Watch what you trash!

Once upon a time, we, Indians, were great with recycling stuff. Somehow, over the years, we seem to have forgotten to do that, despite the government’s introduction of better garbage disposal systems, observes Mala Ashok .

Indians were probably the world’s best recyclers. We used to believe trash is cash, and so we regularly handed over the newspapers , plastic bags and bottles to the raddiwala. However, the operative word here is ‘were’. Somehow, over the years, we seem to have forgotten to do that, particularly in the cities. We now live in a very wasteful way, creating an increased carbon footprint.

The good news is that in the West, the concept of recycling is thriving and householders, as well as municipalities, are doing their best to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be processed. A recent survey revealed that Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada is the world’s third best place and North America’s best place to live in. Living in Surrey, in the Greater Vancouver area myself, I can attest to the fact that Vancouver is indeed the cleanest place I have ever had the pleasure of calling home.

So what makes Vancouver so clean? Of course, it is the importance placed on the garbage disposal system. At the heart of its garbage collection system is the premise that the more waste that is recycled or composted, the better. The city of Surrey religiously follows its garbage disposal programme called “The Power of Three!” This refers to the three codes of trash cans - green cans for organic waste, blue cans for recyclables like newspaper and bottles, and black cans for the rest of the garbage. The green ones are to contain all food wastes, such as fruits and vegetable peels, egg shells, dairy product waste, tea bags, baked goods, coffee grounds, leaves, cooking oils, pasta and grains, paper towels, and dried flowers. Clear instructions are given not to place any plastics, even if they are biodegradable, in these cans. The blue ones are to contain a veritable treasure trove of metal food cans, Tetra Pak boxes, milk containers, cups and paper products. As for the black ones, the City of Surrey proudly proclaims, “Not much goes in here!” 

This system of waste collection was first started in individual homes, that is bungalows; now the programme has spread to multi-family dwellings - apartments and row houses. Essentially, the boxes are duplicated in smaller sizes and given to each unit. The residents dispose them off in the communal area in big boxes in their garbage rooms where the city corporation arranges pick-up. The programme has been implemented recently, and has turned into a roaring success, particularly the organics waste component. The city has provided special organics waste bins for apartment dwellers, and the residents meticulously collect their kitchen waste, which, after the collection, is delivered to a composting facility, where it is processed into a nutrient-rich compost and fertiliser. It is expected that this segregation of garbage will have as much an impact as it had when the plan was implemented in 2012 for the bungalows. The programme has translated into a reduction of over 40 percent of landfill garbage generated.

 Try and imagine the impact of something this in India!The programme has even more ambitious goals. The city is currently working towards establishing one of the first bio-fuel facilities in North America. The organic waste collected from residents will be processed into a renewable natural gas that will be used to fuel the garbage trucks! Thus, a true closed loop system is created. The city of Surrey started with a garbage percentage of 73 and recycling of 27 percent. The goal is to make it 40 percent organic, 30 percent recycling and 30 percent landfill.

Reality check: Any programme is only as good as its users. We, Indians, do not care too much about how we dispose off our garbage. Most of us, who pride ourselves on keeping our homes spick and span, do not hesitate to casually drop a chocolate wrapper on a sidewalk. If the Indian government were to introduce such programmes – some already exist – will we comply seriously? Well, let us hope we will, because the payoff is huge. Not only will we live in a cleaner, prettier environment, but the communities will be more sustainable. 

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