Indifferent” households get piled. The women then untie/tear open the bags, and then comes the dirty job, mixed waste segregation ! Because the Corporation’s aerobic compost bins can only handle organic waste, and the rest has to be sent to recycling collection yards. At the yards, this recyclables itself come so dirty, that it simply gets tied up in big bags, and stay there waiting for the recycling agency to take away. And then, I let you to imagine the plight of the hapless ones who have to open up these bags, clean up the plastics and other discards and get them ready for recycling. And all the while this family, feigning ignorance of all this mess, simply continues their lives.

Family 3 - “The Sneaky” - Mrs & Mr X (seriously I don’t want to give names for “sneaky” people), are not citizens, in the literal sense. Lets say they live near Pattoor. Why Pattoor ? Because it carries an important artery of the city, in a beautiful little stream, which to the short memoried is a waste stream !!. And this stream is the unfortunate sink for all those colourful “waste bags” of a lot of sneaky families, shops and showrooms !.  Now the family of X, actually do not think about waste at all. They do have a bin, where they dump anything and everything, the fruits, vegetables peels, the food waste, plastics, paper, cloth, bottles, and then when this bin is full, or more often, when the bin starts to stink, Mrs X complains and Mr X ( now, this is a mans job !), ties it all into a big plastic bag, and waits for the right time. Its dark, and the traffic is low. The “waste bag” travels in a car, and as the car nears the bridge over the stream, it slows down and then we see the white big bag flying out of the window, straight into the stream. For the family of X, the story ends there.  But for the hapless stream, its just a daily story, which has been happening for years, probably since the arrival of the plastic bag, along with which, probably the “sneaky” families also grew in number. Now this family, a well educated one, obviously knows well, probably even speaks about the hazards of this act, but that is where the catch is. “The Sneaky” is least bothered about it !!

There are also a few more dangerous varients – like the  “Burning families” who is into the “traditional” practice of burning all their waste, little knowing that todays products and hence discards has such a lot of hazardous compounds, and the smoke emanating from it can cause serious pulmonary disorders, skin diseases, endocrine disruptions, neurological disorders and even cancers. There are studies that show how waste burning emissions even induce behavioural changes and sex ratio shifts among population. Burning some kinds of plastics or chlorinated paper (most of which is so), even produces Dioxins, known to be the most toxic of compounds that can cause cancer or even painful ailments like endometriosis. Families who mindlessly burn the garbage are clearly perpetuators of a crime. This practice could easily be contaminating many a “healthy” life. Haven’t you heard many a cancer patient asking this question ? “I have never drunk or smoken, I eat only from my home, I have always lived a careful life, and yet I got this Cancer, why ?” Probably because you have a whole lot of neighbours who are either “Indifferent” or “Sneaky” or worst “Burning” their waste. Obviously thats not the only way we get cancer, but its surely one of the ways. What we do to our Nature, we eventually do it to ourselves. 

Now for the question, which of these types does your family most resemble ? “The Conscious”, “the Indifferent” or “The Sneaky” ? Take your few seconds, because its important to place yourself, reflect and decide – Do you want to change ?

Thats where I wish to believe the Haritha Keralam comes as a last push to change. There are very many initiatives under this whereby Kerala is encouraging its citizens to participate. The Chief Minister himself said its not another Government pogramme, its a citizens programme. And that also means that there is a lot more for us, as citizens to take up and do. Till now, we all believed, and were even made to believe, that waste is for the Municipality or the Corporation ( and hence their “waste women or men” ) to handle. Those days have gone. Now the paradigm is “My Waste, My Responsibility”. Fortunately there is a growing population of “Conscious” families, who are either safely handling their own waste, or neatly delivering their segregated waste to designated service providers, by even paying them a service cost. Thats citizenship. But there are still the “Indifferent” and the “Sneaky” ones. They need to be really worried. Because the law does not allow their kind of behaviour. The law demands segregation, composting-at-source, and where this is not possible, clearly helping setup collective systems or joining the corporations or service providers systems and also paying for it. The law would severly punish burning or dumping of waste. Its very clear. They need to either be responsible themselves or be a disciplined citizen joining the Municipalities efforts.


Its also important for us to recognise that “waste” is not a “womens” matter anymore. Nor is it something that should be looked down upon as in those “scavenging” days. Those days are also gone, atleast in most parts of Kerala. We need to bring up our own children – boy and girl, with a clean sense of managing our discards, right from the need to reduce it to the proper and safe management of it. Its a matter of proper environment management, and the service providers are managers of the environment. We need to sensitise ourselves to the “greed” of consumption, the “hazards” of over production, and hence the need to have a more efficient resource use paradigm in the family and hence the society. Its not just a matter of materials and technology, its a matter of the rights and justice of human beings as well as the earth and its myriad natural systems and life forms. Converting Nature to Garbage cannot be allowed anymore – be it Governments, Corporates, Communities, Families or Individuals. 


And finally, something for all of us to read. The “Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard, is a book that eventually the Haritha Keralam and the families across the state should surely be following, so as to take all these efforts beyond just waste management to real sustainable resource management. Its not about waste, it about how our behaviour with the “stuff” creates a crisis of a wasted earth and lives on it.

Quoting her

“There is no such thing as “Away”, when we throw anything away, it must go somewhere”. 

And let this somewhere not be the wonderful lives of our little children, the future.


Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Thanal

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