Recycling: An Analysis

Recycling is the process of converting used products into raw materials that can be used again for a variety of purposes. The benefits of recycling include conservation of natural resources, reduction in energy usage, reduction in land and soil pollution as well as  water pollution.

At times recycling of used material means re-production of the same material, such as paper. However, this is often an expensive and tedious process. Thus you will find that notebooks containing recycled paper are priced higher in order to recoup the losses.

Many a times, paper is used to produce different types of materials such as, cardboard. Various types of materials can be recycled including: aggregates and concretes, batteries, clothing, electronic wastes, ferrous materials (including old cars) glass, paint, paper, plastic and wood.

Legislation involved in maintaining a recycling programme has been set up in almost all the developed nations of the world. Three popular legislative options include: mandatory recycling collection, container deposit legislation and refuse bins.

Mandatory Recycling Collection: This means that recycling is enforced by law. It sets recycling targets for cities, which must be met by a certain time frame.

Container Deposit Legislation: This type of legislation is common to India as well. Upon return of plastic containers, glass bottles or metal containers to the retailer, some money can be re-claimed. This programme has had a high success rate.

Refuse Bins: It involves setting up of Green Bins in various areas where organic waste is collected and composted.

The European Union, the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia have stringent laws on recycling and a well-structured recycling programme.

Let us consider the recycling culture in India.

Indians have a small carbon footprint. Non-biodegradable waste in large Indian cities is in the range of 50 – 100 gm per capita per day as compared to 1-2 kg in the West.

Waste management in rural areas is much more efficient than urban areas. Practices like composting wastes to make manure, using cow-dung for fuel and straw to re-inforce huts and hatchments have contributed to keeping rural India pollution free.

However, the urban landscape has been deteriorating over the years. With the introduction of plastic wastes, e-wastes and other non biodegradable materials composting is no longer an option. The perils of plastic are manifold. Paper thin plastic bags are ubiquitous, blighting scenic beauty and clogging drains. Animals feeding in dumpsters often eat plastic bags by mistake and die of suffocation and indigestion. Dumps of dry recyclable waste rot away on huge land-fills in urban areas, wasting space and essentially making the land barren. Un-recycled batteries start to leach chemicals over a period of time which seep into the soil, often making it poisonous.

Though the ban on plastic bags by the Delhi Government is a positive step, there are many miles to go in eco-friendly waste management. If you Google on the Internet saying, ‘recycling centres in Delhi’,  you will be surprised that there is not even a single relevant result on this search.

The problem is with dry waste management, as opposed to wet which consists mostly of biodegradables. Dry waste, which includes plastic, metal and e-waste is left in the hands of the informal sector. It is neither taxed nor monitored by the government. The informal sector handles 10-15 per cent of urban wastes and employs millions of underpaid workers in a marginalized business.

There is no way for the common people to access recycling facilities with ease. One has make efforts to become environmentally conscious.

The Municipal Solid Wastes Rules of 1999 gave recognition to recycling and directed municipalities to promote the process. However, there is lack of sophisticated recycling equipment in the Indian system, because of loopholes in the laws.

Developed nations, fearing stringent laws in home countries often dump their waste like plastic bottles, cans and packs, etc., in India because of looser laws. Thus our country, which does not have the capability of even recycling its own waste, becomes a dumping ground for others.

The Indian Government needs to take responsibility for waste management and recycling. It’s a sector that would benefit greatly from public administration and creation of legitimate jobs with minimum wages. The social set-up and public attitude is such that domestic waste collectors are often looked down upon and belittled. A government approved job, with higher salary, monitoring and taxation can go a long way in changing that. India can take a page or two out of the legislations in the United Sates and EU countries. Once a Recycling Department is set up centrally, it can facilitate the creation of public-accessible recycling centers. California’s deposit-return systems, or Mexico’s requirement that 50 per cent of Coca Cola be sold in re-usable bottles, are good examples of legislation. Corporates can use marketing strategies such as lotteries, or something similar to Nokia’s old-phone recycling system.

Finally, public awareness is an important tool. Students should not just be lectured about recycling, but also taught how to practice it. Many public schools in New York have recycling dispensers for paper, cans and bottles. The presence of these in school and college campuses, and even workplaces can greatly reduce the go-to costs.

Awareness is the first step to action. Recycling is an important environment-friendly concept that needs to come out of the closet and be talked about, written and discussed.

Akanksha Triguna Sharma

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