Need to campaign for garbage segregation

When villagers in Mavallipura refused to let their back yard become the dumping yard for Bangaloreans, they raised quite a stink and trash became news once again.  The government stirred out of its lethargy and made segregation of garbage at source mandatory.

But are Bangaloreans following the directives? Some days the reports are heartening. We read that 33 per cent of city’s garbage came in segregated form on the day the campaign was launched. On other days, the news is depressing. We are told that citizens and pourakarmikas are not aware of the purpose of segregation.

The purpose of segregation is multifold. It is economical because wet waste can be converted to useful manure and dry waste such as plastic and paper can be recycled. It reduces the burden on municipal authorities as segregated waste is easier to handle and transport. It is safer for the rag pickers who dig through waste.

Food grown with the organic manure (compost) is  healthier. When garbage is mixed, the entire quantity is usually dumped into landfills endangering the health of those living near the landfills. Eventually all citizens are at risk, as toxic chemicals from the landfills leech into the underground. With scientific handling of garbage, the city too can hope to rid itself of the obnoxious “garbage city” tag.

Time to change

So there are economic, logistic and health imperatives to segregate waste. Why then, are citizens not doing it? “Is it not enough that I am not dumping my garbage on the street? Where do I find the time or energy to separate the waste?”  “I am paying garbage tax, why should I bother with the segregation?” Citizens ask. 

It is this attitude that we need to change.  If we, as individual house holders and the generators of garbage feel it is dirty to handle, are we justified in expecting the pourakarmikas to do the dirty job for us? Waste segregation is neither difficult nor time consuming as many people like to believe.

Small children in primary classes have learnt to do it.  It just needs two bins- one for dry and the other for wet. Segregating into e waste, glass etc is necessary but that comes later. Creating awareness about dry and wet waste with a sustained campaign is the first step.

To realise how effective campaigns can be, we just need to recall two other campaigns of our country- the family planning campaign that ran a few decades ago and the polio eradication campaign that ran recently. Both were concerted, massive and state funded efforts. Today, the country can be proud of its achievements in both the areas. Garbage segregation too needs a campaign on a similar scale.

But is the garbage problem as grave as population problem or polio? Yes, as mentioned earlier, garbage poses very serious environmental threats. But since the dangers are not immediately apparent, people view it as the head ache of the government. With increasing prosperity we are generating garbage on an unprecedented scale. Most areas of Bangalore have uncleared garbage and citizens have become immune to its sight and smell. Garbage segregation and subsequent conversion to useful material is a solution to this modern day scourge.

Many citizens are aware of the need for segregation but that awareness rarely translates into action. The concept of segregation is nothing new to us Indians. Even a decade ago, housewives kept the milk covers separately and sold them. Because plastic bags were not this ubiquitous, people didn’t throw them but reused them.  We need to renew these practices. The BBMP on its part needs to strictly enforce the rules of segregation.

The supervisor has to ensure that pourakarmikas don’t accept three things- unsegregated garbage, wet waste in plastic covers and dry waste on undesignated days. By lifting the dry waste only once a week, the BBMP will indirectly discourage citizens from producing too much waste. After all, reduction of waste is a much better option than segregation but that is another matter altogether.

It would be a good idea to rope in celebrities for this campaign. A Puneeeth Rajkumar or Anil Kumble can perhaps do to garbage segregation what Amitabh Bachchan did to pulse polio.            

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