Talking Rubbish: The Indian Scenario
This blogpost is originally posted here – http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/student-voices/30daygreen_day_2
The Indian festival of Ganesh Chaturthi is coming up. The streets are deserted, silent and the local markets are calm. As I walk through these narrow lanes and look at the statues of Lord Ganesha which are already lining up for sale in the shops, I know that this is the calm before the storm. Soon these calm and silent lanes will be overflowing with people, pushing, pulling and gnawing at each other. Struggling to get the best deals that these local shops have to offer. The relatively empty shops will be filled with statues of all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of lights, flowers and other items of adornment. Almost every house in the neighbourhood will be seen shimmering with lights. The otherwise closed doors will be kept open throughout the day and no one will be a stranger any longer. It is truly a magical celebration that has been a part of our culture for decades.
But this celebration will end after a week or so and things will go back to the way they were. Or will they? When this storm finally settles, only destruction will lie in its wake. The statues which were revered, decorated and loved, that occupied almost every household, will be left in oceans and lakes to disintegrate. These statues, which were supposed to be vessels for gods, will land up clogging the water and sewage pipelines. The dangerous chemicals that they are made of will land up polluting the water bodies, destroying aquatic and plant life. The various decorative accessories which were used to make the homes feel more welcoming will land up in garbage dumps waiting to be burnt or turned into landfill. When I look at all this, I am shocked at the hypocrisy of the human race. And I wonder if things can be done differently.
India is a country of 1.2 billion people, which is roughly 18% of the world population. In other words, India’s population equals almost the combined population of USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan! That’s a lot of people! Out of the 1.2 billion people that live here, 377 million reside in the urban areas. So, the urban population of India is greater than the total population of the U.S.A. Naturally, with such a large number of people living in a small space, India’s problems are also large, with garbage disposal being one of the larger problems. The urban population of India, ie. the 377 million people, produce roughly 70 million tonnes of garbage every year. That’s almost 188,000 tonnes of garbage every day. This number increases by a factor 5% every year. During the time of festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Eid, Navratri etc. the garbage produced per day almost doubles. The Indian government spends roughly anywhere between $10 to $30 on every ton of garbage for collection, transportation, treatment and disposal. 60-70% of this amount is spent on collection, 30-20% is spent on transportation and sadly less than 5% is spent on the treatment and final disposal.
In India, the government itself has no system for separation and recycling of waste. Here, even if I maintain separate bins for non-recyclable, organic and recyclable garbage, they’ll all eventually land up in the same place. So if I decide to recycle waste in my home, I’ll have to maintain the separate bins, dispose of the organic waste myself by taking it to the nearest compost pit (a few hours away by car), give the non-recyclable waste to the local garbage collectors and recycle the recyclable waste on a domestic level which is frankly too much work. Here, all the waste management needs to be done at an individual/domestic level. This proves to be extremely inconvenient and time consuming which is why none of us do it.
But even with such obvious obstacles we try our best, like for the past decade or so, in my household, for the Ganesh Chaturthi, we have used clay statues instead of the ones made by Plaster of Paris or plastic. And instead of disposing of the statue after the festival(visarjan), we reuse the same statues every year. For decorations, instead of using plastic and thermocol, we use leaves, flowers and wood which are biodegradable, hence easy to dispose of. The government is also trying to reduce the amount of plastic in the garbage by charging money for using plastic bags so people tend to use them less. Plastic bags have been banned in government and administrative buildings. And there are NGOs like ‘Parisar Vikas‘ and ‘Swach‘ who are working with rag–pickers to recycle the waste that has accumulated in the landfills and garbage dumps over the years. New technologies are being adopted to improve the waste management system too.
Frankly , being “green” here is easier said than done, but efforts are still being made by us and it sure is making a difference, even if it is one household at a time. We understand the importance of our planet and we are trying to clean up our act. So, for this 30 day green challenge, me and some of my friends are going to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in an eco-friendly fashion by banning all plastic, thermocol and other non-biodegradable materials from being used in the celebration. Also, I’m going to try spreading awareness about climate change in my housing society so hopefully they’ll
consider taking the help of NGOs to solve our waste management problems. I will also try shedding light on these problems by blogging about them so people will start taking waste management seriously. After all, it’s our planet, it’s our one and only home, if we don’t care for it, who will?