Too Much Waste

All of us open biscuit or chips packets, eat the contents and casually discard the plastic covers without giving a second thought to where they might go or what might actually happen to them. Once the dustbins in our houses are full, we empty them out onto the streets or hand them over to men who drive garbage trucks, but where does all of it really go after that?

Usually, waste goes to large, empty yards on the outskirts of cities. In Chennai, a lot of the waste gets dumped at the Palikaranai marsh, a fresh water swamp. It is declared as a reserve forest area and is home to many flora and fauna. But the dumping of solid waste and the discharge of sewage are causing the marsh to shrink. Additionally, the people who live around the marsh are also badly affected. The toxic waste is extremely hazardous to their health. Children from these slums are often born with birth defects and the people develop numerous other diseases inhaling these substances throughout their lives.

The problem of waste is not only limited to where the waste is finally dumped, but also to the treatment of those made to segregate it. Rag pickers are usually children from a poor economic background, and anyone will spot them digging into the street dustbins trying to gather and segregate waste. A lot of these children handle the toxic substances without being given any gloves, and they are therefore highly susceptible to harmful diseases. Rag pickers are also treated badly by the government and the general public, and are hardly paid enough; yet they do such an important job for society.

Dumping of waste carelessly obviously impacts the environment and the people in a big way; yet it is quite hard for us to come up with an easy solution as to where it would all go. However, we can try to minimize the amount of waste produced as much as possible. Very simple tasks like carrying cloth bags while going grocery shopping instead of accepting the plastic ones given in stores, or attempting to reuse items like glass bottles or plastic containers instead of discarding them after one-time use can help reduce the amount of waste each individual house produces by quite an amount. Individuals can segregate their own waste in their houses into bio-degradable and non-biodegradable items. Kitchen waste (like vegetable peels) can be combined to form manure, which is very rich for plants.

There are solutions for improvement that can be implemented in the whole city as well. For instance, large colour-coded bins can be placed in each area. These bins can be for plastics (recyclable and non- recyclable), organic waste, paper, and so on. The people who collect the waste or the residents themselves can come and discard their waste in the appropriate bins, which makes the rag pickers’ job much easier. The Chintan model of waste disposal, which has worked out very well in Delhi, can be implemented in a whole city. It primarily focuses on rag pickers segregating the waste for individual households. The working conditions of the rag pickers are also taken into consideration.

Unfortunately, many don’t see the importance of this issue. It is easy to be ignorant of what directly does not concern us. But in addition to impacting the environment and the welfare or rag pickers or people who live around these dump yards, waste can also affect us. If water bodies and ground water is polluted, the water that reaches our taps is going to be contaminated. The lifestyle trends of today emphasize more and more on the concept of ‘use and throw’ and the amount of waste being produced is so much more now than it was many years ago. It is essential for us to stand up and take responsibility for our environment by doing what little we can do at an individual level.

Niyantri Ravindran

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