Our country’s waste management system is in a fix – huge stinking garbage mounds have started dotting our cities’ landscape in many places, fast emerging as prominent landmarks for the newly expanded part of the cities and rapidly turning into attractive real estate properties for our bloody friends – the mosquitoes. Yet still, each one of us go about our usual daily chore of cleaning our house and packing all of the generated waste in a black carry bag to be handed over to the garbage guy, believing that he/she along with our government will ensure that the waste is disposed of in a proper manner. The reality though appears to be far further from our belief. India generates a whopping 1.5 lakh metric ton of solid waste every day, out of which a meagre 25 per cent is processed (the word processed here refers to the recycling, composting methods as well as the not so environment-friendly incineration and waste to energy technologies). So considering the technologies such as the incineration and waste to energy as undesirable, the actual quantity of waste processed in a proper manner would still be very much less than 25 percent (also considering government statistics are mostly fudged to give a positive image, the actual percentage could still well be below the actual figures). And a majority of this processing is done by the informal sector which is least controlled by the government. The problem just doesn’t end here as India’s waste generation is set to witness an exponential growth of 2.5 times in the next 7-8 years with a projected solid waste generation of 3.75 lakh metric ton a day. Tamil Nadu generates 15,000 metric ton of waste a day, the second highest amongst the Indian states while Chennai alone generates approximately around 4500 to 5000 metric tons of solid waste every day with the highest per capita waste generation (900-1000 grams of waste per person per day) amongst the major Indian cities – a shocking statistic that would put our culture conscious singara Chennai population to shame. The situation doesn’t seem rosy for the Indian waste management system in spite of the recent efforts of the government to promote sanitation and cleanliness through the much hyped and advertised initiative – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, as very little work seems to be happening on the ground.We could still discuss a lot on the problems plaguing the current waste management system but it would still be a futile exercise as most of us know about these but consciously choose to ignore. Whenever you ask the general public about their thoughts on waste management, a majority of the crowd would unanimously suggest “waste segregation and recycling” as their green mantra to manage the generated waste. So the general mindset is to still think waste management as a means to deal with the generated waste rather than thinking as to how this ended up as a waste or what could have been done to stop this waste generation. So it’s just a matter of mind or the Rethink philosophy which could serve as the perfect tool to tackle this ever-growing menace.

Image: Waste Management Hierarchy pyramid

The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 per cent”        

Arnold Schwarzenegger

                             Rethink is one amongst the several R’s which make up the ‘waste management hierarchy pyramid’ – a widely used principle to manage waste. Rethink is the first and the most preferred option in the waste management hierarchy ahead of the much talked about options such as reduce, reuse and recycle. The well-known phrase “mind over matter” serves as the perfect testimony to the importance of rethink over other R’s in the hierarchy.

Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) Syndrome:

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

Annie Leonard

                                              This is a common crowd behaviour that is witnessed across the globe wherein people who generate the waste want them to be taken away far off from their place for processing or disposal. All these years, countries like US, Japan and their European counterparts thought it was cheaper to put all their trash on a ship and send to foreign countries like China to be taken care of until this year, when China decided to ban the import of a list of certain waste categories. This has put the waste management sectors of these countries in a fix as they are ill prepared to deal with the huge quantities of waste on their own. This is the situation in our country as well wherein people are happy to send these waste to landfills situated in the rural areas on the cities’ outskirts. This “out of sight out of mind” view of the general public has been the sole reason for the lack of a strong people’s movement for proper waste management implementation and the subsequent lethargic attitude of successive governments towards the issue. So a general awareness on where our waste ends up and how it impacts the surroundings there, both humans as well as other life forms would bring a greater self-responsibility amongst us to manage the waste on our own as well as push the government towards a sustainable disposal of the generated waste.

Everything is a resource:

Everything has its own value but not everyone sees it”.   

 Unknown

                                          Almost 95% of the waste that we generate at home is a resource but we have failed to understand this due to our distorted view of terming something as a ‘waste’ if it is of no use to us. Through proper segregation, 50-60% of the waste that comprises of wet, biodegradable items can be converted to manure by composting and the remaining 45-35 % that comprises of dry items can be converted into new products by recycling. The age-old adage – “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, teaches the importance of finding an alternate use for one’s waste that can be achieved only, if one has the willingness to reach it to the person of need. The age-old tradition of donating our clothes, books, unused notebooks, toys to NGOs, schools or children in need is a classic example of passing on items of value to others, rather than ending up in landfills.

My Right My waste:

“There is enough in this world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”.     

Mahatma Gandhi

                                            People who have money feel that it’s their right to convert an item into waste without using it to its potential, as they have paid for it. This attitude has been one of the major drivers behind the greedy consumerism and irresponsible waste generation & disposal. E.g.: In the past, clothes were generally used and reused for generations before it got worn out completely and ended up in landfills but in the recent times, they are looked at as a luxury and end up in the dustbins after minimal usage, making it the second largest polluter on our planet. About 40 per cent of the food produced across the globe ending up in landfills, is yet another shocking example for the savage consumerist and materialistic behaviour of humans that could well be the death knell for the human survival on earth. ‘Buy less or when required, Reuse as much as possible, if else repair or repurpose for reuse, otherwise recycle” should be the sole motto of our everyday behaviour that could help us repair the catastrophic damage that is already done to our mother earth.

