Beginning from Home
A decentralised system of segregating and disposing waste will go a long way in cleaning up our landfills
Pinky Chandran and Sandya Narayanan Bengaluru
Turning the spotlight on swachhata, or cleanliness, will perhaps finally help focus on the muck below the veneer of what passes off as solid waste management in our cities and towns. A national cleanliness campaign of epic proportions is now required to address the underlying problems of the filth and the nuisance solid waste creates. Unfortunately, the problem begins from our homes, and this is a problem that cannot be resolved without involving the people as well, as well as our municipalities and the industry. There is hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national campaign on ‘Swachha Bharat’ will be a big step towards that awareness.
In the state of Karnataka, progressive directions from the High Court in a public interest litigation (PIL) hearing are pushing a hesitant municipality to move away from allowing reckless centralised dumping based on dubious economic calculations, to compulsory door-to-door collection of segregated waste and planning for maximising the waste processing capacities at the neighbourhood level. The municipality is finally waking up to the reality of enforcement, which is a necessary part of ensuring accountability and handing over responsibilities. They cannot look the other way any more, in the face of blatant complicity between contractors and officials leading to mismanagement of waste management, or disregard of rules by citizens.
It would be fair to say that a vigilant and participating citizenry in Bengaluru is working with its communities to catalyse change in social behaviour, in adopting new social habits like refusing plastic bags and storing and handing over waste segregated at source. While not enough people are doing this and everyone needs to imbibe these good practices, it’s a start in the right direction. Peer pressure build-up and social media impetus are bringing about this awareness and change. Probably most important is the impact of the change in NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitudes of citizens, which allows the municipality to explore the options of setting up localised systems for collection and processing, instead of having to haul away waste to a far-away dumping ground. Change is also afoot in the Bengaluru urban landscape, which is allowing its municipality to set up dry waste collection centres, sanitary waste collection centres and wet waste processing units at the ward and neighbourhood level.
Elephant in the room
Where the Municipal solid waste management will always fall short is in its inability to keep pace with the technological changes in the nature of packaging and the required recycling processes to deal with the complex and sophisticated nature of lightweight composite materials. This packaging of waste at the present time is non-recyclable and since it has no salvage value, becomes expensive to collect, sort and store. Expanding landfills appears to be the only available option. This packaged waste or ‘branded litter’ is growing in quantum and is mostly the post-consumer waste of the FMCG companies. Sharing the responsibility of the management of collection and disposal of the product either voluntarily or through mandating by law is the only way forward. What if the FMCG companies are made stakeholders in disposing their own difficult-to-get-rid-of products? Taxing companies that produce the least utility-to-waste ratio could also help make companies more accountable, and invested in technologies to reduce the gross waste output. The PM’s national campaign would do well to keep these things in mind.
(The authors work for Solid Waste Management Round Table, Bengaluru)