Growing up, taking the garbage out was the chore I was always disliked. Washing dishes, cleaning out cupboards, dusting—any of those trumped the two minutes it would take to lift the black plastic bag with the day’s refuse, tie it up and leave it outside the apartment door. That was the sum total of my engagement with waste.
The first time I was actually confronted by my waste was a few years ago when a 14-year old boy, Yusuf, gave me a tour of his home, beside one of India’s largest garbage dumping grounds in Govandi, Mumbai. He was a skinny boy, light on his feet, with wavy hair. We made our way through an opening in the wall built to separate the dumping ground from the slum that adjoined it. I, walking tentatively over broken glass bottles and plastic waste mixed with rotting refuse and food remains. He, in his rubber chappals, lithely making his way higher up the mountain of waste to where he knew it was easier to pick up bottles and paper which he could sell. He said that no matter how much he scrubbed and washed, the smell of the dumping ground always lingered.
A few months ago, talking to Keshav Jaini, a resident of Garden Estate in Gurgaon who has led community efforts to segregate and compost at scale, I remembered Yusuf’s matter-of-fact description. We were talking about why Jaini had mobilised his community of 373 households. He said: ‘Why should anyone have to put their hands into the mess we make? No one should have to go through our filth, our trash. It’s our responsibility, and we must do it the correct way.’
The conversation on solid waste management and decentralisation of the process doesn’t often speak of the people who literally put themselves at risk everyday to clean up after billions. What struck me up on that dumping ground with Yusuf, was how I’d taken for granted that sifting through my waste was someone else’s business. In this case, a 14-year old child.
All the statistics point to why we all, at an individual and community level, have to start taking responsibility for our waste. If we continue as we are, generating 62 million tonnes of waste annually, we’ll need 66,000 hectares of land as a garbage dumping ground for the 436 million tonnes of waste we’re projected to generate by 2050. That’s almost 90% of Bangalore’s area.
There’s also a very real, human reason to do so. This week, we’re looking at how to ‘Turn waste to wealth’ through conversations with citizens in Gurgaon and Bangalore who have transformed not only their relationship to waste, but also taken communities 200 to 1300 households strong along with them. Listen to them in our latest podcast and read about how they did it.
Poonam Bir Kasturi, the founder of Daily Dump writes about waste and identity in this article. We also have Savita Hiremath who runs a beautiful and detailed website called Endlessly Green. Read this piece from her.
Our Co-founder Arpita also shares through these videos, how you can make immediate changes by removing some obvious plastic consumption in homes and how to begin segregating. We’ve also put together resources that you can reach out to for consultations on how to segregate and compost at scale, so do look them up.
As always, we would love to hear your feedback and thoughts, so do write in to us.
Thank you and I hope you have a beautiful week ahead!