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05 Mar 2024, Edition - 3157, Tuesday

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Waste

Key it on Google or Bing, I’m sure would give us hundreds of definitions and jargons. But if we go by “old and outdated style”, i.e., think on our own, then waste is “something without a value “, “useless commodity” (with just the material meaning!) would be something that would immediately come to our mind.

The Japanese popularly call waste as “discarded materials that cannot be sold to other people “. Some of the educated technical definitions include: material discharged to, deposited in, or emitted to an environment in a manner that causes a harmful change. More technical we get, more complicated the definitions become. Nonetheless, a waste is a waste! What we see in our house, what we see in our street and what we see in our city.

So what? After all it’s just a waste, what’s the big deal?!

Exactly, no big deal. Except that improper management of waste can increase the global warming about 21 times more! About 20,000 tonnes of pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur di oxide enter the atmosphere every year from the improperly managed waste alone, from an average Indian metropolitan city.

About 34 different human diseases ranging from common parasitic infections to fatal carcinomas are direct implications of improper waste management. Adding to that, the bad taste, foul smell and the complete lack of aesthetic sense, we have a voluminous package of junk on which we breathe, laugh, eat, play and work. The junk on which our house, city, society and country are assessed and looked down upon by the people of other nations. A museum guide in Tokyo once remarked “India is a place where cows and men shit and pee together in the middle of the road”, when asked what he knew about India. Disheartening isn’t it!

Oh God! Now it really looks like a big deal. But isn’t the government there for that?

Yes, of course. Solid waste management is one of the primary functions of any local body, which performs a wide array of functions ranging from collection of waste, transportation, segregation and processing. In a city like Coimbatore, on an average the urban local body is collecting 850 million tonnes of waste per day. Thousands of sanitary workers are toiling night and day to keep the city as clean as possible. But what is our contribution as the honourable citizen of this great country? Don’t we have a role in the development of our city? How much care do we take to clean our houses, vehicles and properties – shouldn’t we extend the same care to public properties? Do we spit paan and Gutkhas on our house walls, do we spoil our house floor? Countries like Singapore and Japan have achieved sanitation levels of today not just because of active state interventions but also due to the active public interventions of which the attitudinal change of the individual is the prime reason.

Yeah dude, I see some sense there . I’m ready to change my attitude, what do I do now?

If the question “I’m ready to contribute, what can I do now “arises, then by now I’m sure we are well on our way towards the “responsible citizen” tag. Well, needless to say, contribution always begins from home. Roughly the dust bin from which a sanitary worker collects wastes from our houses contains organic wastes, which is vegetable, fruits, food wastes, paper based wastes, plastics, metals, carry bags, bottles, hazardous waste and inert wastes in the order of quantity.

We can broadly classify all these wastes into organic and inorganic wastes. Roughly our organic wastes contribute about 70 per cent of the total wastes in an average street dust bin. The dynamics of solid waste management works out in such a manner that the organic wastes can be recycled into useful products like compost, soil augmentations and even energy – electricity to put it simpler.

The other 30 % of our dustbin waste that is plastics, metals constitute the inorganic waste which are disposed off using various methods including incinerators, landfills etc. Thus 70 % of our wastes are not wastes in real term but resources! Resources that could enrich our soil for better agriculture, resources that could give us electricity, resources that could give us manures.

Wow! That’s pretty cool but doesn’t quite answer the question, what can I do?

By the time the sanitary worker comes and collects the waste from dust bin, it’s all mixed up. We can therefore, before throwing away the litter, sit and segregate in the house into organic and inorganic wastes, then hand it over to the sanitary worker.

It may take some time getting used to it but if done on a large scale, then the front end of an effective solid waste management is pretty much taken care of. The back end however which is processing the waste and taking it to the end stage be it composting of organic waste or incineration or landfill of inorganic waste will be done by the government.

As the next step, in future we can even provide value additions to the back end by adopting composting methods on a smaller scale.

True! Front end by the citizens, back end by the government – simple but effective! Will this alone solve everything? No, but this, coupled with other attitudinal changes like putting an end to littering in public places, avoiding use of plastics and keeping public places and properties clean will definitely change our cities for good. Development is after all driven by the citizen, facilitated and augmented by the government!

(Authored by Dr. K. Vijayakarthikeyan IAS, Coimbatore Corporation Commissioner)

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