My Waste My responsibility:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks about changing themselves”.                                                   

Unknown

     Everyone wants their surrounding and country to be clean like the western countries but nobody wants to emulate the behaviour of his or her western counterparts who segregate with care, pay for waste disposal and question government’s environmental policies. If each of us adopt and practice “My Waste, My Responsibility” as our green mantra, then we could understand the negative impacts of the increased waste generation and would act accordingly to reduce it. “Everyone is his own scavenger”, said Gandhi reiterating the need for each of us to accept the responsibility for the waste that we generate and ensure that others don’t suffer due to it. Through his writings and action, the Bapu wanted to stop people from preaching others about cleanliness and instead set an example for others through their action. It’s time for the sons and daughters of the Mahatma (I mean Us) to put into practice the teachings of the great man so that this land reclaims its position as the spiritual capital of the world.

Move ahead with the times:

“எவ்வ துறைவது உலகம் உலகத்தோடு அவ்வ துறைவ தறிவ (To live as the world lives, is wisdom)”.               

Thirukkural

                                      Few decades back, the general advice given to people regarding waste management was to avoid littering in public places and throw the waste in the dustbins, which is more of a reactive approach towards waste management. This has transformed into a more proactive approach in recent times wherein people are asked to segregate and process their waste through recycling and composting methods. Taking this one step further, the last few years has witnessed people moving towards a sustainable lifestyle, wherein they don’t just process their waste but constantly try to find ways to stop or reduce the generation of such waste. The sad reality is that this is followed by just a minority whereas a vast majority of the crowd is still stuck in time not able to even throw their waste into dustbins, forget making them segregate or adopting sustainable practices. It’s time for people to move ahead with the times and consider moving towards a green-friendly lifestyle as not just an option but a mandate if they want to lead a healthy life in the future.

Talk less, Do more:

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”.                                             

Robert Swan

  The recent times has witnessed a huge surge in the quantity of information posted on the internet and social media about the adoption of environment-friendly choices. At least if a section of this self-proclaimed green warrior netizens have put their posts into real practice, the world would still have been a cleaner and healthier place. The habit of politicians doing clean-up just for the sake of photo-ops has rubbed onto the general public who are happy to post pictures of their one-time practices such as beach cleanup, bring your own mug selfies etc., but never want to make this as a practice as part of their daily lifestyle. People should realize that “Being green is more than just buying ‘eco’. It is an unshakeable commitment to a sustainable life”. NGOs are also finding this green space an attractive proposition to get greater traction and funding through social media, with very few doing actual meaningful work on the ground and a vast majority just work for greater attention on social media through more likes and followers.

“Recycling is a good thing to do. It makes people feel good to do it. The thing I want to emphasize is the vast difference between recycling for the purpose of feeling good and recycling for the purpose of solving the trash problem”.

Barry Commoner

People should understand that doing an act for the sake of doing it is futile. So, less talk and more action on the ground is required to make the waste management system work and it’s time for the public to hit the streets and get their hands dirty.

Owning Less is Great but Wanting Less is Better:

“Going back to a simpler life is not a step backward”.           

Yvon Chouinard

There is a general public sentiment that the traditional, chaotic and simple minimalistic lifestyle doesn’t provide an wholesome happy experience, which has lead to the adoption of resource-exploiting, nature-plundering modern, so-called organized and materialistic living. The exploration of life on other planets when our own earth has so much to offer is a classic example for humans’ height of stupidity. Waste management concepts like Make, Share, Borrow, Rent, Swap, Donate, Thrift, Repair which were an integral part of our old lifestyle has been given a negative connotation in today’s world that has resulted in the exploitation of our natural resources and gross mismanagement of waste. The increasing popularity and usage of single-use disposables such as the plastic plates, cups, spoons, carry bags, straws etc., in the name of convenience has put the lives of several animals such as our holy cows, marine life such as turtles, fishes as well as that of humans at risk. The culture of buying more just to get small discounts, cash-backs, freebies or gifts shows the gullibility of humans to be manipulated by the capitalist marketing gimmicks. This muck doesn’t stop here as this foolish behaviour of humans is passed on to the subsequent generations who grow up into spending bigger than their parents. Recent studies suggest that India’s consumer spending has been on the rise and is set to become the world’s third largest consumer market by 2025 with the children group contributing in a major way to the notorious growth of these numbers. It’s time to stem the rot and ensure that the future generations, i.e., our children are at least shielded from this vociferous spending behaviour.       

                          To put it in a nutshell, the worst thing for earth is the fact that ‘humans are stupid’ but the silver lining is that they’re smart enough to know it and understand. So it’s just a matter of time, before humans start realizing that they are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel whereas they have a torch in hand which could provide the same light that they require. As this Chinese proverb suggests – “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills”, instead of building bigger and more, humans should realize that they could get the same happiness from simpler and small things, provided they change their perspective on what happiness is all about. Change is always terrifying but it could be better handled if we embrace it by taking small steps at a time using the waste management hierarchy pyramid, rather than making huge leaps.

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world”.

Howard Zinn

“Minimalism had to be born, not out of a mere spur-of-the-moment idea or yearning for a new lifestyle, but from an earnest desire and fervent need to rethink our lives”.

Fumio Sasaki

So with a little effort, imagination and planning, this cancerous crisis of stinking garbage can be brought down on its knees. So Rethink, rethink, rethink, it’s possible…

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